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Microsoft Opens Windows to Eclipse Developers

Microsoft this week said it will let developers who use Eclipse-based IDEs integrate their Java and PHP applications with the latest versions of Windows, Silverlight, and the forthcoming Azure cloud platform.

At the Eclipse Summit in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Microsoft said it is working with Tasktop Technologies and Soyatec to allow developers using Eclipse IDEs to tap into features of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Silverlight, and Azure, which is set for release next month.

Tasktop and Soyatec are both providers of open-source tools. At the MIX09 conference back in March, Microsoft said it had commissioned France-based Soyatec to develop the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight plug-in based on Eclipse4SL (related story), which is part of today's release.

Microsoft Wednesday spelled out four initiatives where the companies will provide improved interoperability of Java- and PHP-based apps for developers using Eclipse-based IDEs by providing added plugins. Microsoft said the projects are all open source. "This is about making Windows 7 an acceptable destination for open source application developers, and in fact is quite consistent with recent strategy," said Ovum analyst Tony Baer, in an e-mail. The support for Silverlight and Azure are also significant, he noted.

In the first of the four projects, Microsoft said it has tapped Canada-based Tasktop to create an Eclipse "next-generation experience" on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, taking advantage of the shared user interface improvements. Microsoft said Tasktop will contribute improvements to the Eclipse IDE, which will be available under the Eclipse Public License in Q1 of 2010.

In addition, Microsoft has collaborated with Soyatec, to develop three solutions: Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse for PHP developers, Windows Azure Software Developer Kit (SDK) for Java, and Eclipse Tools for Silverlight.

"Microsoft is providing funding and architectural guidance for all four of the projects," said Vijay Rajagopalan is a principal architect in the Microsoft Interoperability team, in a blog posting this week.

Specifically Rajagopalan noted that Microsoft and Tasktop will extend the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP), notably the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) to integrate the Windows 7 features. "This will allow Eclipse developers to take advantage of the new user interface features offered by Windows 7, directly from the Eclipse IDE and from any desktop applications built on top of the Eclipse platform," Rajagopala wrote.

Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond said the choice of Tasktop was a good one. "They do some very interesting things around task management in Eclipse that would be very useful as an adjunct to Team Foundation Server in an Eclipse world," he noted, in an e-mail. "It will be interesting to see what else Microsoft and Tasktop might choose to collaborate on over the next few years with respect to Eclipse plug-ins."

As for its work with Soyatec, the Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse will create an open source plugin that will let PHP developers using Eclipse build Web apps that target Windows Azure. "Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse provides a series of wizards and utilities that allow developers to write, debug, and configure for and deploy PHP applications to Windows Azure," Rajagopalan said.

Microsoft and Soyatec will also develop the Windows Azure SDK for Java developers. A key component of the SDK is Storage Explorer. "The Storage Explorer is really one of the coolest features of Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse--it allows developers to browse data contained in the Windows Azure storage component, including blobs, tables, and queues," Rajagopalan said.

"Storage Explorer was developed in Java (like any Eclipse extension), and we realized during the Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse development with Soyatec that abstracting the RESTful communication aspect between the Storage Explorer user interface and the Azure storage component made a lot of sense," he added. "So this led us to package the Windows Azure SDK for Java developers as open source."

Finally, the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight (Eclipse4SL) plugin promised in March is an open source plug-in for Eclipse. Developers using Eclipse can use it to build Silverlight-based RIAs. New beta versions, including one for Mac OS X, are available for download.

For now, the first version of Eclipse4SL targets Silverlight 2.0. "We are working with Soyatec to add support for subsequent releases of Silverlight [3]," Rajagopalan noted. The plug-in will let developers to integrate their Silverlight-based applications and Java-based Web sites and services, including REST, SOAP, and JSON, among others, Microsoft said.

Analysts said today's announcement is consistent with Microsoft's newfound effort to provide interoperability with open source, Java and other key platforms, a notable departure considering that such efforts announced today were once unthinkable by Microsoft. "Microsoft would like more developers of any type using their platforms," said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote, in an e-mail.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa agreed. "It is smarter to get Java developers to continue to use Windows instead of seeing them move to Linux, Mac or other desktops," Hilwa said, in an e-mail. "Microsoft also realizes that it can only do so much to grow the .NET and Visual Studio developer base."

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