Netbeans 4.1 Beta

I have some mixed feelings about Netbeans. Long time ago, netbeans was my favourite IDE. This was during the days that IDEs cost money, were slow and generally a pain in the ass. Up until netbeans my preferred environment was an editor, a dos box and a compiler. Netbeans fixed that. The 1.x versions were quite nice and feature rich compared to for example Visual Cafe or Borland JBuilder though clearly netbeans was the underdog and probably not very suited for larger projects either. Then SUN took over and an uninspiring batch of releases followed. The most disappointing was the 3.x series which basically confirmed that SUN was out of touch with developer reality (it didn’t fix the performance issues, it didn’t add refactoring, it kept the awkward files system mount thingy, etc.). So IBM came along and kicked their ass with eclipse 1.0, 2.0 and currently 3.0 (and soon 3.1). Basically people jumped on the eclipse bandwagon because it was the best product.

To be fair, netbeans never had much of a community. Before eclipse the IDE market was dominated by Borland, IDEA and some others. And then eclipse came along and now dominates this market to the point that most former competors are joining. Even mighty Borland has joined the eclipse project. In summary, eclipse now has lots of momentum and netbeans never had much momentum.

Yet, Netbeans is not a bad product. I (re)tried it tonight and the 4.1 beta is pretty nice. It’s fast, responsive and seems to do all the basic stuff pretty well. On top of that it is loaded with webdevelopment features that eclipse doesn’t have. And to top it off, it has very flexible project settings and can (so I’ve heard) even import eclipse projects.

Its weak spot however is Java code editing. Eclipse is extremely good at this and netbeans isn’t. Eclipse offers you autocompletion, refactoring, source transformations, templates, quick fixes, on the fly compilation and much more. Netbeans only does a small subset of this (about half the refactorings, hardly any quick fixes), impressive still but eclipse is far ahead in this respect.

However, eclipse has a major problem: it is SLOW. It has severe problems scaling to modestly sized projects. And that is why I decided to give netbeans another chance. I already know the 4.0 series is fast. On my previous work PC (a pentium III 550) it had no trouble managing the projects that currently seem to give eclipse lots of trouble on my newer and much faster desktop (a 3GHZ p4). I won’t make the switch probably because of the code editing issues and because at work the standard environment is eclipse (this is unlikely to change soon). However, I want to know what I’m missing.

Check back for an update in a couple of days.