JAX London 2014: A retrospective
Simplicity

Can this Kickstarter fill the craters in Eclipse?

DianaKupfer
Eclipse.1

Pascal Rapicault – the man behind the EasyEclipse proposal – tells us why he believes in a commercial IDE, and what’s behind Eclipse community dissatisfaction.

  • Pascal Rapicault

    Pascal Rapicault is an Eclipse old-timer. He has been contributing to Eclipse since 2002 where he joined the Eclise Platform team at IBM. Since then he has been involved in Equinox (OSGi), PDE, p2, m2e, tycho, either as a developer, evangelist or lead. He now shares his passion and knowledge by providing consulting at Rapicorp (http://www.rapicorp.com/).

Last week we wrote about a  new Kickstarter proposal to fund EasyEclipse for Java – an effort summarized as “Streamlined Java IDE + Funding model for the Eclipse open-source ecosystem”. Here, Diana Kupfer speaks to Pascal Rapicault, the Eclipse committer behind it all.

JAX: Firstly, how is your Kickstarter project related to easyeclipse.org?

Rapicault: I’m the new owner of EasyEclipse.org. EasyEclipse.com is the continuation of EasyEclipse.org, since it takes on the same mission of creating awesome Eclipse distributions and contributing back to OSS. However, the approach is different (commercial instead of OSS) because the landscape of Eclipse has greatly changed.

Back in 2005 when EasyEclipse was created by the team at nexb (www.nexb.com), the Eclipse IDE, supported by large companies, was booming, Eclipse packages did not exist, and finding plug-ins was complicated. They were resolving the problems of the time. Now the situation is different. Obtaining the Eclipse IDE and plug-ins is easy, the real problem is the growing number of dissatisfied users and sustaining an investment in the Eclipse IDE, which is why I decided to try a commercial route.

When the idea of a crowdfunding campaign was discussed at EclipseCon Europe 2013, I  felt it was the most intuitive alternative to the current open source model, especially given the success of Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc. and that many of the attendees said they would be willing to pay for a good IDE rather than contribute. That’s why I was surprised that the idea was rejected at first. When did your idea for this EasyEclipse campaign emerge?

I first discussed the idea of a crowdfunding campaign with a couple close friends during the summer 2013. I had been thinking about ways to reinvigorate parts of Eclipse, but the tipping point was the Google Android tooling announcement. However because of other ongoing work I did not take action before late September where I took a week off to prototype, scope and confirm that the crowdfunding route was the way I wanted to go. Since then I have been refining the idea, discussing it with more people and doing all the prep work.

The funding goal is 120,000 CAD. How long will you be able to develop and maintain EasyEclipse with this amount?

The first thing to know is that not all of this money ends up in my bank account. Roughly 10% goes to Kickstarter and Paypal, then around 25% goes to the development of open-source. What is left will finance the actual development of the project (integration and new features) and I hope this money lasts for about a year.

And if the campaign doesn’t reach that goal, will EasyEclipse simply not happen? Or do you have alternative funding sources in mind?

Up to this point all our thoughts and energy have been put on the campaign, no backup plan, safety net, etc. The only thing I know is that if it fails, we will have tried our best with our abilities, and we will have the peace of mind of knowing that we’ve tried something.

On your Kickstarter page it says: “we plan to work with the open source communities to fix the issues at their root rather than maintaining our own fixes on top”. What do you mean by that? I mean, you’re definitely the product manager that the Eclipse IDE needs, but that also means all bug fixes will ultimately be managed by your team, doesn’t it?

It means that if there is a bug or a missing feature in a plug-in that EasyEclipse uses (note that it can be a project hosted at the Eclipse Foundation or somewhere else), we have no intention to fork the project. We will work with the community behind the plug-in to make the changes directly in the project. This means that either we will provide the code changes and work with them to integrate it, or we will be paying for someone from the project to do the work.

The bugs that will be addressed in priority are those that directly benefit our users. However, fixing bugs is not enough. We want to continue to innovate and some of these will be done in the OSS. For example you can see some of the ideas I submitted for Google summer of code: http://prapicault.blogspot.ca/2014/03/improving-and-exploring-new-ideas-for.html

Sneak peek: What will the look and feel of this new IDE be like? Will it be similar to Eclipse or will there be a totally new approach?

It will be an evolution of what is in Eclipse. We want the UI to be less crowded. Less content in contextual menus (I had an instance of Eclipse where the menu could not fit in my screen), less buttons in the toolbar, so the user is not overwhelmed and he has more vertical space for coding.

Now, concretely the first time you open, you are asked to set up your IDE. You get to choose your SCM, and chose your build system (and eventually more as EasyEclipse evolves). Your IDE is ready.

Because you have installed the Git plug-in, the launcher bar now contains a Git icon from which you can trigger actions such as clone repo, or commit.

There is of course more than the eye can see. Here I’m talking about all the preferences making the IDE easier to use.

Will it borrow concepts and features from IntelliJ IDEA or NetBeans?

In terms of features, if EasyEclipse wants to be an IDE worthy of the name, it will have to add features similar to those two IDEs. However I’m also keeping an eye on text editors (Sublime, Textmate, etc) since a lot of people are deserting IDEs for those, and also cloud IDEs (Eclipse Orion, Microsoft Monaco, etc.).

Will the pricing be similar to the major competitors out there? 

I’m not good at these sorts of business decisions!  We looked at what the competition is doing and discussed where we want to fit, but it is too early to comment on that. First let’s see what happens with the Kickstarter campaign.

Provided the funding is successful, how soon will EasyEclipse be available? How mature is the technology?

At this time, the first complete version is expected for December 2014. However, for all users with access to the betas, I’m hoping to be able to provide a first version for the Luna release. This will of course be minimalistic but it will be a way to start the discussion with my users.

Imagine the campaign is a huge success, so that you can not only provide a Java IDE, but also plug-ins for other technology – what technologies are next on your priorities list?

EasyEclipse will be user-driven so we will have to see. But if I had to guess I would say Spring and Tomcat, because they are very popular technologies. I also have a list of important tools for Java developers (code quality, coverage, etc) and additional goodies that I would like to make available.

What’s the reception from the Eclipse community been like so far for EasyEclipse? 

It has been all over the map, from one extreme to the other. Some people are really enthusiastic, they understand the issues on the funding of the IDE, and they are fully supportive because they think that having a new player in the field whose value proposition depends so tightly on the open source ecosystem will drive improvements in the open source.

Others, on the other hand, don’t want to see a paying version of the Eclipse IDE – yet they don’t propose any viable alternative. This is sad.

But the biggest difficulty is in how to reach out to the millions of users of Eclipse and explain to them that there are too few people maintaining the software they rely so heavily on, and that some things need to change.

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