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To exploit emerging java-based technologies, developers enjoy an expanding arsenal of tools that increasingly rest on one of two open-source foundations: Eclipse and NetBeans. This year’s JavaOne conference in San Francisco marked significant advances for both of these developer offerings, and eWEEK Labs found proponents of both efforts in surprising agreement that their work is more complementary than competitive. Software teams should appreciate the contribution that each camp can make to enterprise development efforts.

The more versatile and more broadly supported offering is the Eclipse platform, maintained since February of last year by the nonprofit Eclipse Foundation. That group encountered initial skepticism about its ability to get out of the shadow of IBM, which was, by far, the biggest player in the consortium when it was formed in November 2001. Now that seems less of a concern, as the Eclipse Foundation last month welcomed its 100th member, NEC Corp.—with revenues nearly half IBM’s.

Every Eclipse Foundation member agrees to produce a commercial Eclipse-based offering within 12 months of joining the consortium. During the last two years, Eclipse-based products reviewed by eWEEK Labs have included development suites from IBM (Rational Web Developer) and SlickEdit Inc. (SlickEdit Studio), as well as software testing tools from Agitar Software Inc. (Agitator) and Parasoft (Jtest). Borland Software Corp.’s JBuilder tool set, a consistent top pick at eWEEK Labs, will appear in an Eclipse-based version next year.

Not to be dismissed, however, is , which was open-sourced by Sun Microsystems Inc. (which still sponsors the effort) in June 2000, after it acquired the technology in the fall of 1999 from the Czech Republic company NetBeans Ceska republika a.s.

Click here to read more about Sun’s future plans. (Is a database in the picture?)

Inspired by Borland’s Delphi, the NetBeans integrated environment had its origin in a student project called Xelfi; it sailed briefly under the flag of “Forté for Java” in the wake of Sun’s concurrent acquisition of Forté Software Inc. The NetBeans name, though, has been around long enough to deserve promotion out of short-term memory. “We just had a NetBeans conference the other day—we had 600 people show up,” said Sun Executive Vice President for Software John Loiacono during a JavaOne meeting with eWEEK Labs.

Both Eclipse and NetBeans went through similar epiphanies when their architects realized that an integrated development environment is really a generic application that happens to have a compiler, debugger and other programming tools bolted into its framework of viewers, editors and file managers. “People were hacking Eclipse 2.1 to make it a rich-client platform,” said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, at JavaOne. Version 3.0 of Eclipse was therefore redesigned, Milinkovich continued, to reduce module dependencies and make it easier to strip out elements that weren’t needed for a particular application.

NetBeans was re-engineered similarly during 2000 and 2001 to make it more suitable as a general applications platform. Sun’s emphasis continues to be on the continuity of the free NetBeans IDE (integrated development environment), the entry-level $99 Java Studio Creator and the eWEEK Excellence Award-winning Java Studio Enterprise, all built on the same underpinnings.

Those guiding the NetBeans and Eclipse efforts have their sights focused, it seems, on different primary targets.

The Eclipse strategic focus is on enterprise interest in building rich-client applications that aren’t tied to a single platform. “No big shop is going to be able to switch overnight from Windows to Linux,” said the Eclipse Foundation’s Milinkovich. “No matter how dramatic the savings might be, you’re going to live in a dual-platform world for a significant amount of time. The ability to build and deploy [Java] applications on both Windows and Linux is key for enterprise IT.”

Sun’s Loiacono, meanwhile, sees an exploding need for development on non-PC devices. “The RIM [Research In Motion] guys were telling me there are 2 [million] or 3 million lines of Java in the [BlackBerry] device,” he said. The May release of the NetBeans Mobility Pack 4.1 lets developers design, deploy and test applications on the Java-capable handsets and similar devices that already outsell and will soon actually outnumber PCs.

With two such capable open-source tool families on call, developers can choose their targets and their weapons at will.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

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