Eclipse is one of the most highly acclaimed Java development environments in use today. As programmers become increasingly accustomed to the centrality of the IDE concept thanks to the likes of Visual Studio etc., many IDEs have sprung up to handle other languages and more diverse platforms as a result. From Flash and Unity to Mono and, of course, Eclipse, IDEs are the future of programming in most situations. Eclipse is one of the best of such solutions for Java, being used by defense contractors, mobile developers (Android, Windows, Blackberry, Palm OS and even iOS), and of course, for SaaS designers as well. So, when the Salesforce Eclipse plugin was announced, developers for various Force.com services were understandably ecstatic.
Java’s not a difficult language in and of itself, but it has a healthy set of eccentricities that can make working with it outside a managed environment a bit of an exercise in frustration. That is what has earned Java development a reputation of being less than efficient nor intuitive. It’s an unfair reputation, as working with C/++ or any other language is just as aggravating without a managed IDE in reality. So, with Salesforce’s Apex API being centered around Java development like most other extension systems, how does the Salesforce Eclipse plugin hold up to scrutiny?
I have a good deal of experience, mostly from a hobbyist perspective, in working with Eclipse for Android and Blackberry development, both of which also require plugins in order to approach easily. The first real complaint I have, and I only have a couple, is that there’s no preconfigured package for Salesforce development via Eclipse, as there are for Android and Blackberry. To get started with those two, you can download a comprehensive SDK kit that just gives you a tertiary copy of Eclipse configured and optimized for them, with no muss nor fuss.
This Salesforce plugin, however, has to be manually installed. That’s not difficult, but I have to say it kind of feels like a little less effort on their parts. It has had the negative result of giving some people grief, as a number of users have had this installation fail due to the normal “Install New Software” method doesn’t work. Instead, you are left to use a special marketplace installation, which is just weird.
Beyond that, though, there’s little to say either way. Eclipse’s usual facilities for form creation, code editing and single-click building and project creation, when Salesforce settings are turned on, works just as expected, but unlike SDK versions of Eclipse for mobile platforms, that calls for those extra steps for installation and initiating the settings mode that shifts Eclipse’s gears to accommodate Salesforce deployment. It works just fine after this is done, of course.
So, my final conclusion about the Salesforce Eclipse plugin is that, once you get past all the extra crap you have to do to use it, it works perfectly fine, just like any other environment-targeting Eclipse plugin or configuration does. If they’d just make the installation more standard, or release an SDK package with a tertiary copy of Eclipse like Google and Blackberry did for developing for their platforms, I’d give this a five out of five. For now, those weird extra steps and eccentricities costs it a star I’m afraid.