Four Java IDEs duke it out
Enterprise environments from Borland, IBM, Oracle, Sun provide remarkable toolsets
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Modeling, however, is weak. The package supports only two UML diagrams. This shortcoming results from Borland's acquisition of Together, a high-end modeling package that the company points you to if you need robust modeling. As of early March, Borland adopted a sales model that combines Together with JBuilder and other Borland tools depending on the needs of the developer. This role-based product suite, called Core SDP, will form the basis of Borland's enterprise offerings from now on.
Another interesting note: At the annual Eclipse user conferencein March, Borland announced that it will ship a set of Eclipse plug-ins that duplicate the functionality of JBuilder 2005. How long the company will support two GUIs for the same product is hard to guess, but the announcement suggests that JBuilder 2005 might eventually make a transition to Eclipse. If it does, it will abandon a terrific IDE, around which Borland has built impressive functionality.
IBM Rational Software Architect 6.0
IBM's new line of Rational Software products replaces the WebSphere Studio family. RSA (Rational Software Architect) 6.0 is -- despite its version number -- the first generation under the new moniker. Of the various suites I reviewed, RSA has the broadest sweep.
IBM uses the same role-based model as Borland. RSA 6.0 is built upon several layers. Just underneath is Rational Web Developer, which omits a substantial portion of the modeling functionality; below that is Rational Application Developer, which lacks the Web-facing design capabilities. At the very base of the stack is Eclipse 3.0, the freely available Java-oriented IDE that is gaining tremendous popularity (see "Eclipse Casts a Long Shadow," page 36).
Unfortunately, almost all of RSA's drawbacks arise from this bottom layer. First, Eclipse is not an intuitive interface. Until you've practiced with it for a long time, you are likely to come across inexplicable dialog boxes or unexpected pathways. IBM simplifies the task with a set of terrific tutorials, yet the IDE is still more difficult to navigate than JBuilder 2005 or Oracle JDeveloper.
The RSA interface is also notably slower than those two products. It never quite reaches the point of frustrating users, but it feels sluggish and lacks the snap of the other products, especially when switching among views of a project (such as moving from design to coding).
Part of the sluggishness is due to the amount of software IBM has wrapped around the Eclipse base -- a remarkable collection of enterprise-oriented software spanning 14 CDs. This includes IBM's WebSphere application server as a test environment, an entire software stack for developing Web portals, and tip-top modeling and design tools.