Interview With Cédric Brun

Eclipse Amalgam: ‘The Helios Release is a Fresh Start for this Project.’

Jessica Thornsby
Eclipse-Amalgam-The-Helios-Release-is-a-Fresh-Start-for-this-Project

With the Eclipse Helios release train out of the door, JAXenter speaks with about Eclipse Modeling committer Cédric Brun about the Amalgam project.

On June 23rd, 2010, the Amalgam
project
was released as part of the annual
Eclipse Simultanous Release Train
. Below, JAXenter speaks with
Amalgam committer Cédric Brun, about the changes afoot at Amalgam
since Obeo took over as project lead, and the project’s plans for
an Eclipse Indigo release……

JAXenter: Can you describe the Amalgam project
in a few words?

Cédric Brun: The amalgam project is part of the
Eclipse Modeling project, its goal is to provide a consistent
modeling environment while integrating the numerous Eclipse
Modeling subprojects. Our work is focused on providing a convenient
Eclipse Modeling package, simplifying the discovery of the diverse
community we have in modeling and demonstrating through examples
how one can combine those technologies.

JAXenter: Who is behind the project, and where
did the original idea come from?

Cédric Brun: The project has been created by
Richard Gronback, it was originally created because of the
following users and adopters’ feedback: “the modeling technologies
are too complex, not integrated enough and lacking documentation.”
In answer to those complaints Richard started to work on the
‘Eclipse Modeling as a DSL Toolkit’ book and created the Amalgam
project: a support for this book. It took two years to complete the
book and to provide the first usable Eclipse distributions for the
Eclipse Modeling project. At that time there were three
distributions: one hosted in the Eclipse Packaging Project included
each and every Eclipse Modeling Component, a ‘Toolsmith’ focused
one was dedicated to the definition of domain specific tooling and
a ‘Modeler’ one was dedicated to analysts and developers.

Splitting the packages using roles looked like a good idea, but
it was implying too much. The burden of testing and maintaining
those packages was too high for a single man project and it was
assuming the adopter was able to choose between those three
distributions, which turned out to be quite complicated.

At some point, Borland, Richard’s employer, decided to stop
being involved in Eclipse and the project stalled for a few months
until we (Obeo) decided to take over the project lead and carry on
maintaining it.

JAXenter: How advanced is the development of
Amalgam, in the Helios Release?

Cédric Brun: The Helios release is a fresh
start for this project, a new team of commiters from several
companies gathered in order to make the Eclipse Modeling Package a
showcase for the Modeling Project. We started by changing the
massive, all-in-one distribution into a smaller, progressive one
including core components and we worked on integrating a discovery
mechanism so that the adopters can easily browse and install
complementary projects from Eclipse Modeling. That’s a huge gain
for the user as the package has been slimmed down from a whopping
500Mb to less than 250Mb. Testing and making sure the core package
has a consistent user interface has been made possible thanks to
those changes.

The package includes all you need to start working with EMF: the
core framework and the CDO model repository, and the ability to
semantically compare and merge any models stored on CVS, SVN or
even GIT.

You also have specific integration for Java code generated by
EMF allowing you to filter generated code from your workspace or
easily spot user-customized code. And, last but not least, the
package provides you with a graphical modeler for Ecore, which is a
‘class diagram like’ formalism. This is provided out of the box,
but you can easily extend your environment with some projects
through the specific discovery UI we provided and install, for
instance, Acceleo to design your own code generators in a few
clicks.

JAXenter: What do you perceive to be the main
benefits of model driven software development? And, how do you
answer those alleging that MDSD has failed, due to the substantial
effort needed to maintain the generated code?

Cédric Brun: I’m applying MDSD and the benefits
I see everyday are: adapting to changes more easily, pushing
consistency in the code base and easing integration of new
developers in the team as best practices are captured in the
generation templates. Measuring productivity gains is nonsense if
you only measure those during the development phases, the gains you
get from MDSD, you get during the software maintenance phase way
after the first release.

That said, many tried to apply MDSD with black-boxed tools,
complex external modelers designed by third parties and a
constrained top to bottom development process. This fails for
obvious reasons, the development team is not adopting the tool
because it’s getting in the way, any change you need to make in the
generated code will have to go through a “bug/patch/release/deploy”
cycle in the code generator. I’m not even describing the scenario
with multiple people trying to collaboratively work on a
proprietary model. People tend to think that’s mandatory for model
based developments but it is plain wrong, you can leverage MDSD in
an agile way.

A development tool should not get in the way of the developer
allowing him to have control over the code generation, it should
have the lowest possible barriers for using it and it should be
perfectly integrated with the IDE. That is exactly what Acceleo is
providing for code generation: providing you more control and the
lowest possible cost to start using it.

You can leverage MDSD without having a heavy and hierarchical
process, even just for a single project, you might have a big boost
of productivity, quality and consistency with the code by just
defining a small set of generator templates perfectly tailored to
what you want. Most modeling projects are falling in the category
of very pragmatic tools you can leverage in many contexts, but this
is something we still need to evangelize.

JAXenter: What are the next steps for
Amalgam?

Cédric Brun: We are trying to go further in
providing a consistent and powerful platform while avoiding what
made the project fail at first. One of the lessons learned i : we
should involve all the other projects toward this goal, and that
means, once again, giving them more control.

For the Helios release, this involvement took place through the
discovery user interface, the project had to provide summary, logos
and descriptions to be visible; we’d like to go one step further
for Eclipse Indigo and, maybe, try and tackle the examples and
documentation needs with the other Modeling projects.

On the other side, we’ll work on streamlining the package with
the following goal : providing a high quality product for modeling
technologies. As it is the first release since the team rebirth,
we’ll be very mindful of the users feedback.

JAXenter: If you had to pick which football
team most closely resembles Amalgam, which football team would it
be?

Cédric Brun: I would pick
Argentina, a team aggregating individuals, great by themselves, but
taking it to a whole new level by making them play together.

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