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Revisiting Netbeans

Eclipse was the first IDE that was powerful enough to pull me away from good old trusty and ubiquitous vi. I had worked on a couple IDE projects, including Object Factory at Rogue Wave and HAHTsite at HAHT, and I had tried almost every Java IDE in existance, but I couldn't find an IDE that could tempt me away from vi. But, when I tried Eclipse in 2002 I was sold. What did I like about Eclipse at that time? Take a look at a My Eclipse Review to read my review of Eclipse from September 2002.

After seeing lots of cool demos of Java Studio Creator at JavaOne, hearing about Netbeans 4.0 release, and remembering to eat the dogfood, I decided that I had to take another look at Netbeans. I downloaded the Netbeans 4.0 demo over the weekend and I've been working with it all week. If you've used Netbeans before, you will notice some drastic changes. The Netbeans UI is much more clean, simple, and easy to use. Gone is the clunky filesystem mounting stuff and the complex options dialog is much more streamlined and easy to grok.

Here is a screenshot of Netbeans 4.0b1 showing the Versioning view: Netbeans 4.0.b1

There are still some shortcomings that will keep me going back to Eclipse, but there are also some areas where Netbeans seems to outshine Eclipse. Here are some of the things that impressed me:

  • Speed of startup and general responsiveness: 'nuff said. IDEA IntelliJ (and others) have proven that Swing Apps don't have to be slow (and ugly), now Netbeans proves that point as well.
  • Ant integration: Netbeans will read your existing Ant file and use it to drive your project. If you are starting a new project, Netbeans provides new Ant build file for you, loaded with userful targets.
  • J2EE server integration: J2EE server startup, shutdown, and debugging for Tomcat (and the Sun app server) is incuded. I had to buy MyEclipse to get this in Eclipse. The integrated UI also allows you to start and stop individual web applications within the server.
  • CVS improvements: CVS setup has been much improved and is now easy and trouble free. The new Version Control view of the filesystem is nice. Each file can be expanded to show previous versions and commit comments (see screenshot above).
  • Built-in JSP editor: Netbeans also includes built in JSP editor with syntax coloring and code completion (another MyEclipse extra I paid for).

And here are the things that will keep me going back to Eclipse:

  • CVS icon labels and decorations: the CVS icon labels and decorations in Eclipse make it really easy to see which folders contain files and folders (recursively) that have been modified.
  • CVS synchronization: The CVS synchronization view in Eclipse is great. It makes it amazingly easy to review incoming and outgoing changes, to select files for merge, to override and update, or to override and commit on files or groups of files.
  • More refactoring options: Netbeans just added support for refactoring, but it has been built into Eclipse for quite a while an Eclipse has more refactoring options by far.
  • Organize imports: Eclipse organizes your imports with one easy click. I think the "Fix Imports" feature is broken in Netbeans 4.0b3, but I'm not sure.

It is cool to see such great improvements in Netbeans and it is great to have so many excellent Java IDE options. I've also spent some time recently with Visual Studio C#.Net and I'm here to tell you, Microsoft has some major catch-up work to do. The current crop of Java IDEs blow Visual Studio away.


I've been saying that about VS.Net all along. And as much bad has been said about VAJ - it was tons better than VB6.

Posted by Mark on September 23, 2004 at 06:50 PM EDT #

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