The wealth of open source software development goodies is heaven for the developer community, but it's hell on an awards committee. Considering IDEs, debuggers, defect trackers, code coverage tools, unit testers, load testers, and so on, we could have come up with more awards here than the rest of the Bossies combined. Then there were paths that could only lead to trouble. Could we really choose a best language? Or a best development platform? Could we pick Python over Perl, or Rails over Mono?
Well, actually, no (see the sidebar, "Best open source programming language"). But we're more than ready to declare winners of the open source sweepstakes in IDEs, rich Internet apps, AJAX toolkits, and continuous integration, all areas where open source "alternatives" meet or beat their commercial counterparts.
In the open source IDE sector, the Eclipse-NetBeans rivalry was won long ago by Eclipse if all you count is market share. However, on innovation, things are not so clear. For the last two years, Eclipse has adopted a model of a platform, rather than an IDE — that is, a base framework for dozens, if not hundreds, of plug-ins supplied by partners. The result has been an IDE that is first to market with many products but that has an undeniably heavy feel. The Web is rife with articles by users, even advanced users, flummoxed by their inability to add, modify, or remove plug-ins. The "ever more functionality" approach has provided lots of tools, but at the cost of bloat and a dearth of refinement of the editing experience.
By contrast, NetBeans has hewn closely to the vision of a lightweight, responsive, and easily configurable IDE. It works to provide top-of-the-line plug-ins (its Matisse GUI designer, performance profiler, and online collaboration tools are category leaders) and to integrate them seamlessly into the IDE. This year, NetBeans had the courage to completely redesign the code-editing experience to emulate the most user-friendly editor available for Java (IntelliJ) — resulting in a greatly improved user experience. For its commitment to quality over quantity and for the courage to rip and replace modules to improve developer productivity, we salute the NetBeans team and its stellar IDE. NetBeans wins the Bossie.