Eclipse is an IDE tool that helps us to develop software. According to the Wikipedia definition, an integrated development environment (IDE) is a software application that provides comprehensive facilities to computer programmers for software development. You can also write code in a text editor and compile and execute from command line; but compared to a text editor, eclipse provides many additional useful features to make the development of software easier and faster. IDE normally consists of a source code editor, build automation tools and a debugger. Most modern IDEs like eclipse also offer intelligent code completion features.
Eclipse contains a base workspace and an extensible plug-in system for customizing the development environment. Eclipse is thus also a framework in addition to an IDE and can be extended to have more features and functionalities through the use of plugins. For instance, if you need to use SVN functionality or develop Adobe Flex applications there are plugins for them. If you need to install more plugins, you can navigate to Help > Install new software and install them.
If you have chosen the right distribution of eclipse, you will have most needed plugins already installed. Eclipse distributions are customized eclipse versions for a particular use case or particular user group with all required or helpful plugins for that particular purpose. Some of the popular distributions are Eclipse IDE for Java Developers, Eclipse IDE for Java EE Developers, Eclipse for Mobile Developers, Eclipse Modeling Tools, and Eclipse for Testers. So you need to decide which distribution suites you most. For executing java and java ee programs, as is the case mostly, you will need ‘Eclipse IDE for Java EE Developers’.
Most of us use eclipse just to create or edit java code, but eclipse has lot more features than just creating or editing code, for instance, debugging, code repository integration etc. Eclipse also provides many shortcuts to make the software development faster. The more you know about eclipse, its features, its shortcuts etc., we can develop software much faster than otherwise, and thus increase our productivity.
Learning about and using the available plugins can further increase your productivity. Eclipse plugin development is also an important learning area. It will enable you to create a plugin for your particular need if one is not already available. But make sure you search for an already existing plugin before creating your own so that you don’t recreate the wheel.