A gradual shift that has been under way for years may now be on the verge of moving the embedded-tool industry from proprietary to open-source architectures. Recent product announcements and new project initiatives indicate that the Eclipse Framework is spilling over from its IT origins to become a dominant factor in the embedded space. It may still take a few years to solidify its position, but Eclipse appears to be on the way to overshadowing proprietary embedded tool chains.
The most recent harbinger of this shift was the announcement at April's Embedded Systems Conference of a new integrated development environment (IDE) from real-time operating-system supplier Express Logic. The BenchX tool suite, targeting ARM, ColdFire, Power Architecture and MIPS processors, marks the company's first entry into the IDE market, said John Carbone, Express Logic's vice president of marketing. The product incorporates the Eclipse Europa CDT Release (4.0) framework along with GNU C/C++ compilers and debuggers, instruction-set simulators and a target hardware probe, to form a complete development system.
The Eclipse framework is a set of open-source components, administered by the Eclipse Foundation, that can be combined to form a software development tool suite. The framework includes basic editors, compilers, debuggers and a user interface. It can be configured as an IDE for languages such as Java and C/C++ by utilizing the relevant components.
The structure of Eclipse simplifies the integration of additional tools, or plug-ins, to enhance the functionality and refine the focus of the basic framework.
Eclipse began in 2001 as an initiative by IBM to foster development of open-source frameworks, tools and run-times for enterprise application software development, but it has continually expanded its scope.
Many major vendors of embedded development tools, including Mentor Graphics, QNX Systems and Wind River--a strategic-developer member of the Eclipse Foundation--helped guide initial efforts to bring Eclipse to bear on embedded applications. Wind River, for example, proposed and di- rected the Device Software Development Platform project, which got the ball roll-ing in this direction. Wind River now offers the Eclipse-based Workbench Development Suite (v2.6) as one of its principal tool sets for VxWorks.
In addition to the advent of IDEs based on Eclipse, the market is seeing a range of plug-ins targeting embedded development. Many of these, such as ARM's Real-View Profiler tool, target features of specific processor architectures that IDE developers, because of the broad-based nature of their products, might not be able to address fully.
The ability to create plug-ins for a common framework has also fostered innovation among specialized developers by freeing them from having to integrate their tools into proprietary IDEs. Gwen Fisher, chief technical officer at code-analysis tool vendor Klocwork, noted, "Once we have done core integration on an Eclipse-based tool, we can address a whole slew of IDEs all at once."
Language support for Eclipse grew from its initial Java base to include C and C++ and is well on its way to embracing Ada. Aonix contributed a substantial code base to the open-source community when it initiated the Eclipse Ada development tool project ("Hibachi") last November, said Gary Cato, Aonix marketing director.
That code is already being modified and extended by the Eclipse community. An integration build of the software is available for developers to examine, said Tom Grosman, Hibachi project lead at Aonix, even though a release review (v0.1) will not be ready for several months.
The support in the embedded-tool community has prompted the Eclipse Foundation to step up its pursuit of device development. The foundation announced four initiatives in April to augment its Device Software Development Platform. They include real-time software components (led by Texas Instruments), Windows Embedded CE support, the Eclipse device-debugging project and the target communications framework. Release 1.0 of the debugging project will be available in the next Eclipse Framework release (Gany- mede) later this month.
Not one-button yet
The availability of Eclipse open-source materials does not mean that embedded tools will become free and easy. There are still issues of integration and support for the tools and plug-ins.
Express Logic's Carbone pointed out that while BenchX uses many of the open-source elements of the Eclipse framework, effort is still required to integrate components and focus the framework on the requirements of embedded developers.
For example, Carbone said, the standard Eclipse "perspectives"--tool-viewing window sets in the user interface-- do not include the simultaneous debug and editing views that embedded developers typically use when testing their code, requiring Express Logic to modify many standard perspectives.
"It's still a heterogeneous environment out there," said Fisher of Klocwork, "but embedded is moving toward Eclipse." n
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Richard A. Quinnell (RichQuinnell@att.net) is
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