Never Bean Better

Opinion: NetBeans 5.5 adds an extra shot of Java EE 5 development ease.

Im tempted to take the phone off the hook and send a regretful email to my editors, telling them not to expect any attention from me for a day or two or three—because my week is being kicked off with the release of NetBeans 5.5, and Id really like to take it out for a nice twisty drive.

For now, Ill have to settle for the impressions I was able to form during an extended teleconference and desktop-sharing session with Sun engineers late last week in advance of todays broad release. The good news begins with the NetBeans Welcome screen, where the ever-tighter connection of developers to their tool community is evidenced by the inclusion of blogs as well as community news.


Rapid development of Web applications begins with a click on a project type selection, with seriously streamlined access to a variety of persistence frameworks as one of the first productivity highlights to be encountered in this 5.5 release. Rapid navigation through a few well-designed dialog boxes will quickly generate the needed XML.

A complete, if skeletal, CRUD application (create, read, update, delete) is ready to run in moments and is easily tailored by editing Plain Old Java code. The bad new days of abstruse vendor-specific notations seem to be on their way down the drain with yesterdays grounds.

I dont want to spend much time making distinctions between the core NetBeans and the enlarged version that includes the Enterprise Pack, and I cant think of many readers of these letters who wouldnt want to take advantage of the latters capabilities. One point that was made to me by Sun personnel is that NetBeans 5.5 marks a tipping point for Sun developer technology, after which all new Sun tools will make their entry through NetBeans rather than appearing—for example—in something like Suns Java Studio Enterprise. NetBeans Plus Enterprise Pack is thus the new center of the universe for developers who want to take full advantage of Java EE 5 right now.

That doesnt mean, though, that NetBeans isnt important to developers who use languages other than Java. If youre into the potential of BPEL, the visual tools that NetBeans 5.5 provides for wiring up BPEL diagrams and for dragging the WSDL description of a Web service into the visual constellation of service objects for assembly are really sweet. You can debug at the level of BPEL, looking at XML variables and the like, without ever being bothered by the lower-level implementation thats generating the BPEL traffic—or you can concurrently attach, for example, a Java debugger as well as a BPEL debugger and listen as your application talks out of both sides of its mouth.

Integration of testing facilities into NetBeans 5.5 is quite nicely done. Skeleton code generation upon initial test execution makes it easy to say, "Yes, that outcome is the correct result and should become the criterion for test success."

One of my pet peeves in the era of XML has been the proliferation of tools that demo well, but that dont scale at all to the needs of great big industrial-strength schema. Im therefore really pleased with the XML schema browsing, visualization and editing aids in this new NetBeans epoch. A multi-column browser, which some will compare to Apples iTunes but which I prefer to see as descending from Smalltalk, makes it easy to use any of several different attributes to dig out what you need.

More to come as I fight—or perhaps, give in to—my temptation to spend more time with this exceptional set of tools.

Tell me what NetBeans inclusions and omissions matter most to you at


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