JetBrains Joins Team Tools Battle

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-07-25

JetBrains Joins Team Tools Battle

JetBrains, which has maintained a cultlike following as the Java integrated development environment for discerning developers, is making a move into the team development space with a new, open team management system for developers.

In addition to the new team management system, known as JetBrains TeamCity, JetBrains is introducing a new version of its core IDE platform, IntelliJ IDEA 6.0. The Prague, Czech Republic-based company is scheduled to announce the release of beta versions of these products on July 26.

Sergey Dmitriev, JetBrains co-founder and chief executive, said JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA 6.0 and TeamCity are designed to run independently, but also to be able to integrate tightly when they are used together.

New features and enhancements in IntelliJ IDEA 6.0 include support for EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) 3.0 and Persistence Units, along with assistance for migrating code from earlier EJB versions; enhanced Java Enterprise Edition support, including JSP (JavaServer Pages) improvements, support for JSF (JavaServer Faces) and the Struts framework; new Web development features including support for JavaScript, AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), HTML, CSS (Cascading Stylesheets) and XML; and a new GWT Studio plug-in for developing applications using GWT (Google Web Toolkit).

Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of IntelliJ IDEA 5.0.

Other new IntelliJ IDEA 6.0 features include support for additional application servers, such as BEAs WebLogic 9 and IBMs WebSphere; an enhanced GUI designer with support for Suns Swing and third-party layout managers; a new team collaboration feature known as IDE Talk that enables developers to exchange text messages, exceptions, code pointers and code changes without leaving the IDE; and enhanced testing and code analysis tools.

Meanwhile, TeamCity facilitates collaboration and enhances team productivity, Dmitriev said. The IDE-independent tool is targeted at both developers and their managers, he said.

Key features in TeamCity include continuous integration support, to integrate and remotely test code changes many times a day utilizing either JUnit (for Java) or NUnit (for .Net) testing frameworks; delayed commit, which helps keep the code in version control clean and functioning at all times; build management features, including Build Grid, which allows running multiple builds and build types at a time, using popular build tools such as Ant, Maven, NAnt and MSBuild; code coverage analysis; static code analysis; and Web-based administration and project dashboard.

Having achieved its status as an elite tool for individual programmer development, JetBrains is now entering the team development arena, where it must compete anew with companies like Borland and IBM, as well as face new competition from those two and other players such as Serena Software, MKS, Accurev and even Microsoft.

Dmitriev said JetBrains is not afraid to make this foray into the application lifecycle management space, even with the big names already there.

"Big companies are trying to make team tools to sell to big companies," he said. "Were doing team tools to improve the productivity of engineers on the team."

Moreover, Dmitriev stressed that TeamCity is "completely IDEA-independent. We already have support for Microsoft Visual Studio Team System and for NetBeans and Eclipse."

Indeed, TeamCity can be used with most any IDE, he said.

Perhaps what makes JetBrains so appealing to developers is that it is solely focused on developers and the problems they face daily.

"We try to solve all pain points that we see for developers," Dmitriev said. "We dont have to think like developers—we are developers."

Next Page: Not satisfied with JBuilder.

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Dmitriev worked at TogetherSoft (now part of Borland Software) before co-founding JetBrains in 2000. He said he began thinking a lot about how to use artificial intelligence and knowledge base engineering to "make programming more automatic" and to remove from the developer some of the routine work that is part of the development process.

Early in his Java life, Dmitriev said he did a lot of work using JBuilder, Borlands Java development tool. "I found I was quite unsatisfied with that," he said. "The notion of an IDE at that time was an editor, compiler and a debugger under one roof. I found I needed much more—more intelligence" in a tool, he said.

Dmitriev said the Java development environment he envisioned would know more about the language itself and would help the developer along. And the first generation of Java development tools, including Symantecs Visual Café and JBuilder, lacked the capabilities he was after, he said.

So Dmitriev and two partners started JetBrains in February 2000 and released Version 1 of its tool in January 2001. The group spent about $70,000 to develop the tool, he said. But within weeks after releasing it, JetBrains was profitable, he said.

"Our main goal was making a full-featured IDE," he said.

Martin Fowler, chief scientist at ThoughtWorks and an author and speaker on software development issues, mentioned JetBrains in an article called "Crossing the Refactoring Rubicon," and the company gained a groundswell of interest, Dmitriev said. Soon other IDEs began implementing features JetBrains had introduced into its IDE.

"Im quite happy that other IDEs copied us" and began to put in features such as integrated refactoring, intelligent browsing, intelligent how-to complete and fixing bugs before compiling.

