NetBeans 4.1 Released into a Competitive Java IDE Market

In a highly competitive Java IDE market where the strength of the competition means it’s difficult to even give your IDE away, the NetBeans team has just released the latest version of its megalithic IDE, NetBeans 4.1.

Their main competitor is of course Eclipse, which has won a serious amount of developer mindshare over the last couple of years. Eclipse has won many fans because of its clean UI design, use of SWT instead of Swing and (let’s not forget) the marketing muscle of IBM.

However, NetBeans has been around for a lot longer and is by far the most mature of the two IDEs. It’s also undergone several major redesigns in its time (4.0 being the most recent major overhaul), and it now has a fresh, cleanly designed UI to match that of Eclipse.

In terms of features, this latest version of NetBeans focuses on J2EE and web services, and includes a visual editor for editing EJBs, deployment descriptors etc. In particular it makes the whole build->deploy->test cycle virtually seamless, and very easy to set up - especially if you're using Sun's own application server, JSAS 8.1. NetBeans is also strong in the J2ME world, having excellent support for developing mobile Java apps.

There's a nice presentation on the new features in NetBeans 4.1 here (has sound).

A lot of developers abandoned NetBeans a few years back, drawn to the fresh new world of Eclipse. For those developers, the latest NetBeans is well worth another look – it’s almost unrecognizable from, say, version 3.5.

Despite some nice refactoring support, the next thing the NetBeans team should look at is the Java source editor. Once strong, it’s starting to look and feel a bit dated now. When I’m using it, I can’t help but feel that a lot of tasks could be better automated. The source editor is the center of the programmer’s universe; it’s the part of the IDE which is used the most, so should receive the most attention and the most updates. Despite this, the NetBeans source editor hasn’t had a major overhaul for years, the last big addition being the ill-judged code folding feature.

Keeping an IDE at the head of the pack is a never ending game; there are so many plates to keep spinning, it’s easy to take your eye off of one of them for a while...

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.

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