Four Java IDEs duke it out

Enterprise environments from Borland, IBM, Oracle, Sun provide remarkable toolsets

JSE 7 puts Sun back on the map for enterprise Java development. But unless you need its specific unique features -- which are truly impressive -- the other products in this review are likely to be better choices.

Strength Across the Board

No other major programming language today enjoys programming environments as rich as those reviewed here; even Visual Studio .Net 2003 looks pallid by comparison, although the forthcoming Visual Studio .Net 2005 is expected to narrow this gap.

But despite the quality and the extensive functionality of these four IDEs, they all lacked elements I think they should have included long ago.

Some simple coding functions are missing. Why aren't we able to spell-check literals or resource bundles, for example? Also, more-advanced features have only minimal implementations. For example, the GUI builders from Borland, Oracle, and Sun generate only Swing code, almost

as if the Standard Widget Toolkit did not exist.

With the exception of Borland, the XML editors were modest when they should have been robust, and likewise the HTML editors. No product could generate meaningful unit tests in the way that third-party tools, such as Agitar Software'sAgitator, do. Instead, the IDEs create only stubs for JUnit, even when the tests for a given class are obvious.

Keeping up with the latest standards also seems challenging for these products. Although all were released within the last 90 days, only Borland has support for JDK 1.5 (or 5.0). And only Borland integrated with Subversion source control management, even though Subversion is clearly taking over as the top choice among source-code management tools. As you can see, although these are terrific environments, there is plenty more they could do.

Evaluating IDE Options

The only way to buy technology -- be it hardware or software -- is to know your needs well. You will be obliged to take this preparatory step in the case of Java IDEs, because these four products are all well designed and well implemented.

There's a natural pairing between the Borland and IBM products, as they are the two packages targeting large, enterprise projects with specific support for software architects. In both cases, the additional products sold by these vendors can provide extra functionality, should it be necessary.

Of the two, IBM is the most feature complete, but it runs somewhat more slowly and its interface is less intuitive than Borland's.

If your needs are not quite at the architect level, then Oracle's JDeveloper is a good choice, although Borland is a worthy competitor in this space as well. If price is a factor at all, then Oracle is the hands-down winner. For now, Sun JSE 7 can only be recommended for those developers who need its unique collaboration, profiling, and load-testing features.

All four vendors make evaluation copies available for free download if you'd like to give them a trial run. Installing, configuring, and testing these products, however, is no easy job. I suggest that you begin with the Oracle product, which is the easiest to install and, in most cases, will provide most of what you need.

If Oracle JDeveloper's modeling limitations constrain you, then I recommend downloading both Borland JBuilder (remember, it's the Enterprise Edition) or IBM Rational RSA. No choice between these two products should be made without comparing them head to head.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Features (40.0%)
Integration (20.0%)
Performance (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Borland JBuilder 2005 Enterprise 9.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 8.4
IBM Rational Software Architect 6.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 8.3
Oracle JDeveloper 10.1.3 9.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0
Sun Java Studio Enterprise 7 7.0 8.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 7.4
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