I've been to the Eclipse website, so to me it appears to be another IDE for Java. However, there are books published about using it, and many job postings consider it a plus if you know how to use it. So what sets it apart from other IDE's?
I'm using Eclipse for a little more than one year. My favourite features are :
- "background compilation" : Eclipse compiles continuously your Java code and shows you compilation errors at the same time as you write your code. - tons of plugins, e.g. PMD which lets you check your code against user-defined writing style policies or Lomboz, a J2EE extention - refactoring tools : extract method, extract interface, rename variable/class/package - problem correction suggestion: suggests things like "add a try catch", "implement missing methods",... and does it for you if you ask it to - very easy to use when you want to do simple things, and not so much harder when you go into the details
+ tons of irrationnal reasons (I've to justify the fact that I chose it )
Are you currently trying to choose an Java IDE ? Which other ones are you considering?
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Thanks for your response, Simon. For this course we are using jGrasp, which is from Auburn University (I'm not a student there incidentally). I think it's more bare bones than Eclipse, which I suppose is good for beginning programming students. I'm happy with it in that when there is a mistake in my code at compile time the direction it gives is usually suitable enough for me to recognize the problem and fix it.
I was interested in Eclipse mainly for building skills for when job-hunting time comes. So if a job says it's a plus to know Eclipse I can say I have experience with it. But honestly, I would be happy with jGrasp too except for the GUI building features Eclipse reportedly has with some plugins.
I am fond of Eclipse myself, but I would advise you as a "greenhorn" not to use it.
Simple: you have quite enough to learn with Java without struggling with a large unfamiliar app at the same time. I have used JGrasp myself, and prefer Eclipse greatly. I suggest you try something like JCreatorLE (available from this website, which is a posh editor, available free of charge. The nice thing about JCreator is that it helps with editing, eg matching brackets and braces, and identing, but is almost as easy to use as a text editor. And should you need a UML diagram, there are panels in JCreator which show all the fields and methods of your class.
Once you have got experienced with Java, and want a full-blown IDE, Eclipse and NetBeans are both good, though I personally prefer Eclipse.
The problem that you might be facing is the summarisation and subsequent slight obfuscation of the definition of the term at hand. Eclipse is not, repeat not, an IDE.
Eclipse is an open source community whose projects are focused on providing an extensible development platform and application frameworks for building software.
The Eclipse IDE is the Eclipse IDE and Eclipse is not an IDE. To draw an analogy, many people refer to "Apache" as a web server, when clearly it isn't (visit the Apache web site if you like), however, the Apache HTTPD is a web server. Likewise, the Eclipse IDE is an IDE, but Eclipse is exactly what is stated above and nothing more.
To draw another analogy, ponder the question, "what exactly is Java?" - marketing material and established, albeit somewhat misleading, perspectives to the wayside.