Dumping Eclipse into the open-source community was a smart move for IBM and a windfall for embedded developers. This open-source project (www.eclipse.org) is more than just a Java IDE. Its plug-in architecture makes it ripe for extensions like C++ compilers, graphical development tools, and source control tools. The latest tool in the works for the graphical tool builder comes from the Graphical Editor Framework (GEF) Project.
This visual framework can be used to create plug-ins for Eclipse. GEF is based on work done at IBM that dates way back to its Smalltalk-based VisualAge products. These allowed applications to be built by dragging graphical components into a window, then wiring them together.
GEF supplies the tools to create such an environment. It provides object classes for visual components and the links between them. Links are drawn in a way that does not obscure visual components, and they automatically redraw when components are moved.
The framework can be employed in user-interface development plug-ins, SQL query builders, and visual programming environments such as UML. Also, even though GEF itself contains no visual editing tool, the framework can be used within an application. GEF has long-term potential to enhance other tools like debuggers and profilers. It will be interesting to see how GEF works out as the project continues.