InfoWorld review: Top Java programming tools

Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, NetBeans, and Oracle JDeveloper continue Java's tradition of rich and diverse development tools

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Consider, for example, a mixed Java and Groovy project imported into Eclipse without a Groovy plug-in. If you right-click on the Groovy file to edit it, a pop-up menu offers the following options: text editor, system editor, in-place editor, or default editor. Because no help is available with this list, the right choice is a pure guess. Things go downhill from here: If you click on system editor, Eclipse tries to run the script rather than allowing you to edit it. In sum, most Eclipse users must trust their hard-won knowledge of its ins and outs, rather than navigating intuitively through its features.

To learn those ins and outs, users rely heavily on the help system, which has improved significantly over the years, although it still has gaps. In addition, the number of false error reports, which were a common bugaboo of early Eclipse dialog boxes, has been essentially eliminated. The IDE is definitely improving from release to release, but it needs what NetBeans received a few years ago: a rewrite and redesign of the core editing capabilities.

I should add that Eclipse's design is a problem primarily in the Java space, where it faces high-quality competition, so that its drawbacks are more telling. In other areas, such as C development, where there are fewer good IDEs, Eclipse is popular and accepted without complaint. It is probably the principal IDE for C/C++ development for Linux, for example.

Despite these concerns, using Eclipse one gets the feeling of nearly endless capability and tremendous scalability. The seeming unlimited capability is in good part due to the very wide range of plug-ins (as highlighted in the feature tables). This in turn is partly a result of the fact that most plug-in developers support Eclipse first. Many vendors never port their products to other platforms. Even very popular plug-ins, such as the excellent task manager Mylin, often are available only for Eclipse.

In the past, the management of plug-ins in Eclipse has been a problem for users, as one plug-in often depended on other plug-ins that had to be at certain version numbers. Eclipse has steadily addressed these issues. With this year's release of the Eclipse MarketPlace, it has also addressed the difficulty of finding a plug-in you might need.

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