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Notes from Eclipse Day at Googleplex

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Notes from Eclipse Day at Googleplex

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Before I go into any details, I want to say that the Google t-shirt that I got for attending was almost worth the airfare, hotel stay and car rental.  Man am I a cheap date or what?  Also I would be remiss if I didn't thank Robert Konigsberg and the rest of the Google Open Source Office for organizing the event.

It was great to meet Ian Skerrett, Bjorn Freeman-Benson, and others that I have only had opportunity to communicate with over blogs or mailing lists.  It was also nice to catch up with Chris Aniszczyk and Wes Isberg there as well.  Of course while this is all nice and dandy, lets get to the actual event.

Eclipse @ eBay: Michael Galpin

Mr. Michael Galpin did what amounted to the "keynote" address of the event.  He went into a brief history of eBay and the technologies used to develop the site and then went into some of the work that has been done at eBay with Eclipse.  Before I continue, I should mention that I worked as a contractor for eBay for a little over a year and that I have a better perspective than most on what is going on there.  eBay is HUGE into Eclipse, in fact, I wonder if there are many organizations more committed to using Eclipse and working on creating developer tools using Eclipse.  Still I found the presentation on what eBay is doing with V4 in the presentation layer quite eye opening.  I was working on an Eclipse plugin to support their internal SOA framework, so I was a bit segregated from V4 work.  Now I kinda wish I wasn't so segregated, some of it is quite cool.  I mean I know I always wanted to leverage Dervlets, but Spyglass is pretty cool.  There is a nice PDF of the presentation notes available at this link.  One thing to note is how Java centric eBay really is, just about everything is a Java class.  I wish I had asked during my time there why the decision was made to do that, particularly the tradeoffs.  One other thing, I wish my plugin work and the SOA framework had garnered a bullet in that presentation somewhere, oh well.  I mean Wes Isberg's simple, but cool, Auto-configuration plugin got a mention.  Not that I am jealous or anything. ;)

One final note, Mr. Galpin literally said that there are plans to open source all the tools shown during that presentation.  People should hold them to that promise.

How Mylyn Changes the Way I Develop: Bjorn Freeman-Benson

After the eBay session, the event bifurcated into two parallel tracks.  The net effect was that you needed to choose which event to attend.  While I have an abstract interest in CDT at the current moment, I was more intrigued by the session on Mylyn.  I mean I have tried to use it and I see the arguments for something like that.  What I haven't done is well, get it.  I have tried it and never managed to successfully integrate it into my workflows.  I have gotten to know and respect Mr. Freeman-Benson while interacting with him over at the Eclipse Dash project, so I was hopeful he might allow me to 'get it' or at least motivate me to try again.

Before I get into the notes I have from the presentation I need to pass off some advice.  This goes to Bjorn or anyone else giving a presentation, don't ever give a presentation that someone else prepared, period.  I know it was probably due to the fact that Bjorn was stepping in for someone else, but yikes.

In the beginning Bjorn covered the motivation for Mylyn, things that I think everyone will admit that modern software engineers have to deal with, even with a nice IDE like Eclipse.  The problems are the need to context switch, to mulitask and to manage information overload.  He did not go into the traditional ways that developers in Eclipse try to manage this, but it bears mentioning.  Eclipse users usually use multiple workspaces, multiple workbench instances and try to make use of things like project/team sets.  None of the traditional ways are satisfactory.  So what is Mylyn's approach?  First off, I love this, Mylyn allows you to keep all your stuff in just one workspace.  Mylyn's focus is on cutting down the full workspace to only those elements that you need at a given time.

So how does Mylyn accomplish some of this?  Well in Mylyn the notion of a task is made a first class citizen.  Before you do anything in Eclipse using Mylyn, you need to do it in the context of a task.  Mylyn has stuff to manage tasks and to integrate with common issue tracking packages like Bugzilla and JIRA, among others.  Mylyn also allows you to be able to acquire your tasks from multiple sources.  So once you have a task, Mylyn stores contextual information about what elements in the workspace you associate with a given task.  This is where some of the black magic kicks in, Mylyn has a Degree of Interest Model that it maintains in order to know what to filter out of your views.  This has always been the rub for me to start with Mylyn, everything is hidden at first and you must start from a task.