The ability to get ahead of the market with innovations has enabled JetBrains to hold out from joining the Eclipse juggernaut or Suns NetBeans open-source development platform.

While companies such as Borland threw in the towel and decided to join Eclipse and base their Java tools on the Eclipse platform, JetBrains will remain independent and will continue to innovate ahead of the market, Dmitriev said.

Dmitriev said he welcomes competition and scoffs at the notion that commoditization could trump his business strategy.

"Commoditization is not a problem when youre doing something unique," he said. "In the IDE space everybody thinks that what is there now is all there is to invent—that everything is already invented. But there is a lot more to create."

JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA sells for about $500, but Alex Tkachman, the companys marketing director, claims the product quickly pays for itself in productivity gains. "The price of our product is just the cost of a programmer for one or two days of work, and for most companies its not an issue."

Next Page: IntelliJ versus Eclipse.

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John Zukowski, a developer at SavaJe Technologies, in Chelmsford, Mass., which builds software for the mobile space, said he uses IntelliJ IDEA regularly.

"I used to use JBuilder but switched to IntelliJ with SavaJe," he said. "They didnt force the tool on anyone, it was developers choice, and I just went with what others picked and loved it."

Zukowski said IntelliJ IDEA has many similarities to JBuilder, in particular being a strong and capable programmers editor. "Some people in-house use Eclipse or NetBeans, but in comparisons have found IntelliJ to be faster," he said. "I really like many of the refactoring features and what you can think of as find problems searches that identify problem areas of source that should get a second look."

Benjamin Booth, a developer at webMethods, in Fairfax, Va., said he switched from JBuilder to IntelliJ IDEA and used it for three years until webMethods standardized on Eclipse.

The JetBrains tool "is head and shoulders ahead of any other IDE in terms of usability," Booth said. "My Java dev got so much faster using its refactoring utilities, something no IDE had at that point. Everyone on my team tried to memorize all the shortcuts until, eventually, using IDEA for Java felt like an extension of our brain rather than some tool that we were forced to deal with."

Jeff Genender, chief technology officer at Savoir Technologies, of Evergreen, Colo., said he has used IntelliJ IDEA too. "IntelliJ seems to be a preferred tool for many developers, as the user interface is clean and it has a good set of open-source plug-ins to choose from," he said. "The company is … very open-source-friendly in that they offer an Open Source License, which means that if youre a committer on an open-source project, JetBrains will give you a free license."

However, Genender said he believes Eclipse has caught up to IntelliJ, "and it has many more plug-ins available, so I am finding myself more and more in Eclipse," he said.

John Crupi, CTO of JackBe, of Bethesda, Md., and former distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems, said IntelliJ is "probably the best refactoring IDE out there."

Geir Magnusson, a Java developer and Apache Foundation committer and project lead, called IntelliJ "very well-polished, and very in tune with the needs of working, professional developers."

However, Genender said, "At $499 for IntelliJ, its going to be interesting to see where JetBrains business goes as Eclipse continues to get more refined, and Eclipse is free."

Dmitriev said his privately held companys business continues to grow.

"It is growing, its always growing—not as fast as it used to, but it continues to grow," he said.

One opportunity for additional growth is AJAX development, said Mike Aizatsky, senior developer in JetBrains St. Petersburg, Russia, research and development lab. Aizatsky said IntelliJ has been optimized to support AJAX development. "It is not just for Java," he said. "Our support for AJAX development is as good as our Java support."

Tkachman said JetBrains is the master of its own destiny and the team is driven to continue to innovate.

"Were not worried too much about competition," he said. "If for some reason in the future we are not able to compete it is our own fault," he said.

Asked whether he felt like JetBrains was a Rolls Royce of Java development tools, Dmitriev said: "It may be better to compare us to a BMW—best quality and fast implementation."

He said his goal is to remain independent as he is not interested in being acquired. "You might make money, but you lose the spirit," he said.

In addition to St. Petersburg, JetBrains has R&D labs in Boston.

Dmitriev continues to work not only on enhancing the JetBrains tools, but also on his own research projects, including what he calls the Meta Programming System, or MPS, which he said is a different way of looking at problems and writing programs. MPS implements DSLs (domain-specific languages) to create applications, he said.

Moreover, while JetBrains is not an open-source company, Tkachman said it supports more than 350 open-source projects, and through its early-access program, JetBrains shares its plans for its products as soon as they are devised.

The company is also working on a plug-in repository, he said.

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