Buckle your seat belts, because this is going to be one fast ride! In the pages that follow, you're going to learn not one, not two, but three of today's top Java technologies. Not only that, you'll learn how to put them together to create a real business application.
"Wait a minute," you say. "I don't even have Java on my machine!" Well, fear not. This book assumes nothing. Eclipse Step by Step walks you through downloading and installing every piece of software you need. The only requirement is that your PC has some horsepower and a bit of room on the disk.
A CPU of 1.5GHz or better
512MB of RAM
250MB of disk space.
1024x768 screen resolution highly recommended
Windows machines must have Windows 2000 or better 
That might look like a hefty machine, but if you plan to do development using today's generation of tools, that's a minimum. I prefer at least a gigabyte of RAM and a 2GHz processor, and I find 1280x1024 to be necessary if I plan to use the tools on a daily basis, but the specs I posted above are enough to get started. With some judicious shopping on the Internet, you can find a machine with those specifications for under $1000 USD.
Where the operating system matters, this book is going to assume a Windows machine. Screenshots throughout the book are from a Windows 2000 machine. However, Eclipse will run on other operating systems, notably Linux and Macintosh, with others available or in development. I've included the latest version of Eclipse for several platforms on the enclosed CD-ROM. Since Eclipse is a very highly integrated environment, there aren't many places where you have to go outside the box, so to speak, and interact directly with the operating system. The only steps that might be different are downloading from the Internet or importing files from the CD. Non-Windows users may need to adjust the scripts for those steps accordingly .
More importantly, Eclipse is designed to take on the look and feel of the host operating system, so non-Windows users will get a different look and feel than Windows users. In fact, there are two Linux versions: one for Motif and one for GTK. This is a fundamental concept of the design philosophy of Software Widget Toolkit (SWT), one of the underlying technologies of Eclipse and one of the topics this book will cover. Also, Eclipse is supported on the Mac only for OS X users; there are currently no plans for an OS 9 implementation.
Several of the Sidesteps show you how to download various pieces of software from the Internet (all software used in this book ”other than the Windows operating system ”is freely available for download). The browser used in the download steps is Microsoft Internet Explorer version 6. This makes the download process a little different from previous versions of Internet Explorer and significantly different than other browsers. The thing to note is that I instruct the browser to open the files immediately once they are downloaded rather than save them to a folder on my disk drive. This is more of a convenience rather than a recommended practice. Whatever your current practices are for downloading software, please follow them. In particular, if you are working on a company machine, please follow your corporate security procedures.
Windows and Linux users need a Java virtual machine (JVM) ”Sidestep 1 will help you download one if you do not already have one. Macintosh users have their own JVM, so they don't need this particular step. I've also included the SQL engine that the exercises use, HSQLDB. I like HSQLDB because it's a pure Java implementation, so it will run anywhere you have a JVM, with no additional installation considerations.
Finally, because some people may prefer other SQL engines or might prefer Swing over SWT, I've included Sidesteps on those particular topics to help you adapt these exercises to those technologies. If the previous sentence made no sense, then you probably don't have to worry about those Sidesteps!
 Personally, I use Windows 2000 Professional, and so that is what I recommend. If you have had good luck with Windows XP Professional, you might want to use that instead.