Eclipse 3.3 or NetBeans 6.0?

Finally, there's a decision to make!

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Over time, some Eclipse users become less willing to update or add new plugins for fear the changes will cause other functionality to cease working correctly. A recent survey by BZ Research has shown that the number of installed plugins on average for an Eclipse instance shrank last year for the first time.

It is also worth noting that some very good plugins ship first on NetBeans -- notably the Ruby editor I previously mentioned and the Matisse GUI designer for Swing. Neither of those has a free counterpart for Eclipse, although Genuitec does offer a Matisse port for a fee. In addition, NetBeans offers one plugin that has no direct counterpart in the Eclipse ecosphere: top-of-the-line collaboration.

The enterprise collaboration plugin from Sun enables your team to communicate on its own IM network with special support for dragging and dropping files and code, as shown in Figure 2. To enjoy this collaboration, you can host it on your own messaging server (and point NetBeans at it) or you can use Sun's own servers on Java.net -- at no cost. Click to enlarge Figure 2.

The middle stack of panels from NetBeans 6 shows an IM session in progress and a previous file transfer -- all hosted on and routed through Sun's servers.
Figure 2. The middle stack of panels from NetBeans 6.0 shows an IM session in progress and a previous file transfer -- all hosted on and routed through Sun's servers.

Because NetBeans is associated with Sun and does not use an OSGi-style architecture, its ecosystem of plugins will likely always be smaller than Eclipse's -- even if its market share improves substantially. So, identify the plugins you must have before choosing NetBeans and make sure they (or their equivalents) are available.

Rate 'em

Personal preference plays a uniquely important role in choosing the development environment you call home. Consequently, any head-to-head comparison that results in a rating will be useful to only the fraction of readers who weigh the given features the same way the reviewer does. To facilitate your ability to choose, I have listed the weightings for the features I think are important. You should change these weightings to reflect your preferences and then calculate your own final score. I use a four-point GPA-style scale, in which 2.0 is passing and 4.0 is the highest achievable grade.

Table 2. NetBeans 6.0 vs. Eclipse 3.3: Rated

FeatureWeightingEclipse 3.3NetBeans 6.0
Ease of use/editing features40%2.83.6
Scripting/other languages10%3.03.6
Enterprise support20%3.23.0
Plugin ecosystem30%3.82.7
Total score 3.203.21

In conclusion

What is most striking about this review is that NetBeans and Eclipse are essentially tied. If nothing else, these numbers signify the arrival of NetBeans. For the last two years, I have performed comprehensive IDE reviews. During that time, Eclipse-based IDEs have regularly won top honors, while versions of NetBeans have lagged badly. This is the first review in which NetBeans truly stands on a par with Eclipse, and depending on your weightings could finish ahead. NetBeans has definitely arrived and is worthy of careful evaluation.

Andrew Binstock is the principal analyst at Pacific Data Works LLC. He is a columnist for SD Times and a senior contributing editor for InfoWorld where he reviews enterprise software and development tools. Find his blog at http://binstock.blogspot.com.

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