Thursday, April 1, 2010

EclipseCon 2010 - A Review

This year was the first time that I attended the EclipseCon in Santa Clara and it was a really great event. However, the very first nice impression had actually nothing to do with the EclipseCon itself but with the nice weather in California. As the journey started in the rainy northern Germany, it was very pleasing to arrive in San Francisco with nearly 70F. To fight the jet lag back we rent some bikes and explored the vicinity on Sundays. It was a very enjoyable trip through the Bay Area. Nevertheless the night was rather short for me.

EclipseCon 2010

The first session on Monday morning was the Xtext meets e4 tutorial. It was especially interesting for me because Jan, Moritz and Heiko demonstrated a more user friendly approach to workbench modeling than editing tree editors and property sheets. I hope that at least some parts of the textual approach to store workbench information will make it into e4 as I personally do not like working with xmi-based persistence and form editors. However, up to now nobody wanted to jump in and shape up the prototypic Xtext editor. Hint, hint!

The next session was about The Twenty Modeling Things. Kenn and Stephan talked basically about some missing pieces in the Eclipse Modeling Project that will be covered by the Sphinx proposal and showed some of the IDE concepts that will be available. Afterwards I wanted to learn something about B3 from Henrik, but unfortunately the room was totally overcrowded. People seem to be aware of the fact, that automated builds that work the same way on the integration server as in the local Eclipse workspace are crucial to reliability and testability. Because building has been kind of a pain point for us in the past, I am especially happy about the new Buckminster build for Xtext on the Athena server, that Thomas set up last week.

On Tuesday, Sven and I presented some the new and especially the noteworthy things in Xtext. It is always fun to talk about the things that we have been busy with in the past months. The next event for modeling enthusiasts was the Modeling Runway. Although there were some technical ... inconveniences at the beginning, they turned into entertainment when Kenn advanced the slides or Sven's Xtext fast forward demo.

Wednesday was the day of THE keynote. Jeff Norris from the NASA played with all those things that boys dream of - and most likely still do as men. He remote controlled an 8 feet robot on the NASA area. It requires a lot of confidence in the software that you built when you perform those things live on stage. In the afternoon I gave my lightning talk about the new MWE tooling based on Xtext and a runtime layer that got an ultra slim diet.
The BoF about IDE tooling for the e4 development model was the last session on Wednesday. It was quite interesting and insightful to discuss the various ideas and approaches towards a steeper learning curve when developing plugins for e4. Tonny summarized the results in his blog and created or commented a few bugzillas that reflect the ideas.

Thursday went by as fast as it came. It was a day of some short discussions and I used the chance to do session hopping and hear something about basically everything in parallel. In the late afternoon, we returned the bikes and had a Mexican dinner before the traditional European Reception took place.


Although I expected the EclipseCon to take place in the Convention Center, I think it was a good decision to use the conference rooms in the Hyatt Hotel instead. Unfortunately they were a little too small for some of the talks and too low-ceiling so the canvas was probably not fully visible from the rows in the back. However, this minor drawback was fully compensated by the nice atmosphere during the conference. People ran literally into each other anytime and there were plenty of opportunities to chat about various topics. It was really easy to get in touch.

What I personally took along was that the development of custom language support is becoming kind of mainstream. It seems to me that people have learned that XML is not the best way to store human readable and editable information. The Xtext framework provides the necessary abstractions to easily develop the infrastructure to parse, process and edit files in a very convenient way. Projects like B3, EMF Query or AMP already adopted Xtext to provide tooling for programming or configuration languages and others decided after in-depth discussions that this might be a approach worthwhile to explore. Many people came to the itemis booth to talk about their proprietary solutions and we sketched many ideas on how to supersede existing implementations with EMF and Xtext. It was great fun to feel the vibes around Xtext.