NetBeans open source tools get a refresh

Despite the power behind Eclipse, and Microsoft's interest in the market, NetBeans is a viable alternative

The Sun Microsystems-led NetBeans developer community has released a beta version of the NetBeans 5.0 open source IDE, with enhancements for client development based on Java.

The general release of Version 5.0 is due by the end of 2005. Sun is positioning NetBeans as a counter-balance to the rival Eclipse open source tools platform.

NetBeans 5.0 features the Matisse GUI builder which offers visual, drag-and-drop capabilities for building desktop clients that can either work in a client-server or standalone mode, says Dan Roberts, director of marketing for developer tools at Sun.

Although rich web client development has been getting all the buzz lately, development of more traditional desktop clients remains prominent, Roberts says.

“Actually, it’s a surprisingly large amount”, with as many as 45% of developers still building these clients, Roberts says.

Matisse features automated alignment of components which, for example, can align components for addresses and phone numbers on a form. Java clients built with Matisse technology will run on any platform that supports J2EE.

Although NetBeans is offered for free, it forms the basis of Sun’s commercially sold tools such as Java Studio Creator and Java Studio Enterprise. Those tools provide functions not offered in NetBeans, such as modeling, profiling, and visual web application development, Roberts says.

Also featured in NetBeans 5.0 is added support for building plug-ins via templates and wizards. New tutorials, samples and documentation are featured, as well.

Version 5.0 adds support for deployment on the JBoss 4.0 and BEA Systems WebLogic 9.0 application servers. The Tomcat and Sun application servers were supported previously.

IBM’s WebSphere application server is not yet supported. “We’re evaluating how quickly we can implement that. It’s likely something that we will do but I can’t say when,” Roberts says. BEA and JBoss offerings were chosen for support first because of developer requests, he says. IBM founded Eclipse and BEA now supports it.

The ability to generate web services from existing applications is boosted in NetBeans 5.0, with the platform now enabling web services in Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) applications as opposed to just J2EE previously.

Version 5.0 improves support for the JavaServer Faces and Struts web-application frameworks, automatically adding support libraries to build applications and automated configuration of deployment descriptors. NetBeans also adds nine refactoring methods for modifying existing code.

Although Eclipse has greater industry support, Sun is sticking by NetBeans. “We believe in choice and we believe in a vibrant community, and we believe that NetBeans offers a very viable alternative to the Eclipse platform,” Roberts says. Having NetBeans and Eclipse compete at the IDE level is better than the monolithic IDE strategy of the Windows world, he says.

There have been more than six million downloads of NetBeans technology, according to Sun.

Eclipse, though, has the industry support that NetBeans lacks, says analyst Rikki Kirzner, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates.

“The Eclipse value proposition, the Eclipse story, and the number of vendors going over to Eclipse really positions Eclipse as the most effective way to compete against Microsoft,” Kirzner says.

Windows and Eclipse are emerging as the dominant platforms, according to Kirzner, but NetBeans will still hold onto its devotees.

Eclipse has an estimated 50 million downloads and most of the industry’s vendors are now using the open-source suite with Nokia recently announcing it would begin using Eclipse for development.

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