Monday, 6 October 2014

A Floor Wax or a Dessert Topping?

For those as old as I am and as influenced by American culture as most Canadians certainly are, the question "Is it a floor wax or a dessert topping?" likely rings a bell. Unfortunately, because the internet aims to curb the exchange cultural media—I use the term "cultural media" loosely in this case—you likely can't watch the video via that Wikipedia link where you live, but there are alternatives, thanks to the wonders of Google search. How could modern society, and effective software developers, function without Google?  It makes a guy dizzy just to think about it!

I bring this floor wax verses dessert topping question up because EclipseCon is just around the corner.  Like a floor wax, it's a valuable utility, in this case for learning cool new things and for interacting with experts and other like-minded people. Yet like a dessert topping, it's fun, because of the social events, and fattening, because the food is so good. I'm certainly excited to attend yet another EclipseCon. Barring death or disease, I wouldn't miss it! I've been to every EclipseCon and Eclipse Summit, except one.

Eike and I will be presenting Oomph, which is like a floor wax—reducing hours of tedious work to several minutes of automation— and like a dessert topping—recording your preferences and propagating them to all your workspaces.  Perhaps the latter feature isn't even technically a dessert topping, not if you consider the top reasons why some people hate Eclipse. In particular, consider how many of those reasons relate to issues that are addressed by appropriate preferences. Of course that leads to an endless debate about what's the best default preference, i.e., surely no one wants to use Cp1252 as their default workspace encoding. We intend to address this issue with Oomph, so come to our talk and find out about the grand things that are in store.

The biggest problem with Oomph right now is documentation.  Which self-respecting developer wants to spend time on that?  Not only is it a motivation issue, authoring help-center documentation is beyond horrible. So, being tool smiths and OCD, we've worked on making that much easier.  The basic idea is that the documentation is authored as Javadoc, with numerous doclet extensions. It is processed to generate the help center HTML. The overall processing includes a preprocessor phase to produce model diagrams, screen captures, Java snippets, XML snippets, and even tree views complete with their associated properties view.  All this makes the author's life simpler and the end result is way beyond cool. In particular, have a look at the Setup Resources section; this link is likely to change in the coming days when we refactor the documentation using JDT.

Not only have I been busy with these Oomph-related things, Xcore has some dramatic performance improvements in the latest Luna service release thanks in large part to my itemis colleague, Stefan Oehme, a member of the world-renowned Xtext team. And of course there was the usual service and support work associated with EMF itself, but everyone takes that for granted. I also want to thank Jonas for revamping the embarrassingly outdated Modeling home page along with EMF's home page. It's hard to keep up with all these driving factors, but it's definitely better than being bored!

I hope to see you in Ludwigsburg at the end of the month.  Feel free to test my much-improved German skills!  Though be prepared to hear me complain about the complexities of German grammar. Sollte das ein das, ein die, oder ein der sein? Translated literally to the pointless question, should that a the, a the, or a the be?  Note the three gender articles and dangling verb. Don't expect to get the point of a German sentence until you get to the very end.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Shoes for the Shoemaker

We shoemakers are typically so busy making shoes for others that we and our children are often out and about in shoddy shoes if not barefoot. There is also a strong tendency in the wider Eclipse community to find fault without taking action, looking instead to others to magically fix problems while feeling entitled to "motivate" those actions with poisonous complaints. We should consider carefully what's wrong with this picture.

Consider for example the all-important Eclipse Platform project and the perennial concern about the limited contributions it receives.  Of course this same concern extends to all projectswe'd all love high-quality contributions associated with each and every Bugzilla reportbut let's just take the platform as a case in point.  Suppose you would like to provision an IDE for working with the platform SDK source so you can commit your bug fixes to Gerrit.  All you need to do to get started is follow a few simple steps.

That's right, in the modern age of integrated development environments, you're expected to act as an interpreter for converting human language scripts into machine operations.  Does that not strike you as completely anachronistic?  Of course you're likely already doing this each time you provision an IDE to work on your own project, and you likely don't keep up with the release train milestones because it's a royal pain to do all this work each time there's a new version.

