First of all, there are two things that you may be thinking of doing that will make you choose to work over Eclipse's Rich Client Platform (eRCP from now on):
- You want to develop a plug in for Eclipse. In such case, you have absolutely no choice. You will have to work over eRCP. On the other hand, you will be doing a lot of things that other persons already did and you will find several tutorials and samples that can help you.
- You want to develop a standalone application of your own. This will be the focus because it's doing this that you will find most problems.
Why should or shouldn't you work over eRCP?
Mainly, what you will gain from working over eRCP is a very strong extensibility for your application with a great architecture as well as a very decent internal update system and a nice help system. Wow! Wonderful right? And there is more! If you start now, you get a "native" cross-platform application for free!
Ok! I got a bit too far with that last sentence. So let's keep cool, not all applications are meant to be developed using eRCP. So what are the counters?
You will spend some time learning how eRCP works. And when I say some time, I mean something like 3 or 4 days totally lost doing things you don't really understand how they work.
You will also have some megabytes inserted into your software even before you have anything working. To get an idea, if you use all the features I quoted before, before you have any code of your own, your application will already have some 16 Mbs. If your application is meant to be light weight, forget it!
At last, you will have to adapt to eRCP's architecture and believe when I say it: It's a very very good architecture but it forces you to achieve, at least, a very good architecture level. This may take you some considerable time (I'm still trying to reach it).
So, okay, when should I use eRCP than?
When you want to develop a pluggable application, flexible, very strong.
When you want/need a very good Internet update system.
Let's say the help system is a bonus because it is not that hard to do in any standalone application.
And when shouldn't I use it?
When you want things to go quickly, you have little time to do your little application.
When you don't need plug ins.
When you have limited memory or processing.
Okay! But you don't like IBM/Eclipse... is there an alternative?
Yes. Sun Microsystems has the Netbeans Rich Client Platform (nRCP). It has almost all the features eRCP has but you'll loose a bit of community support since it's much less widely used and you'll win good documentation because Sun manages to have some very competent documentation writers.
Now that we are set about what is Eclipse Rich Client Platform, I'll leave you some links where you can have more insights about it:
http://wiki.eclipse.org/index.php/Rich_Client_Platform (RCP's faq and official RCP's site)
http://www.eclipse.org/articles/Article-RCP-1/tutorial1.html (The first part of a trilogy article from Ed Burnette. Very useful to start with RCP)
http://www.eclipse.org/articles/Article-Branding/branding-your-application.html (an article to read after Burnette's one by Andrew Eidsness and Pascal Rapicault)
http://eclipsercp.org/book/ (The best book I found for eRCP though it's not free)
Of course you can find much more looking over the Internet for "Rich Client Platform Eclipse" or "Rich Client Platform Netbeans" or just "RCP your-topic".
The next step is to start developing your own RCP application from scratch but you'll have to wait until I'm back from the Brazilian Carnival for that. See you next week!