Friday, 6 January 2017

NetBeans Gets a New Life—or Does It?

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From the time that Sun Microsystem created Java Café and Java One for developing Java Applications and then acquired NetBeans first as parallel with those and later as consolidating and replacing them until it included further features to develop Fortran and C and C++ and other languages  I was an avid user of this easy to use IDE. NetBeans evolved and evolved and for the goals that it had it was much better than Visual Studio, for instance being Intelligent Sense not only in showing the code but also showing the documentation with hyper texting to move around the documents.

NetBeans was acquired by Oracle at the time that Sun Microsystem was acquired by Oracle. There were speculations that support for the NetBeans will be stopped and the IDE will be scrapped. Some people hastily switched to JDeveloper and Eclipse but most Java programmers kept the hope and Oracle also showed sensibility in continuing funding the NetBeans IDE as its own product and NetBeans improved to its present 8.2 Version.


In November/December 2016 digital edition of Java Magazine editor gives some news that NetBeans has been moved from its Oracle home to Apache Foundation. I did not find this depressing as some might speculate. I know Apache a better place for such thing. Hence, I leave the whole story to the powerful pen of him. 

NetBeans Gets a New Life—or Does It?

The transition from Oracle to the Apache Software Foundation marks the beginning of an uncertain new era for the Java IDE.

At JavaOne this year, the NetBeans community announced that the project was moving from its long-time home at Oracle to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). In a history that dates back some 20 years, this will be NetBeans’ fifth new home, showing the product’s remarkable power of endurance. An important question is whether working under the aegis of the ASF will bring NetBeans new life and new aficionados, or whether it signals the final chapter of a storied lifeline.

As many readers know, NetBeans is one of the four principal Java IDEs. The others are the open source Eclipse from the Eclipse Foundation, IntelliJ IDEA from JetBrains (consisting of an open source version and a higher-end closed source version), and JDeveloper (a free, closed source IDE from Oracle). What few readers might know is that NetBeans was the first of these products— beating Borland’s JBuilder by a year. (JDeveloper, which was based on JBuilder, was next, followed years later by Eclipse and IntelliJ.)

NetBeans became a popular Java IDE because of several features, most especially the lightness of its use. While competing products had a long setup cycle for new projects and a comparatively “heavy” feel, NetBeans was great for coding on the fly and always felt light and responsive. While it lacked some of its competitors’ code management features, it was the first to offer a built-in execution profiler and, if I recall correctly, the only one to include a small-scale J2EE server, OC4J, to quickly test web projects locally. It was also the first IDE to offer a top-quality Swing based GUI-development tool, called Matisse.

That’s a lot of quality to come from what was originally a student project at Charles University in Prague. (The core development team for NetBeans has remained primarily based in Prague, although marketing and other functions have been based at various times in the United States and elsewhere.)

Eventually, NetBeans was acquired by Sun, where it was open sourced. And through the 2011 acquisition of Sun, NetBeans became part of Oracle. At that point, I was quite surprised to read of Oracle’s commitment to continue developing NetBeans. After all, the company already offered JDeveloper for free and sponsored Oracle-specific packages and extensions for Eclipse. But actually, Oracle did more than just commit to supporting the platform’s development and promotion; it also began using portions of NetBeans in its own products, specifically JDeveloper and VisualVM, and eventually a variety of other development tools. For this reason, even with the move to the ASF, NetBeans has secured a commitment from Oracle to underwrite its development for two more releases: the upcoming 8.x version and the 9.0 release.
If you were to view NetBeans purely as a programming environment, its fate after Oracle’s commitment expires would be most uncertain. Although many projects under the ASF aegis have flourished (Maven, Hadoop, Spark, and others), more than a few projects have migrated to the ASF only to die there. (See the Apache Attic for a list of defunct projects.) However, over the years, NetBeans evolved from an IDE into a platform consisting of large-scale components that can be assembled in different ways to form desktop applications. This architecture uses a rather different approach than Eclipse’s OSGi-based system of modules and bundles. (This page compares the Eclipse and NetBeans architectures.) Numerous companies— including Oracle—have exploited the benefits of NetBeans’ architecture and built applications whose runtime includes the platform components.
These companies have an interest in continuing the forward direction of NetBeans, and some have committed to work on NetBeans in its new home. I expect—but obviously I don’t know—that they will contribute either directly or by engaging NetBeans’ current cohort of developers to continue developing the platform. In addition, the community of users, many of whom are truly dedicated to NetBeans, might well step up and begin contributing. It’s difficult to project the extent of participation because very few projects with so large a user base have been migrated to the ASF, and so there is little history to provide guidance.
For users of NetBeans, though, nothing need be done for now or in the near term. The 9.0 release is scheduled for August 2017 and will cover Java 9. By that time, we will surely have more insight into the transition of NetBeans, the level of activity, and the level of support from both commercial users and the developer community.
Andrew Binstock, Editor in Chief javamag_us@oracle.com @platypusguy   
November/December 2016 digital edition of Java Magazine



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