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Why you should consider Eclipse and how it differs from Netbeans

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By now, most Java™ programmers have heard of Eclipse, the extensible open source development platform that is rapidly becoming the most popular IDE for Java programming. If you're considering a move to Eclipse and are currently programming with Netbeans, IntelliJ IDEA, or Borland JBuilder, these developer's guides will help you compare your current IDE to Eclipse. Each guide starts with a brief comparison of Eclipse and the other IDEs' features, ease of use, and stability, and then covers the essential Eclipse features -- and how they differ from those in the other IDE -- so you can decide if Eclipse is right for you.

Comparison shopping for an IDE

Given how much time you spend using an IDE, you probably have strong opinions about which IDE is the best. Some programmers might consider Emacs a quaint relic from the last millennium, while other programmers will abandon it only when their cold, dead fingers are pried off their keyboard. One IDE is better than another only to the extent that it makes you more productive, and for a programmer who has been coding C in Emacs for 20 years, that is a productive environment.

Because the Java language is relatively young, no long legacy of coding exists in any particular development environment (at least not yet!). The popularity of each of the various Java IDEs has tended to wax and wane in the race to provide new features, improve performance, and become easier to use. The most interesting new development has been the introduction of two free, extensible open source IDEs: Netbeans and Eclipse. These are rapidly approaching the capabilities of commercial offerings. Most developers won't need more than what these two excellent development platforms provide.

Comparing Netbeans and Eclipse

The most recent versions of these two IDEs -- Netbeans 3.6 and Eclipse 3.0 -- have far more similarities than differences. They both have syntax checking, code completion, and code folding. They both let you compile, run, and debug your code. They both support Ant, CVS, and JUnit. Also, both now have integrated GUI builders, although Eclipse's is a separate component, the Visual Editor, that you must download separately. For more information about the Eclipse Visual Editor, see the article "Building GUIs with the Eclipse Visual Editor" listed in the Resources section later in this article.

The main differences between the two IDEs are that Netbeans has integrated Web development support, but Eclipse does not; and Eclipse has automated refactoring, but Netbeans does not. But even if it's important to you, the lack of a specific feature doesn't have to be a deciding factor. Because both of these IDEs are extensible with the use of plug-ins, you'll find free or inexpensive plug-ins available to fill in the gaps. Articles that show you how to obtain, install, and use plug-ins for developing Struts and Web applications with Tomcat are listed in the Resources section.

Many programmers prefer Eclipse because of its ease of use; the overall design of Eclipse keep the tools you need immediately at your fingertips. Many programmers also find Eclipse faster and more stable. Because these attributes are hard to quantify, though, you really need to try it out and judge for yourself whether Eclipse makes Java programming faster and easier for you.

If you are considering a move to Eclipse and are currently programming with Netbeans, this article is for you. Starting with a brief comparison of both IDEs' features, ease of use, and stability, this article then covers the essential Eclipse features -- and how they differ from those in Netbeans.
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