The Customer Engagement Initiative for the ABAP Development Tools for SAP NetWeaver (aka ABAP in Eclipse) took place in the timeframe of October 2011- April 2012. Within the CEI about 20 experienced ABAP and non-ABAP developers at selected customers and partners evaluated the pilot version of ABAP Development Tools for SAP NetWeaver with regard to different aspects including developer efficiency, usability, feature scope, documentation and more. Following the initial blog Customer Engagement: Evaluation of the Pilot Version of ABAP in Eclipse this blog now offers a comprehensive summary of the customer and partner feedback collected during the engagement.
The overall perception was very positive. The participants appreciated the future-oriented approach to offer ABAP development tools on top of the Eclipse platform. Generally the new ABAP IDE was perceived as quite 'smooth', very stable, conclusive development environment with simple user guidance. The ABAP development tools are well arranged within Eclipse, very good integrated and connected with each other via good navigation and many useful keyboard shortcuts utilizing the modern Eclipse IDE capabilities. The provided documentation was helpful, reducing the learning curve for beginners.
The entry barrier for traditional ABAP developers was experienced as medium because the developers needed some time to familiarize themselves with Eclipse and its different handling in comparison with the ABAP Workbench. Especially the first steps with the ABAP Development Tools were partly challenging: create project, connect to the ABAP backend system, navigation between objects was a bit unusual (e.g. the ABAP Workbench forward navigation via double click is realized with F3 or Ctrl+Click in ABAP Development Tools). It took also some time to learn the new shortcuts and icons. Generally conversion with the keyboard commands and new navigation commands required a small acclimatizing. Nevertheless after some time the participants reported back that it really makes fun to work with the ABAP Development Tools. Newcomers in ABAP with Eclipse experience (e.g. Java developers) felt themselves faster at home: projects of different servers can be opened simultaneously in the same Project Explorer view, the IDE can be adapted more flexibly to own needs and is expandable over plugins. The transition was perceived as low, easier, but the developers still have to get to know the ABAP environment, language, Data Dictionary tools etc.
The stability was rated as very high. During the evaluation phase no crashes or errors were reported. Since the backend ABAP system in the context of the customer engagement was delivered and ran on a virtual machine, the performance was difficult to estimate and not comparably with genuine development.
The increase of development efficiency was positive proven by different features. Much typing can be removed from the daily developer work because of very versatile code completion and auto insertion. The fast search for ABAP development objects in the ABAP backend was quoted as ‘cool’. Better representation of complex objects via the new Outline View, more direct interaction was experienced in the comparison to SAP GUI like e.g. selection of a class in the Outline View navigates directly with high performance to the appropriate source code part. The possibility to access several ABAP backend systems within one Eclipse client and parallel development in multiple editor windows (the participants opened up to 10 of them) was rated as the top feature.
The provided functionality was in most cases easy to find (e.g. in menus, toolbars, context menus, using right mouse button). For some not-Eclipse experienced participants it took initially some time to find SAP specific functions in the ABAP in Eclipse environment. The new UI flexibility was very well accepted and UI customization was used by the majority of participants: show/hide views, full screen editor, editor split, etc.
The usability and user-friendliness of the new IDE was rated good to very good after initial familiarization time. The IDE is faster, the usage feeling is more lightweight, less switching between keyboard and mouse. Though the Eclipse is a paradigm change for the classic ABAP developer, the participants admired its usability after spending some time with it.
The quality of the provided documentation (Installation Guide, Getting Started Guide, ABAP System Help) was rated as good. The correctness, technical consistency of terms among each other and with their presentation on the UI was stated as very good. The information was in most cases findable and helped the users to complete the required IDE tasks. Still better user assistance would be appreciated to help experienced ABAP Workbench developers getting more productive with the ABAP Development Tools in Eclipse: explanation about how the well-known ABAP Workbench functionalities are realized in the ABAP Development Tools in Eclipse, information directly in tooltips, more details, sample project including source code for get a quick start, better promotion of new useful shortcuts for faster learning of the new IDE capabilities, some kind of migration help ‘ABAP Workbench->ABAP Development Tools’ for classic ABAP developers‚ ‘Tip of the Day‘ for productivity increase with Eclipse, more context-sensitive F1 help for ABAP commands and so on.
Generally the participants found it reasonable and helpful to use SAP GUI for not natively available in Eclipse ABAP tools. For SAP GUI experienced developers it was not a problem to use SAP GUI window integrated within Eclipse environment. Though the SAP GUI integration was accepted only in transition phase and should be necessary if possible only occasionally, since Eclipse classical look and feel gets disturbed thereby. To work fluently and smoothly the native Eclipse tools are much more suitable. The participants considered thereby less the aesthetic aspect and more the aspect of the different operation and navigation in Eclipse and SAP GUI.
The top features from the participants’ point of view are:
- Mature code completion (also for ABAP commands and DDIC object names)
- Parallel development in several ABAP backend systems with display and edit of multiple ABAP development objects in multi-tab editor
- Better usability and user friendliness (e.g. better “felt” response times for editor tasks like activate/save/navigate/code formatting etc.)
- Compare source code versions across different ABAP systems
- Fast Search for ABAP Development Objects (running in background)
- Code information about ABAP objects
- Source code templates
- Outline View of components and sub-components
- Local refactoring support (e.g. rename, clean-up unused variables)
The missing features and shortcomings (unranked) from the participants’ point of view are:
- Best practices for traditional ABAP developers used to the ABAP Workbench (e.g. how to use 'proven' tools / techniques in Eclipse)
- Need to use integrated in Eclipse SAP GUI window for Data Dictionary and Web Dynpro for ABAP tools
- Some functionalities are partly accessible in Eclipse and partly in SAP GUI
- More enhanced and automated code completion (e.g. show parameter and return values for methods, open automatically during typing )
- Access to the most important lifecycle management services (CTS)
- Support of modifications and enhancements scenarios
- Global refactoring support (e.g. rename for report or class, change package assignment)
- More templates for new objects
- Handling for texts (e.g.message texts, T100 texts etc.)
All in all the evaluated pilot version of the ABAP development Tools for Eclipse was considered as a very good starting point showing the potential of a modern, Eclipse-based ABAP IDE with room for improvement. Most participants consider using the ABAP Development Tools in projects with a large share of object-oriented ABAP development and generally in all projects containing ABAP custom development or mixed development scenarios with ABAP and other technologies. For the future the participants wish further development and functional enrichment of the ABAP Development Tools in Eclipse (e.g. native integration of Web Dynpro for ABAP tools), better tool support for graphical editors and more offerings for generative development techniques.
Altogether this engagement was a very positive and productive cooperation of customers, partners, SAP development and product management. Since the responsible product owners of the ABAP Development Tools for Eclipse participated in the pilot program, the collected feedback was directly rolled into the responsible development teams and will directly be considered to improve and enhance future versions of the new IDE.
At present preparations for the first official shipment (currently planned for Q3/Q4 2012) are in full progress. Stay tuned to get your hands on the new ABAP IDE soon!