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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Nonetheless, JDeveloper is more responsive than the other products reviewed here and has superior help. Press the key combination for help and a screen pops up very quickly with information tied directly to the page or dialog you're working in. This context-sensitive help is faster and better than its counterparts in the other IDEs. JDeveloper also includes niceties such as a built-in profiler that can measure performance or memory consumption. Its syntax checker found an error not spotted by IntelliJ IDEA's vaunted code proofing tools. In the areas where Oracle has cared to focus, the company has done a good job.

One area the company has not focused on -- and this is where the JDeveloper story unravels -- is creating an ecosystem of plug-ins. No product reviewed here has fewer plug-ins, and most of the extant plug-ins were written by Oracle itself. Third parties, to speak of, are nearly absent. For example, I was not able to find a single plug-in for code coverage analysis that works with JDeveloper. This is an important limitation.

Oracle has made it clear that it intends JDeveloper to continue being the company's primary development environment. For organizations that have committed to the Oracle stack, this is a reasonable choice. But all other customers are likely to be better served by the other IDEs presented here.

Top Java programming tools at a glance

  Platforms Cost Bottom line
Eclipse 3.6 Java 5; Windows, Mac OS X, Linux Free The market leader in Java IDEs improves incrementally with each annual release. Its vast array of third-party plug-ins makes it the richest environment in terms of tools that can be optionally integrated. However, Eclipse is hard to learn and difficult to use, and it frequently gets in the way of even simple tasks.
JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA 9.0.3 JDK 5 or 6; Windows, Mac OS X, Linux $295 The only commercial IDE in this review continues its long history of useful innovation and high-quality implementation. Robust, complete, and utterly intuitive, this product remains at the top of the heap. Better documentation would improve it still.
NetBeans 6.9 JDK 6; Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris Free An excellent, easy-to-use, and complete IDE that supports development in many languages beyond Java. Easier to use than Eclipse, but with a smaller ecosystem of plug-ins, and not as feature complete as IntelliJ IDEA, NetBeans is nonetheless the best of the free IDEs reviewed here.
Oracle JDeveloper Studio 11g JDK 6; Windows, Mac OS X, Linux Free, with options for paid support if bought as part of a larger package A solid, closed source Java IDE with good support for enterprise technologies, especially those from Oracle. With few plug-ins and limited support for products outside of Oracle's official software stack, JDeveloper is not a good option for organizations that are not exclusively committed to Oracle's offerings.
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