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Preview: JBuilder 2006 vs. IntelliJ IDEA 5.0

    Kevin Yank

    All of the Java IDE announcements I reported on a few months back have come to fruition, with recent releases of Eclipse 3.1, NetBeans 5.0 Beta, IntelliJ IDEA 5.0 and Borland JBuilder 2006.

    As a longtime user of JBuilder, I’ve always been in something of a niche. At last count, only 8 per cent of Java developers were using JBuilder, with the most popular choices being the free Eclipse (76%) and NetBeans (21%), with IDEA as the most popular commercial option at 13%. With this wave of new releases, I figured it was about time to reevaluate my own choice.

    Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve jumped back and forth between IDEA 5.0 and JBuilder 2006, working on various projects including complex Web applications, heavy-lifting desktop apps, nimble applets and lightweight mobile games.

    JBuilder has always been my choice due to its feature-richness. In my experience, if JBuilder didn’t have it, it wasn’t worth having. The tradeoff was always usability–JBuilder was never a particularly attractive environment to work in, and a bad configuration choice (a slow CVS server, for example) could immediately bring it to its knees. A venerable product indeed, it remains hobbled with a few legacy issues, like not being able to handle spaces in its installation path.

    Nevertheless, it’s the most feature-packed option I could find, especially now that the features in the different editions of the IDE seem to make sense (the $500 Developer edition is excellent, the $3,500 Enterprise edition is astounding). I was always comfortable with the unparalleled flexibility of JBuilder’s awesome feature set.

    IDEA, by comparison, is a young upstart, making a name for itself by providing top-notch usability, a featureful yet pleasantly unobtrustive coding environment, and a focus on developer productivity. After just a few hours of working with it and discovering how it did things, I had already spotted a number of things I missed from JBuilder, but I also found myself preferring the way it did the many things it could do.

    IntelliJ, the company behind IDEA, has also got a more open relationship with its developer community. It provides free early-access builds of the next version, an open bug tracking database (with voting), and an active forum community at its IntelliJ Technology Network site.

    I’ll produce detailed reviews of both of these products over the next two weeks, but from my tinkering so far I can tell it will be a close race, and the best choice will likely come down to your own individual needs. Certainly, neither product leaves the other in its dust… and isn’t competition a wonderful thing?

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