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NetBeans 7.3 Supports HTML5 and CSS, Adds Nashorn JavaScript Engine

Last week Oracle released the latest update of the NetBeans integrated development environment (IDE). Topping the list of enhancements in NetBeans 7.3 is support for HTML5 and CSS, and a new JavaScript editor and debugger based on the Nashorn project.

NetBeans is a free, open source IDE, available for Windows, Mac, Solaris and Linux. NetBeans 7.3 can be downloaded here.

NetBeans 7.3 adds a number of features for Java platform development, including new hints and refactorings in the editor and improved support for editing FXML layout files in JavaFX projects. (FXML is Oracle's XML-based declarative markup language for JavaFX.) This release of the IDE supports the latest Java EE and GlassFish Server releases, and adds a new stand-alone editor for the Java Persistence Query Language (JPQL).

But the big news in this release is the IDE's support for HTML5, says John Brock, principal product manager at Oracle. The addition of support for the two standards was a response to the evolving needs of Java developers, Brock said.

"For a while now, we've been seeing an environment in which Java developers are being challenged, not only with understanding server-side Java, but with putting together these responsive designs in the client-side environments of JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS," Brock said. "Java developers aren't just writing Java code anymore."

"Responsive design" or responsive web design (RWD) refers to the practice of designing software that looks good on a variety of screens, from desktops to tablets to mobile devices, with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling. It has been a big challenge for developers, Brock said.

Another major feature in this release is the Nashorn-based JavaScript engine. Nashorn (pronounced "NAZ-horn") is an implementation of a lightweight, high-performance JavaScript runtime for Java. It's designed to allow Java developers to embed JavaScript in Java applications.

"We're really targeting rich web and mobile application development with this release," said Bill Pataky, Oracle's VP of product management. "This may change the way Java developers think about JavaScript development."

This release also comes with a new plug-in for Google Chrome that tightly integrates with the browser for debugging and deployment. This is a "deep bi-directional integration" that utilizes the internal WebKit-based browser to facilitate live code and web page synchronization, Pataky said. It also comes with an enhanced editor with such features as Breadcrumbs support and access to Clipboard History. And there's new support for profiling Java apps on Linux ARM-based systems, such as Raspberry Pi.

Despite early concerns that Oracle might stop development of NetBeans when it acquired Sun Microsystems, the venerable IDE continues to grow, both in features and user base, Oracle says. And it's growing within the Java unit at Oracle itself, commented Ovum analyst Michael Azoff.

"[The unit] needs its own IDE to push out the latest Java releases as they are rolled out," Azoff told ADTmag in an e-mail. "Oracle is also a foundation member of Eclipse, but with NetBeans it has better control over IDE releases supporting latest Java."

The most significant feature in NetBeans 7.3, Azoff said, is the new HTML5 editor (Easel).

"Essentially, Oracle's Java crew are aiming to create the best HTML5 editor out there, supporting web and mobile app development," he said. "The release, in my view, also provides some insight into what is not being pursued: a pure Java solution for client and server side. So JavaFX is underplayed in favor of a standards based open web solution. Given what is happening in the mobile space that looks like a reasonable solution, although you never know what will happen in the longer term."

"NetBeans is still very much focused on the Java Platform itself," Brock said. "It is the IDE for the platform. Whenever something new comes out on the platform, this IDE comes out immediately with support for it. But developers are required, more and more, to deal with more than one language. That's why we're starting to put these things into the IDE; we're providing them with tools for what they're actually doing today."

IDE analyst Al Hilwa sees the NetBeans IDE gaining traction "along with the traction of the Web platform overall and Java's broadening focus on multiple languages." Although NetBeans is historically best-known as a Java IDE, the environment supports a growing number of languages and frameworks, currently including PHP, Groovy, C, C++, JavaScript and Ajax, and Grails. It also supports Aunt, Maven, and Hudson. In fact, the NetBeans project comprises the IDE and an application platform that aims to be used as a generic framework for building virtually any kind of application.

Version 7.2 of the IDE, released in July, added integration with the JavaFX Scene Builder design tool, support for multiple PHP frameworks, and an update of its support for the Groovy language.

"I think it's wise for Oracle to invest in this IDE," Hilwa said, "because it appeals to a growing base of developers -- and it's a considerably more pleasant and overall simpler IDE to use than Eclipse."

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