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Eclipse, NetBeans, and IntelliJ: Assessing the Survivors of the Java IDE Wars

Get a comprehensive comparison of the latest versions of the major IDEs in the Java development space: NetBeans, Eclipse/MyEclipse, and IntelliJ IDEA. Find out how well each performs in four common areas of development: Swing, JSP/Struts, JavaServer Faces, and J2EE/EJB 3.0.

ver since Eclipse burst out on the Java scene a few years ago, things have gotten very interesting for Java developers. With SWT and Swing toolkits both having their own strengths and weaknesses but none having any noticeable lead over the others in terms of pure performance or look-and-feel, Eclipse focused the competition among Java IDEs where it belongs: features, ease of use, and productivity. This article explores what the past few years of fierce competition within the Java IDE space (and of course indirectly with Microsoft Visual Studio.NET) have delivered.

It reviews the three major Java IDEs—NetBeans, IntelliJ IDEA, and Eclipse—from the viewpoint of basic, common features (installation, performance, editor, etc.), but it really focuses more on their strengths in four common areas of development: Swing, JSP/Struts, JavaServer Faces (JSF), and J2EE/EJB 3.0. Wherever possible, it also evaluates JPA (Java Persistence API) support, instead of hard-coded JDBC queries or particular libraries (such as Hibernate or Oracle TopLink).

Out of the three IDEs, Eclipse is the only one that exists in multiple versions/distributions, starting from the base distribution to pre-packaged ones with extra open-source plugins (such as EasyEclipse) and open-source/commercial hybrids such as Genuitec's MyEclipse. In order to provide a fairly realistic review of what Eclipse is capable of, I focused on the base distribution (including default Eclipse sub-projects such as the Visual Editor and Web Tools Project). Wherever I felt it was lacking, I also considered what MyEclipse offers as a commercial alternative. Frankly, at a subscription price of $49/year, I'd be hard pressed to find any commercial IDE with the functionality that MyEclipse provides.

Up first, though, is NetBeans 5.5.

Author's Note: As an employee of Compuware Canada, I use the Eclipse-based, Model-Driven Java development tool Compuware OptimalJ. However, I have made every effort to ensure a fair review for each IDE, with no preferences to Eclipse.

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