The Eclipse Foundation today announced it will allow 5,000 developers to the beta test of the Web-based Orion tool-integration platform. The platform, which comes from the same team at IBM that created Eclipse, is being hosted at with the aim of slowly expanding the project until it becomes a viable browser-based development environment.

Harish Grama, vice president of product development at IBM Rational who worked on Orion, said the original idea behind the project was to port Eclipse to the Web. But he added that after almost two years of work toward that goal, it was decided that such a project would have to be written from scratch.

“Ever since Eclipse took off and became popular, there has been more and more of a movement to a Web-centric model,” he said. “Runtimes have gotten there [onto the Web]. But there was this notion that tools would follow at some point.

“Eclipse Web started in 2008. That was based on Eclipse and the SWT widget set, and trying to get exactly what Eclipse was in a browser. We put the brakes on that project because the ecosystem and the industry weren’t in the right mindset for that.”

One of the primary goals of Orion is to offer a language-neutral platform. Other efforts to build Web-based IDEs, such as Project Bespin and 280North’s Atlas, have focused very specifically on JavaScript. While JavaScript will be a target for Orion, it will not be the focus, said Grama.

“Some of the players focused too much on one programming language or one paradigm. As companies are joining us…as more come on board, we want to be inclusive rather than exclusive,” said Grama.

“What do we build this with? HTML, JavaScript, CSS and Dojo. What do we want to enable? Building artifacts, designing artifacts for JSON, Atom and other protocols. We want to be inclusive this time. You want to be able to source these artifacts from wherever they are on the Web and not just what you’re able to develop locally. We’re going to open this a lot wider.”

That means the Orion team is currently considering methods for pulling in libraries and code from the Web, without the need for gathering large stockpiles of code on the user’s hard drive. And because much of modern software development uses Web-based tools for build, issue-tracking and source control monitoring, the Orion team is planning to integrate those types of tools first.

Grama said the Orion team is “initially looking at enabling things like Bugzilla, Hudson for build monitoring, and Git for source-code control versioning.”

This website is intended to give developers a chance to voice their opinions on the platform, and to help mold its future direction. Grama said the project will be pushing out milestones soon.

“In terms of availability, we’re going to iteratively get more and more milestones out there,” Grama said. “May 20 is when we start our last iteration for the June 24 release, where people can start self-hosting this. We will also enter open beta at that time.”

The first general release is planned for June 2012.