This whole problem irritates me to the extreme, not so much the platform's specific problem, but the fact that I have the same problem for EMF and for every project I use and to which I wish to contribute.  Just so you don't think I'm throwing bricks at the platform, have a look into my glass house, in particular at the extremely lovely analog of the platform's wiki page for setting up EMF's source. Good luck getting that to work!  What that heck is CVS? 

Not only is it anachronistic to follow scripts manually, it's always the case that these scripts become dated and are in need of constant maintenance, which, as busy developers, we don't have time to do.   Compound that with the fact that the scripts are buggy, you should not be surprised that when you treat the community like monkeys, you end up mostly with a lot of hooting.

Oh well, so much for the whining, sniveling, and complaining part, this problem calls for action.  Eike and I, being inherently lazy, don't even want to follow these kinds of scripts ourselves so we've worked on an  alternative approach. Yes, there's still a script for bootstrap purposesyou can help improve itbut here's the synopsis:
  • just as you would any Eclipse package, download the appropriate version of the Eclipse Oomph installerwe need to do some brand marketing instead of just calling it the "Setup tool",
  • unzip it,
  • run it, 
  • select the project you wish to set up, 
  • go for coffee, 
  • and come back to enjoy your fully provisioned IDE along with that fresh cup of Java.
Here's how you'd provision an IDE for working with the platform's SDK:

Here's the end result:

Of course a workspace with the entire Eclipse SDK as source is a bit aggressive, but it's a great proof of concept that it can be done for the entire platform. Be patient though, Rome wasn't built in a day: the platform's code base is very large, so cloning it all takes time, for me more than an hour!  Try a simpler project, like the EMF Core SDK, if you want more immediate gratification, and keep in mind that this would not be any faster if you did it manually.  Note that Oomph was built with EMF.  Did I mention that we're inherently lazy?

It's quite easy to author an executable setup script for your own project.  Here's how the platform's setup script looks:

The platform's script is quite complex because the platform itself is complex. Not only that, there are gotchas to get the platform to build without errors, e.g., an inherent need to install several JREs, which I avoided by changing project-specific preferences to not treat an imperfect JRE match as an error. You can see there are tasks to set global preferences, a task to install additional tools, e.g., the EE profiles feature, tasks to clone the dozens of repos, a task to materialize the target platform, a task to populate reasonable dynamic working sets, and so on.  Unfortunately it's apparently very hard to build all the platform's Ant jars and there appears to be a platform bug that requires an IDE "Restart" followed by a "Build All" before everything builds without errors and with less than 17,000 warnings. Note that the provisioned target platform contains only bundles from Orbit and from Jetty; I have no idea how the Jetty folks provision an IDE to work with source.

Eike and I intend to maintain an index of all Eclipse project setup scripts so that our community of contributors can enjoy one-stop shopping.  In addition, there are already folks looking to maintain indices for other open source forges.

The script-authoring documentation is a work in progress, but of course you can look at all the working examples as a basis for creating your own; remember to turn on "Live Validation" in the editor to catch problems early.  Note that if you provision the CDO Release Engineering environment using Oomph, you'll have all of Oomph's source code and some example scripts at your fingertips.  Contributions to the project are welcome; your changes can be easily committed to Gerrit. If you have questions, please use the EMF newsgroup and prefix the subject line with "[Oomph]". If you find problems, please report a Bugzilla. And finally, if you're so inclined, come see our EclipseCon presentation!

As you might expect, we're not the only ones who recognize the need to solve this vexing problem nor the only ones with a solution for it.  If you need this same type of thing in an enterprise context, you'll want to have a look at the cool features of p3, e.g., carefully managed inside-the-firewall p2 repositories.

As a footnote, it's committer representative election time again.  How will you decide how best to cast your vote given the 4 available choices this year?  Of course you'll want people who actively represent your committer interests at Eclipse, so you might glance at commit stats to see who's actively committing to notice these lines-of-code-committed stats over the past 1, 3, 6, and 9 months:

As a caveat, keep in mind that modeling is a great productivity amplifier!  Not only that, code commits are not the only significant committer activity and are mostly certainly not a good measure of who will best represent your interests.  On that note, I can only promise that, if elected, I'll continue to do my best to make sure Eclipse is a great place to be.  You can definitely count on me to take action where action is needed.