This new product, "RPG Toolkit," is designed to do all the stuff that E-Tools does now, but also is more customizable and -- and this is the bit they're all excited about -- can mix-and-match different rulesets on the fly. Want to have a d20 Modern "Strong Hero" in your D&D game? Want to use the Anime SRD, or part of the Anime SRD? RPGT can do it (they say). You can also implement more house rules, more easily, including building custom classes (which can only be done in the kludgiest way in E-Tools by directly opening up the database in MS Access or ETHelper). One very nice feature, is that supposedly custom data sets will no longer be hosed by adding new datasets -- so you don't have to keep rebuilding your character every time you add a new sourcebook!
All of this is very well and good, but then comes the sticky question: What about all that stuff I bought for E-Tools?
Well, yes, this is a snag. This isn't an E-Tools upgrade, this is an all-new product, and once RPGT is released, CMP is going to stop supporting E-Tools all together. Like, at all. Having gone above and beyond the call of duty with such a messed-up monster of an app, they feel (and as a programmer, I sympathise) that it's time to shoot the thing and put it out of their misery.
But the people who've paid for E-Tools, and in some cases lots of money for datasets (like me), are justifiably tweaked about that. So here's what they're going to do:
If you have an account on their website (such as having bought downloadable software or data sets), you will be given an as-yet-undetermined period during which you can swap free RPGT datasets for your E-Tools datasets. I gather you still have to buy the core program (price not announced, but I'd guess ~$30-$50). When you swap out datasets, you lose access to the E-Tools versions, but at least you don't have to buy them all over again. (In my case, this is probably $100 worth of datasets, so I would have been mighty ticked to be told, "Too bad.")
The plan is that all of the existing E-Tools datasets will be ready to go when RPGT is released, so you'll be able to swap right away (which is a good thing, considering that there will be a finite swap period). It's also slated to pre-ship with every OGL ruleset they can get their hands on, which means it should be able to support D&D, d20 Modern, BESM's anime SRD, and lots more. They haven't specified a release date yet, other than that they're aiming for "Late 2005."
So, how do I feel about all this? Cautiously optimistic. CMP has done very good things with E-Tools, and as an early adopter, I'll be the first person to tell you it was a complete hash at version 1.0. Switching over to a whole new product will probably be a nuisance, but probably not that big a deal, since you have to reinstall a whole new database pretty much every time you want to add a new dataset to your current E-Tools. I knew this day was coming, and I'll be burning my E-Tools files to CD-ROM just in case, but overall I think this'll be a big improvement in the long run.
For more detail, you can read the RPGT Preliminary FAQ here.