Eclipse/CDT is very flexible when it comes to supporting other kind of toolchains; anything which can be broken down to a series of external programs which which interact to produce output from a given set of inputs. You can implement a toolchain for creating PDF files from LaTeX input, although this has little to do with C/C++ development. This great flexibility is actually the first warning flag. Yes, flexibility is a good thing, but the user's have to be able to wield it as well.
Most of the toolchain is defined in the plugin.xml. This is where all tools, configuration, projects type, options, etc. are defined. This is actually the second warning flag. My plugin.xml is at 2000 lines and counting, and I haven't really done anything complicated. A bunch of options, two different project types, two build configurations, and 4 tools (c-compiler, c++-compiler, linker, assembler). Yes, I could probably break out much of this in separate plugins, but that seems a little overkill.
CDT has a system for inheritance among elements in the toolchain definition file. I can define a common base class for my C and C++ compilers, and define C++-specific options in a subclass. What CDT does is basically to paste a primitive inheritance system on top of XML. It works like this:
This may sound great at a first look, but it quickly turns out to be hopelessly inadequate. It's ok to do small things this way, but when you have three different tools with similar set of options you need a way to be able to share these in a more flexible manner.
One of my favorite programming principles is DRY: Don't Repeat Yourself. While writing CDT toolchain definitions you have to break this rule so many times, it's almost physically painful. For example: each XML element has to have a globally unique identifier, and it has to be specified in full in the element itself. In the plugin.xml file which contains my toolchain definition, 25% of the lines includes the reverse-DNS name ("com.foo.bar.plugin", for example) used to make sure that the identifier are globally unique.
There is an option for my compiler which takes 20-30 enumerable values (the target cpu type). To specify this, I have to write an XML element for each of these values:
Instead of allowing me to have a simple list of all cpu types and generate each option, I have to manually (cut-n-paste) expand the enumeration value definitions.
I think it would be better to write the toolchain definition in Java instead. The idea of defining things in the plugin's plugin.xml file is to let Eclipse know things about plugins without having to load the plugin itself, but does this include details about which options my compiler takes? If plugin.xml just defined the entry point classes for my toolchain in the plugin.xml file, I could define the toolchain by creating the appropriate Java objects. This would allow me to use the full power of Java's inheritance system and I can store option metadata (such as the number of available cpu types) in a way most suitable for my needs.