James Governor's Monkchips

Netbeans: Making Eclipse Better

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Ah the joys of competition and speed of open source development.

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s chief change agent, recently made an interesting statement :

Why is netBeans so good? One word: Eclipse

At RedMonk we have some reservations about netBeans, but Java One, and some recent conversations, have nuanced our views somewhat. Stephen argues the cons in our dialectic on the subject, while I try and work with the pros.

One of the pros is that Matisse is just very very cool, and I would say some distance ahead of what Eclipse currently gives us for GUI development.

I saw an audience of Microsoft developers break into spontaneous applause seeing pretty much one of the same features (automatic resizing of a popup window… go figure) demonstrated in Visual Studio… just a couple of years ago.

Microsoft developers tend to be more visually oriented, more concerned with forms, buttons, and layout than transactional function.

A lot of the folks using Eclipse and J2EE however are more transactional in their thinking, and more server-based; they like glue code and thinking about the build.

Netbeans is increasingly targeting the former type. 

So it is instructive to see Eclipse is working to replicate the functionality provided by Matisse. This screencast tells us more about Eclipse Visual Editor directions.

Oh yeah – one point to make about layout. netBeans is tracking Windows Vista look and feel, rather than putting forward a dorky applet-looking GUI. In other words devs that develop using netBeans over the next couple of years should be able to deploy GUI-based apps with native Vista look and feel. That is potentially one Eclipse differentiator… well, how should I say, eclipsed?

Just as Eclipse is improving Netbeans, so Netbeans is improving Eclipse.

There are positive voices supporting Netbeans, but also plenty of push back. This great analysis by David Berlind sums up Netbeans greatest problem–lack of major ISV adoption momentum. Eclipse is attracting ISVs as if it was a black hole and software companies were nearby interplanetary objects. You can’t fight the gravity of the situation.

But that competition thing actually seems to work.

I would recommend Java developers take another look at both development frameworks. Both have come a long long way in the last two years. Performance on both sides has improved.

If you think Eclipse is the bees knees then why not kick netBeans’ tires. What have you got to lose, your prejudice? 

Putting some energy in will indirectly benefit your platform, too.

One final note to Sun, the netBeans developers and community though; you need to take a leaf out of Jonathan’s book and be less defensive. Eclipse is good. It won’t go away if you ignore it. Why not start building some bridges, functional and cultural?

[disclaimer: Eclipse and Sun are both RedMonk clients]



  1. Yeah, more and more I think having NetBeans and Eclipse exist independently (versus merging the efforts) is a good thing. Diversity results in more ideas ermerging and the two projects light a fire under each other continuously.

  2. I think you can be assured that the Eclipse developers are also tracking Windows Vista. And as you know since Netbeans is based on Swing it won’t be a ‘true’ native look and feel. 🙂

    In general, competition is always good and keeps everyone honest.

  3. The Swing people are tracking the Vista look-n-feel so the NetBeans people (and everyone else) get it for free.

    James, which functional bridges are your thinking of?

  4. that’s a great question alexis. and also a good point about java look and feel. when the look and feel stuff was announced at Java One it was in the context of netbeans, but of course its a mustang project.

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