Eclipse vs NetBeans: The Smackdown

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Like a host of other folks (according to Technorati), I read with interest this entry on the improvements NetBeans has made technically, often at Eclipse’s expense. I found it of particular interest because while the race (some might contend it’s not a race at all, and that the world’s big enough for both – longer term, I don’t agree) is far from over, Eclipse has in our experience been the big winner mindshare-wise.

The question the piece raises in my mind is this: what’s the most important factor in the evolution of these communities? Based on the reactions of very skeptical (and therefore credible) sources like Tim Bray or Dave Johnson, I’m willing to give NetBeans the benefit of the doubt technically. My past experiences with the project aside (it was dog slow last I installed and played around with it), I’m relatively convinced that NetBeans’ new toolset is competitive with Eclipse, at a minimum, on a feature/function basis. That’s the good news.

The bad news, from where I sit, is the ISV story. You might notice that ISV’s are not mentioned in the story linked to above. By roping in BEA, Borland and Sybase, Eclipse now has nearly every major application development vendor on board, excepting Microsoft and Sun. Worse, NetBeans is rarely mentioned by even the smaller ISVs we speak with as a potential target for a plugin; it’s usually stand alone or Eclipse integration.

If you believe – and I do – that the value of the toolset is not in the feature/functions once you reach a certain level of parity but in the community and ecosystem they foster, it puts Eclipse solidly in the leadership position. I’ll be interested in speaking with the NetBeans folks more closely to see what they have in mind for gaining ground in the ISV department; I just need to have better luck getting to see them than I did last time šŸ˜‰


  1. Why are you surprised by this? Sun goes through this same process with nearly every piece of software it touches (excepting Solaris).

  2. well, i think that's a bit harsh – Java seems to be doing ok – but i am a bit surprised at the gains that have been made. i had a lot of issues with NetBeans last i ran it.

  3. Java, how much direct revenue has Sun made on that? IAC, my comment is in reference to software Sun sells.

  4. answering that question depends on whether or not you believe the rise of Java and J2EE fueled Sun's dot com position as de facto technical platform of choice for VC's. personally, i believe they don't sell all that gear without Java or something like it fueling the desire for high performance, stable hardware. Java doesn't generate them direct cash, true, but tough to see how Sun fares without the explosion of J2EE, as unnecessary as all that was.

    it's a judgement call, though. be interested in your opinion.

    (somewhere, Jonathan Schwartz is smiling because i asked him the same question once upon a time and this mirrors the answer he gave me)

  5. I can't tell if the archives are publicly accessible because of the screwy new UI but you might browse the Yahoo Groups Sun Alumni group (but ignore the job postings) for relevant discussions. Sun did sell a boatload of hardware to run Java servers but what did they do with the cash? Further, look at all the server software beginning with the acquisition of NetDynamics and the iPlanet venture and show me one application that has been nurtured and is flourishing.

  6. Sun sold a boatload of servers to run Java servers but what have the executives done with that money? Further, look at all the applications they acquired since 1998 (NetDynamics, the Netscape Enterprise Servers, Forte and so on) and show me one that has flourished despite the substantial resources poured into them. Substantial being relative given the layoffs but we're still talking many millions of dollars.

  7. Sorry, Firefox caching (I think) made me think my first comment wasn't posted.

  8. no worries, Bill. but let's take a look at what you're saying: Sun sold a boatload of hardware to run Java, made boatloads of money, but squandered much of it. that, i don't disagree with. nor would, i think, many of Sun's current (not former) senior execs. that argument, however, is different from saying that Java never made Sun any money, b/c IMO it did.

    i'll definitely try and hunt down that Yahoo Group tho.

  9. Okay, right place, right time good fortune. 12,000+ layoffs so far, many of the current executives directly responsible for the floundering are still in place, and where is the vision for driving Sun back to success? My point is that the history of NetBeans is more or less typical of Sun in general and a good clue to its future.

    Group name is sun_alumni, just not sure if messages are visible to non-members.

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