Book Review of the Month

A look at two popular books on Eclipse
Michael Yuan - Bartender,  July 2002

Eclipse has generated a lot of buzz among developers these days. It seems to get everything right:
  • It is small, fast and cross-platform;
  • It is code-centric with support for as-you-type error highlighting, auto code completion, refactoring and common stub generation;
  • It is extensible with many plugins and features an open architecture for plugin development;
  • It supports agile methodologies and collaborative development;
  • Best of all, it is Open Source.
Although it is easy to get started, few developers can appreciate the full power of Eclipse as both an IDE and a complete development platform. Good guide books on this subject can empower users to explore more features in the platform and maybe even contribute back to the Eclipse community as a plugin developer someday. Two Eclipse books caught my eye as the best sellers on Amazon: From the surface, the Addison-Wesley book seems to be a better bargain: It has 854 pages with a CDROM, sells for $49.99 and is written by members of the IBM Eclipse Jumpstart team. Addison-Wesley is actually publishing an entire book series on Eclipse. A draft of the second book in the series "Eclipse Modeling Framework" is in my hands as I write this review. On the other hand, the Manning book is "merely" 383 pages and costs a rather steep $44.95. However, after reading both books in the past week, I come to the conclusion that the two books serve very different purposes. I would like to have them both on my desk. Now, let’s start from the Manning book.
Eclipse In Action
David Gallardo, Ed Burnette, Robert McGovern

Manning Publications Company
Published: 15 May, 2003
The "Eclipse in Action" book covers much more than the Eclipse IDE or the Eclipse Framework. It should be accurately named "How to use Eclipse to develop agile software". Using a single project as the example throughout the book, the authors cover the Eclipse core IDE (e.g. editor, project manager and debugger) and important add-on tools such as ant, log4j, junit and cvs. The book also covers advanced topics such as how to develop and use Eclipse plug-ins.

After spending a little time studying the example project itself, the reader forms a concrete idea on how the development should proceed. Given this context, it is easy to understand how the directories are laid out; how to construct ant build files; how to auto generate test cases or JavaBean wrappers; and how to manage the CVS. Most importantly, the authors discussed adequately why and how to apply test-driven development methodologies in the application. They even refactored example application multiple times to demonstrate Eclipse’s superior code refactoring support. Overall, it is an excellent guide book on how to use Eclipse in your projects. After reading it, you can learn a lot about Eclipse as well as agile methodologies.

However, due to the limitations of the single example, the book cannot cover all the features in Eclipse. This book is a very smooth read from cover to cover. But if you are looking for description of a particular feature or menu item, you might be disappointed since the example application just does not go that far. The "plug in development" chapters of this book also only scratch the surface.
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Java Developer's Guide To Eclipse
Sherry Shavor, Jim D'Anjou, Dan Kehn, Scott Fairbrother, John Kellerman, Pat McCarthy

Addison Wesley
Published: 19 May, 2003
"The Java developer's Guide to Eclipse" book is almost exactly the opposite to "Eclipse in Action". It focuses on the Eclipse tool and platform, not any particular sample application. That allows the authors to describe almost all the menu items and details of supported features. However, without context, those descriptions are hard to understand or remember. I think this book makes a great reference book or textbook if supplemented with classroom and lab teaching. In fact, since the authors develop teaching materials for living, the book includes 7 chapters of "Exercises". Those materials are very good for serious learners but may not be suitable for casual readers who just want to get started with Eclipse quickly. The Addison-Wesley book really shines when it comes to Eclipse platform development materials. It presents basic and advanced tutorials on plugin development. It also describes how to build plugins into features that can be managed by the Eclipse update manager. A major characteristic of the Eclipse platform is its tight integration with the native platform. A chapter in the book is dedicated to COM interoperation on the Windows platform. Another chapter covers interoperating the native-based SWT toolkit with the standard Swing UI toolkit. If you are using Eclipse as a platform to develop your own tools, "Java Developer’s Guide to Eclipse" is a must-have book.
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Other books reviewed in July :

Java Extreme Programming Cookbook by Eric M. Burke and Brian M. Coyner
Design for Community, the art of connecting real people in virtual places by Derek M. Powazek
Java Web Services Architecture by James McGovern, Sameer Tyagi, Michael Stevens, Sunil Mathew
JDBC API Tutorial and Reference by Maydene Fisher, Jon Ellis, Jonathan Bruce
Unit Testing in Java by Johannes Link, Peter Froehlich
Java Web Services in a Nutshell by Kim Topley
MIDP 2.0 Style Guide for the Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition by Cynthia Bloch, Annette Wagner
The Art of Interactive Design by Chris Crawford
Sams Teach Yourself Extreme Programming in 24 Hours by Stewart Baird
Blogging - Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone
Building Embedded Linux Systems by Karim Yaghmour
Java Development on PDAs: Building Applications for Pocket PC and Palm Devices by Daryl Wilding, McBride
Google Pocket Guide by Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest , D. J. Adams
Web Services and Service-Oriented Architecture: The Savvy Manager's Guide by Douglas K. Barry
Secure Coding by Mark G. Graff, Kenneth R. van Wyk