Wednesday, July 13, 2005

NetBeans hype hides NetBeans' limitations

If you're like me, you hit the NetBeans site on a periodic basis to keep up with what's going on with NetBeans. On the site there's a section to the right called NetBeans Buzz, and today they had an entry from Lin Gang's Weblog titled "NetBeans plugin development will gain Sun an advantage in IDE competition". Great title for a blog entry. Sounds like powerful support for NetBeans. Too bad that the title doesn't convey what the author really says.

The point the author was trying to make is the lack of NetBeans activity as compared to Eclipse, specifically with the development of plugins to extend the NetBeans IDE. Specifically, he stated is a big disadvantage for NetBeans [to] compete with Eclipse, for such a great IDE, we do not want to see only Sun engineer[s] are working on the development and maintaining for it.
And I agree with that 100%. There is a quote in Lin Gang's weblog with no attribution that I found via Google, and it came from Rick Ross of Javalobby. I'm going to quote the entire section from Rick's article.
Sun could easily inspire and reward NetBeans plugin development
Some may not realize it, but NetBeans also has very rich support for plugins at the platform level. Almost 90 plugins are listed at the NetBeans plugin catalog, but there appears to be far less current activity in the NetBeans plugin world than there is in the Eclipse world. When I looked at the page showing all new plugins added in the last 30 days the list was almost empty, although perhaps someone is just falling down on the job of maintaining the catalog. In any case, a shortage of active plugin developers and current plugins could add up to a serious disadvantage for NetBeans. It would probably be strategic for and cost-effective for Sun to institute a program that motivates and rewards people to actively develop NetBeans platform plugins. Sun could learn from Google's "Summer of Code" example and provide direct financial support for those who successfully build NetBeans-compatible, open source plugins. An investment of a mere $50,000 in this could yield surprisingly positive results and improve the overall competitive value proposition of the NetBeans platform. If they don't do something along these lines, then I suspect it will ultimately be much harder for NetBeans to remain a contender. Despite the valiant efforts of Sun's NetBeans group to compete and innovate, if there's no 3rd-party plugin development activity Sun will be going it alone once again, and that would be both unwise and unnecessary. Jonathan, show some love and support to the NetBeans team, write them a check and make a NetBeans plugin scholarship program happen before JavaOne. Sun can inspire, but only with inspiring leadership.
It's interesting that I never read Rick's more honest post on NetBeans. That's because the NetBean's leadership at Sun is careful about what they report, especially on the NetBeans site. There's nothing wrong with wanting to put forward a positive image about any product, but I have become increasing uncomfortable over time with the dearth of counter examples to the glowing reports of user nirvana. This time a little more balanced truth leaked through when they failed to carefully read Lin Gang's posting.

As I mentioned in an earlier post the NetBeans 4.2 development version now has project entries for creating two types of plugin projects, a stand-alone plugin and a suite of plugins. At first blush you'd think "Yippee! Now I can develop plugins like Eclipse!" You'd be wrong. The best the current development system does now is to create a very empty project skeleton and automatically add some of the XML files I wrote about in "Newbee NetBean Module Creation." When compared to the Eclipse plugin development environment, the resources and tools to help you develop NetBeans plugins is woefully short.

Eclipse has tutorials, extensive help in its IDE help section, and many books that show you how to contribute to the Eclipse ecosystem. The Eclipse IDE and supporting tools are ready for business. The NetBeans IDE, in spite of excellent engineering over the version 4 series, is still lacking in critical areas, specifically support for plugin development. The supporting information infrastructure is just not there, and digging nuggets out of other engineer's weblogs is not the same as solid foundation you find for Eclipse.

NetBeans has shown great growth in capability and quality since version 4 was released. The team behind NetBeans is to be congratulated for their hard work and the professional polish they've brought to the platform. But if they want to grow farther then they, and Sun in particular, need to drop the rose-tinted view of the NetBeans development environment as being as good as Eclipse and ask for some help. As Rick pointed out it can be like Google's summer of code, or they can offer bounties for specific plugins, including help on finishing and extending Matisse. Until they do that NetBeans will continue to be an interesting also-ran against Eclipse, and it will finish slipping into niche status.


  1. AnonymousJuly 15, 2005

    You're looking at a NetBeans development build. Click here to see what's in the planning.

  2. AnonymousJuly 17, 2005

    I looked at NetBeans RCP as a candidate for an enterprise application. However, I was terribly disappointed with the lack of documentation to support such as project; and ultimately found it impossible to use the NetBeans RCP. Our company is now planning to use the Eclipse RCP, as it is well documented and many information sources are available to support us.

  3. AnonymousJuly 19, 2005

    Yeah, the documentation is a little weak at the moment. But, it's actively being worked on and we're always looking for contributors.

    There's an e-mail alias at NetBeans with many folks who can answer questions related to developing NetBeans RCPs. The e-mail alias is, dev@openide "dot" netbeans "dot" org

    If you don't need IDE pieces for your RCP, you might consider using NetBeans Matisse for your rich client app. Matisse makes your GUI development so quick and simple may might just by pass the notion of using a rich client platform. Or, you could use Matisse for developing your forms in your NetBeans RCP.

    Take a look at the joplin project which used Matisse to build a desktop movie player in a seconds,

    You can see a flash demo of Matisee here too,


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