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The Future of Apache NetBeans

I am deeply bummed that I had to miss the NetBeans party at the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in San Francisco on Saturday night. The 71-year-old tiki bar's cocktails are legendary. And it would have been great to talk with the JavaOne attendees IRL about this Apache NetBeans business.

Fortunately, Geertjan Wielenga, principal product manager in Oracle's Developer Tools group, and Bill Pataky, VP of product management for Oracle's PaaS, Mobile Software and Developer Tools groups, gave me a call.

It was Wielenga who announced Oracle's proposed contribution of the venerable Java IDE to the Apache Software Foundation, via the ASF's Incubator Project. As I reported earlier, the open source project will be called Apache NetBeans, and will, as Wielenga wrote, "continue to primarily focus on providing tools for the Java ecosystem, while also being focused on tools for other ecosystems, languages and technologies...."

Wielenga reminded me that moving the NetBeans development platform is going to require some heavy lifting. More than 30 NetBeans repositories must be moved from the NetBeans.org Mercurial source control manager to Apache's repository (Git or Subversion).

"This is going to be one of the largest projects Apache has ever had to deal with," he said. "They're excited about it, but it's going to be quite a bit of work figuring out how things match up."

The process of sorting out the licensing and IP issues is going to take some time, too, Pataky pointed out. Oracle has a number of products that depend on NetBeans, including the Oracle Developer Studio, and even the JDeveloper IDE shares a lot of code with NetBeans.

"When Sun open sourced NetBeans 16 years ago, open source had a very different role in the enterprise," he said. "Sun set itself up as a benevolent dictator, and did a fairly good job of building a community over the years. But that model is pretty stale, and the community is asking for a broader role. Our solution was to open up the governance model."

Oracle has resources (people) committed to NetBeans through the NetBeans 9 release, Pataky said. More than two dozen oracle employees are included on the initial committers' list (which, BTW, includes James Gosling, the Father of Java).

"We will be adding additional folks to that list once we get through initial process with Apache," Pataky said.

There's a dot-dot release in the offing, Pataky said, but NetBeans 9 is likely to be the first official Apache NetBeans.

"We are committed to NetBeans for the foreseeable future, and we're welcoming the many community members, large and small, to take a much larger role in the planning and building of releases through NetBeans 9 and beyond."

I also heard from one of the proposed committers on that list: Martijn Verburg, CEO of jClarity and co-leader of the London Java Users' Group. "It looks like Oracle has a large number of committers on the initial list," he said in an e-mail, "so I'm hopeful that with that core strength and extra community contributions, NetBeans will continue to add value to the ecosystem."

NetBeans has a solid following, Verburg noted, ranking behind only IntelliJ and Eclipse among popular Java development environments. But that third-place spot means the IDE is unlikely to be a major commercial success for Oracle.

"However, it makes sense for Oracle, as the stewards of Java, to continue supporting NetBeans and open up the door to more contributions from the outside to help keep the Java IDE tooling ecosystem competitive," Verburg said. "The community certainly should be happy after years of campaigning to have NetBeans and other important parts of the Java ecosystem put into a software foundation where it's treated more as a public service or utility than a single vendor's product."

IDC analyst Al Hilwa sees Oracle's decision as one that will have positive consequences for the Java community, and for the company. "Oracle has gotten a lot of undeserved flack around NetBeans," he said in an -email, "even though they have continued to evolve it and share it internally with JDeveloper, and even though it has, in fact, gained more users in the last few years. Apache is a highly respected open source foundation with a solid governance model, and so I expect NetBeans to be even more popular as a result of this move. A battle of IDEs, including Eclipse, JDeveloper, and IntelliJ, is always a good thing for a programming language, as it is a mark of the size of the community."

I also heard from Forrester analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond: "NetBeans has long had a close following, so it will be interesting to see if that community blossoms under an Apache governance model," he said. "From Oracle's perspective, this could be construed as another step in slimming down commitments to Java in terms of the tools they directly support that target the languages. Supporting multiple IDEs (JDeveloper, Eclipse and NetBeans) always seemed like an expensive proposition to me. This move may end up being a win-win for the community and Oracle, assuming there's a community ready and willing to keep up support."

The NetBeans community is larger than ever, with approximately 1.5 million active users, worldwide, according to the NetBeans Web site.

Here's hoping there are enough tiny pink umbrellas for all their Mai Tais.

Posted by John K. Waters on September 19, 2016