New NetBeans Release Aimed at the Enterprise

Sun Microsystems and the NetBeans community last week announced the general availability of the latest version of the free, open-source NetBeans IDE. NetBeans 5.5 comes with new features aimed at enterprise software developers.

The new release provides full support for Java Enterprise Edition 5. It comes with the Java Persistence API, and supports EJB 3.0, JAX-WS 2.0, and JSF 1.2; it supports the Subversion open-source version control system and the Java BluePrintscode patterns; and it includes enhancements to GUI Builder (formerly known as Project "Matisse").

Sun is promoting NetBeans 5.5 as an easy tool for developing Java applications and rich-client apps on the NetBeans Platform, a reusable framework for simplifying the development of other desktop applications. In conjunction with the 5.5 release, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems company unveiled five add-on service packs for the new IDE, which Sun calls "enterprise packs."

Designed for specific types of development projects, these NetBeans add-ons include the Enterprise Pack, which comprises tools for building, testing, and debugging SOA applications using XML, BPEL, and Java Web services; the Mobility Pack, which provides support for Scalable Vector Graphics in Java ME applications; the Profiler, which supports several new runtime environments, and is designed to make it easier to profile the properties of EJBs; a beta version of the C/C++ Pack, which allows C/C++ developers to use the NetBeans IDE; and a technology preview of the NetBeans Visual Web Pack, which adds tools for building Web apps, with an emphasis on AJAX-enabled JavaServer Faces components.

This is a major upgrade of the only IDE offering a significant alternative to the market-hogging Eclipse tooling framework, says Dan Roberts, Sun's director of developer tools marketing. He calls this version a "milestone release," because it takes the IDE deeper into enterprise territory, and a "renaissance" over the 4.0 version.

"When 4.0 came out, we started rebuilding our developer community," Roberts told reporters at a recent Sun chalk talk. "We knew that we had to compete with Eclipse to win developers back. So we started on a path to create a different shade of value proposition that focused on things like the out-of-the box experience, support for the latest Java standards, and a complete toolset that encompasses everything from devices to desktops to the enterprise and backend systems—all within the NetBeans environment."

Sun also announced that it is expanding its year-old NetBeans partner program for companies building add-ons for the IDE. The expanded NetBeans Strategic Partner Program will offer technical support, exclusive roadmap and planning briefings with the NetBeans team, and co-marketing opportunities with the Sun developer community. Members will also have the opportunity to participate in Sun-sponsored NetBeans developer events, such as NetBeans Day, webinars, and promotions on Sun and NetBeans Web sites.

Sun open sourced its NetBeans IDE in June 2000, so anyone is free to add plug-ins and features within the community. Sun's partner strategy adds incentives to encourage that kind of innovation, Roberts says.

"We've always been receptive to these types of partners," Roberts explains, "but we haven't been reaching out to them proactively, because we felt the timing wasn't right. We needed to win back developers [lost to Eclipse] and to build up that ecosystem before we could start building our own partner ecosystem. We've been working on that over the past several years, and NetBeans is now second in the market, and the only other major Java IDE growing in this space."

Sun recently announced that its partner program now comprises about 120 members; that's up from less than half that number a year ago. These partners are focused on building functional changes into the NetBeans core platform, including traditional modules built onto the platform, and full applications using the platform as a base, Roberts says.

Why does Sun continue to invest its resources in this free toolset in the face of Eclipse's market dominance?

"Sun believes that the developer community is key to allowing it to establish the relationships with enterprises, service providers, and others, that are required to sell its infrastructure," Neil Macehiter, research director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton said in an earlier interview. "It's going to be tough for Sun, given the dominance of Eclipse and the participation [in the Eclipse Foundation] of the likes of BEA, Oracle, SAP, etc., but I think they have a good reason to stick with it."

The strategy appears to be having some success; Roberts cited his company's work with CollabNet to provide Subversion support in NetBeans. (CollabNet is the main corporate sponsor of the Subversion project.) Sun is also working with Sony Ericsson to adapt the mobile device maker's emulator tool kits to work directly with the NetBeans Mobility Pack. And JBoss plans to create a branded version of NetBeans for JBoss application developers, he said.

"What is the value to Sun of having market share in the developer tools community?" Roberts asks. "Our fundamental belief is that healthy competition breeds innovation and creates opportunity. At the end of the day, the Java ecosystem competes with Microsoft and the .NET ecosystem. We don't believe that leaving the Java community with a single, monolithic IDE is a good idea. Healthy competition within the Java community makes it a better, stronger competitor."

NetBeans 5.5 and three of the enterprise packs are available now for free download. The Visual Web pack and C/C++ packs are still in beta, set for release later this year.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].