Software Spotlight

NetBeans 6.5 Goes Live

At this point in the evolution of the NetBeans integrated development environment, it's hard to call it a Java IDE. With its support for a growing list of languages, the still-popular dev-tool suite might more aptly be named "Every Flavor Beans." Unlike the candy from the Harry Potter novels, however, this package holds nothing but the sweet stuff.

NetBeans 6.5, which was formally launched in late November at Sun Microsystems's Tech Day's event in Beijing, China, adds PHP to a list that currently includes Java, C/C++, Groovy, Grails, Ruby on Rails, and JavaScript, and will soon add Python. The NetBeans community released an early access version for Python runtimes with V6.5.

Sun, the primary corporate supporter of the NetBeans project, chose Beijing for the launch because 6.5 came out in fully localized versions of Chinese, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese. "We chose Beijing to launch this version because, said David Folk, group marketing manager for developer tools product marketing, "is because we were able to do this simultaneous release. It's a single release not delayed by the localized versions."

The 6.5 version also comes with enhanced support for several Web frameworks, including Hibernate, Spring, JSF, JSF CRUD generator, and the Java Persistence API. There's also a new editor for JavaScript development, with supports CSS/HTML code completion and the ability to debug client-side JavaScript code within both Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers. Look, too, for a new ability to debug multithreaded Java technologies.

This version comes with the latest generation of the open-source GlassFish application server. But it's the IDE's support for the leading dynamic scripters that is turning some heads. Sun offered users a preview of its PHP support in version 6.1 earlier this year. This release formalized the tool's support for the language.

The list of early access Python tools includes an editor, debugger and choice of Python runtimes. The NetBeans community is hoping that its members will dive in and provide feedback on the newest flavor. "Python represents another opportunity to bring a whole community to the NetBeans world," Folk said.

NetBeans is gaining some ground among non-Java developers. It's now one of the top two Ruby IDEs on the market, said Gartner analyst Mark Driver. But most developers still use the IDE for Java development, and the coders who do use it for Ruby, PHP, and other scripting languages are probably primarily developing in Java, he said. Nevertheless, NetBeans broader language support is turning NetBeans into more of a workbench along the lines of the open-source Eclipse Framework, which, Driver said, makes it more competitive with those market-changing tools.

With the arrival of Eclipse a few years ago, many industry watchers expected NetBeans to fade away, as did other Java IDEs. But the toolset continues to stand as perhaps the Eclipse alternative, Driver said. "Not everyone is excited about downloading and assembling Eclipse plug-ins," he said.

Mark Dey, engineering manager of the Ajax tools development team, and release boss for NetBeans 6.5, said that Java is still the focus of the IDE, and the addition of support for dynamic languages is primarily because those languages are becoming more popular with Java jocks. "It's becoming a very strong IDE for these other languages," he said. "If you're in NetBeans and you find that you need to edit some JavaScript or PHP code, the transition is seamless."

llan Davis is lead developer of nbPython, an open source project aiming to provide support for Python development for NetBeans users. He said that scripting has become an everyday part of a developer's job, which means that there's growing demand for this kind of multi-language support within the confines of familiar tooling environments.

It's a bit unusual for such a major release to launch so close to the holidays, Folk admitted. "It's a little close to Thanksgiving, but given that the product is used internationally, we think the timing is good."

Sun is also set to introduce a new certification program for the NetBeans IDE. The Sun Certified Specialist training is designed to lead to certification that "provides clear evidence that the programmer has passed stringent testing criteria" producing programmers with "in-depth experience and proficiency to develop Java technology-based desktop and Web applications using the NetBeans IDE."

NetBeans 6.5 is available now from the netbeans.org download page here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.

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