Reinvigorated Java IDEs change the development landscape
Java IDEs have improved steadily over the last few years. Products from IBM, Borland, and Sun show just how far they've come
JBuilder feels solid throughout — a remarkable achievement given its status as a first release on Eclipse. The only bugs I ran into were frequent help icons that did not work. My complaints focus on features that are not implemented, such as the lack of visual designers for JSP or JSF (although these are coming shortly). The product also does not generate deployment files for applications using DB2, which is a curious omission. Finally, it currently ships on Windows only. Linux and Mac versions are slated for May.
At $1,999 for the edition I reviewed, JBuilder is not cheap, but it provides tremendous bang for the buck. For developers who don’t need all the high-end features, there are professional and developer versions of JBuilder available for $799 and $399, respectively.
Sun NetBeans 5.5
Sun’s NetBeans product is the only completely open source product in this review, available at no cost from netbeans.org. Unlike the other packages, NetBeans requires a little assembly; you start with the core NetBeans platform and add several “packs,” depending on your needs.
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When I first examined NetBeans, several years ago, it was more of a tagalong IDE with some good features, rather than a true peer of the other Java IDE products. This is no longer the case, and NetBeans’ popularity reflects this: A December 2006 survey by BZ Research shows that NetBeans enjoyed robust growth last year and is now in second place behind only Eclipse (which maintains a comfortable lead).
For enterprise computing, NetBeans provides several useful features, including support for Java EE 5 in the form of Sun’s GlassFish project. The IDE has good tooling for services-based enterprise development, be it SOA or just plain Web services. For example, NetBeans is the only product reviewed here with full diagramming and modeling capabilities for BPEL.
The enterprise services offerings are offset, however, by lack of support for common products. NetBeans does not support IBM’s WebSphere app server, and it lacks integrated support for any database other than JavaDB. The latter point needs some clarification, though: NetBeans will recognize any JDBC-accessible database, but it generates deployment files and exploits DBMS-specific features only for JavaDB.
Collaboration features are very good. NetBeans has built-in facilities for real-time collaboration between developers, including chat and code-sharing capabilities.
Unlike these features in JBuilder, NetBeans’ design is server-based. You can set up your own server for this communication or use one provided by Sun at no charge. You simply log in to Sun’s server, and any developers in your group are displayed along with their login status — a design that is similar to presence awareness in IM products.