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The rise of the Internet and the Web browser as the universal computing client forced user-interface development and the overall user experience to take a step backwards. Web applications, due to their ease of maintenance in terms of deployment and upgrading, allow you to reach a larger audience. Yet, they deny the user the experience that a full-fledged desktop application can provide. The raw power of today's personal computers is mostly untapped when it comes to browser-based enterprise applications. The browser-based application is to a certain extent a glorified version of the dumb terminal of days gone by. Although Java made its debut with applets, which promised many of the features of rich native applications combined with the ease of maintenance of Web applications, the applets' tumultuous evolution has relegated them to a limited functionality—stock tickers and news feeds. This has led many to argue that browser-side Java is effectively dead. The technology wasn't completely to blame because Java on the browser was a casualty of the browser wars and the early problems faced by VM integration in the two leading browsers, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.
Java's client-side technologies have all had their share of criticisms and never conquered the share of the desktop market that many predicted. As with applets, many believe that the rough transition from the Abstract Window Toolkit (AWT) to the early days of Swing, coupled with the overall complexity and paradigm change in UI development introduced by Java (in comparison to the Model-View-Controller (MVC)-less world of Visual Basic, Delphi, and other RAD (rapid application development) environments) caused Java to lose the battle for the desktop.
In this article, we introduce the open source community's answer to the rich client conundrum in the form of the Eclipse project UI frameworks, namely the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) and JFace. The Eclipse frameworks provide a Java alternative to building robust, responsive, and great-looking desktop applications.
The Eclipse project is described on its Website as an "IDE for anything and for nothing in particular." The use of the term IDE in the previous sentence might be a bit misleading because, although the composing subsystems of the Eclipse framework have at certain points in their API an IDE-ish flavor to them, the majority of the framework is usable as a general desktop application framework.
The Eclipse project spawned out of the early work of Erich Gamma and the folks at Object Technology International (OTI), which is now an IBM subsidiary. OTI is well known for its work in the areas of development tools (VisualAge) and object languages like Smalltalk and Java.
This article deals with using the underlying frameworks created by OTI and IBM to deliver a fast, responsive Java desktop application. Many pages can be written about the controversies surrounding the Eclipse project, its underlying APIs (particularly the SWT), the design choices, and the impact that open sourcing the codebase has created in the community. Instead, you'll focus on building a robust application using Eclipse.
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