By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-05-03 Print this article Print

NetBeans 3.6, released last month by the NetBeans.org open-source community, offers Java developers an attractive and capable programming environment that features a native look and feel on a variety of popular platforms.

With so many tool sets for the supposedly platform-neutral Java paying scant heed to non-x86 developers, we commend NetBeans.org for also providing convenient download options and instructions for Windows, Solaris (both for x86 and SPARC), Mac OS X, Linux and the Java Archive format.

eWEEK Labs tests validated the long list of claimed improvements in this much-anticipated update, the foundation for some of NetBeans.org sponsor Sun Microsystems Inc.s commercial efforts, including Java Studio Enterprise. Developers will find an impressive range of Java-based project types supported by automatic code generators that jump-start development and populate project navigator views.

Click here to read the review of Java Studio Enterprise 6.
Sun provided eWEEK Labs with an advance look at Java Studio Creator Early Access. Click here to read the review.
NetBeans 3.6 made a good first impression during tests with its updated windowing system. The environment respects desktop theme choices on Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP, and it uses either the Classic user interface on Windows 2000 or the Aqua interface on Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X.

We found rearrangement of tool panes within the main window to be responsive and intuitive, with clear previews of what our click-and-drag gestures would do when we released the button. Panes for specific functions appeared automatically when relevant, then vanished upon task completion rather than cluttering the screen.

We noted Version 3.6s code editor improvements: When we overrode a method from a Java superclass, we appreciated the left-margin icons that will alert future readers of the code to that method-shadowing inheritance relationship (with pop-up notes to spell out the specific ancestry). The 3.6 environment was generally prompt and consistent in keeping track of our deliberately abusive creations and modifications of class and interface relationships.

We werent as impressed by some clever ideas like the editors automatic pairing of delimiters, but any feature that gets in the way can be disabled from the comprehensive slate of highly configurable options.

At any rate, its hard to cavil when so much value comes at so low a price. NetBeans 3.6 is available as a free download or for $9.95 plus shipping for a packaged CD.

But well cavil anyway. Refactoring features, beloved by users of open-source competitor Eclipse, wont be matched until later this year in NetBeans 4.0. Also to be fixed in a future release are the jarring double error alerts. During tests, a standard alert box was overlaid by a Java exception warning, which occasionally distracted us while using NetBeans 3.6.

With tool choice preference being a subjective thing, however, theres no reason not to give the free NetBeans 3.6 a try.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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