Eclipse Orion Interview

Eclipse Orion: The New IDE Paradigm

Jessica Thornsby

The vision is to move software development to the web as a web experience.

Earlier this month, Mike Milinkovich announced a “brand new adventure for Eclipse;” a new, browser-based open tool integration platform focusing on web development. Although Orion is in the pre-proposal stage, the project has already captured the community’s imagination, with Gartner blogging that Orion could become “Eclipse the next generation,” if the community gets behind this project. JAXenter caught up with Eclipse Platform UI lead Boris Bokowski, to find out more about this new project……

JAXenter: What is the Orion project?

Boris Bokowski: Orion’s goal is to become an open tool integration platform for web-based software development. The vision is to move software development to the web as a web experience, as opposed to just cloning the desktop IDE experience in a browser. For now, Orion is a code contribution to the Eclipse e4 incubator by IBM. With other interested participants, we are planning to start a proper project within the next few months.

JAXenter: What are the benefits of bringing the development infrastructure to the web?

Boris Bokowski: More and more software and infrastructure is moving to the web and adopting web technologies. The same reasons apply to software development tooling:

  • zero install on the client
  • lower TCO
  • scalable computing power
  • simple connectivity — links
  • trivial update mechanism (i.e. refresh the page)
  • powerful rendering engine — browsers
  • very large and active community

JAXenter: What is the current status of the project?

Boris Bokowski: The current code base has been developed by a handful of developers over a few months. Orion has a fast and scalable code editor that runs on all major desktop browsers. There is a way to navigate files and folders and to search, and work has begun to integrate with Git. For the debugger part, the plan is to integrate well with Firebug and/or WebKit inspector.

JAXenter: A web-based IDE was originally announced as part of the e4 effort. How do these early announcements relate to what is currently available in the Orion codebase?

Boris Bokowski: At EclipseCon 2008, almost three years ago, we demoed a prototype of a web-based Eclipse. We decided back then that we were too early and did not continue working on the prototype. The Orion code base is a completely new implementation, focused on web technologies and principles. The idea is to make the web itself the development environment, instead of trying to bring existing desktop IDE concepts to the browser.

JAXenter: Which technologies are running behind the scenes of the Orion project?

Boris Bokowski: To realize our vision of embracing the web, the important technologies will be RESTful HTTP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, JSON, Atom, OpenID, OAuth, etc. Our goal is to enable linking between Orion and other web-based tools such as bug tracking systems like Bugzilla, build monitoring tools like Hudson, code review tools like Gerrit, versioning repositories like GitHub, and so on. By comparison, the concrete technologies used for our current implementation are not as important to us, but since you asked, we used pure HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Dojo on the client, and Java with Equinox, Jetty, and JGit on the server.

JAXenter: Orion is not based on the old Eclipse codebase, so how does the Orion code relate to the “old” Eclipse platform code and the other existing Eclipse projects?

Boris Bokowski: We are using code from the Eclipse Runtime project for our server. On the client side, we are working on UI components that are fully web based. To the extent possible, we want to make it possible to use these web UI components in the existing desktop Eclipse, for example as views or editors. But the codebases will be separate. We are only starting with Orion, and are at a very early stage. The desktop Eclipse IDE is not going to go away, and is going to be actively developed and maintained for many years to come.

JAXenter: Is Orion limited to providing a development infrastructure, or is it conceivable to use the Orion code for other purposes, in a similar way the Eclipse code was used for RCP and Runtime Projects?

Boris Bokowski: This is definitely conceivable, but not our current focus. We will definitely be thinking about this constantly as we are developing Orion further.

JAXenter: What are the next steps for Orion?

Boris Bokowski: We are planning a summit in Ottawa in the beginning of March, to bring interested committers from various companies together for a face to face kick-off meeting. The goal of the meeting is to let those who participate set the direction for Orion, and produce a formal project proposal for Orion. In parallel, we will be improving the current code base based on our own needs, since we are already self-hosting – i.e. using Orion itself to work on the client side of Orion.

We are also planning to make a hosted version of Orion available at so that those who would like to try it can do so with minimal effort. There is going to be a period where this will be a beta program and by invitation only, but we hope to be able to open a demo server for anybody within the next few months.

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