The cool thing though is that once a context is created, it is possible to share that easily with other team members.  Now the cool thing for me is that the context is not shared via a team provider, but that Mylyn will create an attachment in the issue tracker that another team member can use automatically in their Eclipse workbench using Mylyn.  I love that since it is logically associated with the task and that they did not punt the trouble to the team provider.

Another cool item, in fact, a killer app type item for those who like Agile software development methodologies, is the automatic time tracker.  When you are using Eclipse with Mylyn, you are always with in the context of a task, so when you are doing stuff in the IDE then, Mylyn will keep a timer.  This is a killer app, since anyone who does agile knows that the most difficult thing to do is to estimate the time to implement a given feature.  In fact, it is so difficult that XP for instance tells you to use 'yesterday's weather', in other words, look at the last time you had to implement a given feature, and use that time.  Well that only works if you accurately track your time on task.  Mylyn could make this seamless and easy.  This feature alone makes me want to use Mylyn, even if I leave the filtering off all the time.

I want to make one more comment about the presentation on Mylyn concerning workspace provisioning.  Bjorn went into alot of Q&A with the audience and did cover more details of Mylyn.  Still, what struck me about the presentation was how close Mylyn is to a full workspace provisioning solution.  I need to look at Eclipse Buckminster and check out Genuitech's Pulse product again.  Workspace provisioning for me is almost as big a deal as P2 and the Eclipse provisioning effort.  I mean how long does it take for new people to be able to install Eclipse and get all they need to be able to check out the code from SCM and start working with it?  I mean really, how long, do you even know?

Building Great RIA with ATF: Philippe Ombredanne

First off, I want to say I got the chance to meet Philippe at this event and I really like him.  Second, is there any Eclipse project that he hasn't been intimately involved with?  I think the list of projects at Eclipse he has been involved with would rival some of my earliest Christmas wish lists to Santa, I mean wow!  Most of the presentation (at least the part that I was able to grok) covered the ATF project's live Javascript debugger.  I am not an AJAX developer, so I admit much of what he showed was a bit lost on me, but even I got the fact that you could monitor requests easily was cool.  He demonstrated how a click in the ATF embedded browser to Google Maps would show up as request response pairs in a nice viewer inside Eclipse.  Makes me want to try and do some Web mashups (me even!).  The other thing that struck me was the fact that they took the Mozilla Firefox XUL Runner build and embedded it as a bundle inside of Eclipse.  I thought that was cool, since it provides an embedded browser to play with that is not the Eclipse default browser and I wonder what kind of API I could potentially play with.  You know I am thinking a Groovy/Eclipse Monkey script to try it out.  Awww yeah!

Wiring Hacker Synapses: Collaborative Coding and Team Tooling in Eclipse: Scott Lewis & Mustafa K. Isik

First off I want to say that I love what this demo and plugin could entail.  Being able to do shared sessions on the same document is the first step towards better collaboration and hopefully better software development in general.  If you haven't seen the video, go Google for Cola and ECF and check it out.  The simple demo that Mustafa did there was in the most part better than attending this presentation.  I wish he had done some more demo instead of theory.  Still this is a good first step.  The problem comes later.  With shared sessions, how do you integrate properly with Team providers and make sure that the workspaces are provisioned correctly?  I think that they should focus on allowing a remote Eclipse user to "shadow" the workspace of a local Eclipse user.  This way you have a "master" workspace that the local user is responsible for provisioning/configuring and the responsibility is removed from the remote user.  Still ECF is very cool, I wish them the best of luck.

Concluding Remarks

At the end of the sessions, there was free food and adult beverages for all.  I ran one of the two demo stations there.  In hindsight, I think that expecting people to really have any more brainpower to devote to Eclipse after five continuous hours of sessions was a bit much.  Still I really want to thank those that came over and gave me the chance to show off Groovy Monkey and discuss my plans for Eclipse Monkey.  I am still looking for some simple examples to show off Monkey with, but at least people seemed to grok my full up example of a build and release script I used whilest I was with eBay.

Once again thanks to Google and to the folks at the Eclipse foundation for showing up.  Thanks to all the participants who attended.  The event was, for the most part, packed, not the smaller affairs that Eclipse Democamps that I have attended in the past have been.

This article is reprinted from my blog entry: http://iacobus.blogspot.com/2008/06/notes-from-eclipse-day-at-googleplex.html

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