The Java IDE market is currently a four-way battlefield between Eclipse, IntelliJ, JetBrains‚ NetBeans, and Oracle JDeveloper. (Borland’s announcement that it is getting rid of JBuilder and trying to find a buyer precludes its inclusion in this list until there is clarity about the product’s long-term availability.)
The 800-pound IDE gorilla is Eclipse. Its leadership position is due to the Eclipse Foundation’s ability to partner with a wide variety of third parties. Outside of Windows-oriented development, vendors and open source groups provide IDE plug-ins for Eclipse before all other IDEs, while the other products wait for customer demand to drive a ported plug-in.
As a result, Eclipse can legitimately claim it has established itself as a tools platform, rather than a single-language IDE. Its support for C/C++ and COBOL -- and soon for PHP -- bolster this claim. The road map shows Eclipse focusing on ALM (application lifecycle management) and extending itself to cover the full enterprise tool chain, not just the modeling and programming components.
While this expansion work is going on, however, the Java IDE portion has lain fallow. Last year’s sole upgrade added few noteworthy features, and this year’s list of new capabilities do not address the difficulties of using Eclipse -- a shortcoming acknowledged by many of its devout fans. This neglect creates opportunities for competitors.
The fastest and probably the smoothest of the free Java IDEs, JDeveloper continues to evolve quietly. This quiet is due to Oracle’s peculiar policy of not letting tools have higher release numbers than the core DBMS. As a result, JDeveloper 10.1.3 looks like a minor point release. It’s not -- it’s much bigger than that.
This version has excellent database support (naturally), very good built-in modeling tools, terrific J2EE deployment capabilities, extensive Web services functionality (including a SOAP monitor), plus state-of-the-art support for Java Server Faces, the sequel to Struts. In addition, the product’s code auditing and code suggestions are second to none. Although it lacks NetBeans’ collaboration and the slick Matisse GUI builder, I believe JDeveloper is the most feature-rich free Java IDE available today.
Quality of implementation defines IntelliJ. The interface is utterly intuitive, with most commands merely a right-click away. The code support is more extensive than most IDEs, with highly configurable error-sniffing capabilities and extensive online help. It also includes well-designed, advanced tools for Web development, such as HTML, XHTML, JSPs, and so forth.
Although it lacks the modeling tools present in some of the other for-pay IDEs (specifically, Rational’s extensions to Eclipse and JBuilder), IntelliJ remains one of the finest environments in any language for pure coding.
(In this article, we should have disclosed that an upgrade to JBuilder had been released in September 2005. InfoWorld regrets the error, which has been corrected.)