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Comment: A Sigh of Relief For NetBeans?

Anton Epple

In Oracle’s mammoth five hour long webcast broadcast on 27th January, Oracle’s Senior Vice President of Development Thomas Kurian, referred to NetBeans as a “lightweight IDE for Java Developers.” Should this illicit a sigh of relief from the NetBeans community, or should we all be vigilant for any indication that Oracle is still planning to sideline the popular IDE?

Last week, the following slide was projected across the Oracle stage in California, and onto the monitors of thousands of webcast viewers:

JAXenter spoke with Anton Epple, a Member of NetBeans Dream Team. How did Oracle’s roadmap for NetBeans sound to him?

  “At first, I was very pleased that Oracle has spoken so positively about the development of the IDE. I found the above slide a bit strange, but I don’t think we should read too much into it (For example: “What is a lightweight IDE …?”) To me the webcast with Ted Farrell, Chief Architect and Oracle Senior Vice President is much more illuminating than the presentation by Thomas Kurian, from which this slide is taken. He spoke in much more detail about the future  of NetBeans. Although, the webcast was somewhat at odds with the presentation by Kurian. Farrell announced that NetBeans will be focused on core Java technologies (Java, Java EE, JavaFX and JavaME) and that Oracle would look to the community to continue teh development of scripting languages. He also explicitly talked about the NetBeans platform. I can take these announcements more seriously, than I can the presentation by Kurian, which was addressed to a more business-orientated audience.“ Anton Epple.

Overall, Oracle seemed to be trying to keep everyone happy. The rumour that Oracle will lay off thousands of workers was countered by CEO Larry Ellison’s assurance that Oracle weren’t only not firing people – they were hiring! The rumours that JavaOne 2010 may not take place were dashed by Charles Phillips: JavaOne isn’t just continuing, it’s being expanded to the BRIC countries, (Brazil, Russia, India, China)! Oracle are going to increase investment in Java, increase investment in Solaris, in GlassFish, in NetBeans……..

Can we believe everything Oracle says about the future of NetBeans? Considering NetBeans is a competitor to Oracle’s own JDeveloper, and Eclipse?

Looking at Farrell’s presentation, I get the impression Oracle have considered the IDE very carefully. The best investment in the future of NetBeans, is the evolutio of the NetBeans platform and the language support for Java. Where you have stable and well-documented APIs, it’s easier for the community to contribute to the NetBeans project, and to support the additional technologies and frameworks with plugins. In this domain, NetBeans has changed its focus too often in the past. I was impressed with Farrell’s grasp of the IDE. That alone, was very encouraging and it suggests that Oracle is taking NetBeans very seriously. I have many clients who rely on the NetBeans platform as a basis for their applications, so I have heard many questions in the past about the future of the IDE and the platform. That Oracle has directly addressed the users of the platform and pledged its continued support, has been very well received.” Anton Epple.

Of course, Oracle has developed its own IDE: JDeveloper (the current version is 11g ( released November 2009.) JDeveloper is not an arbitrarily replaceable module; it’s deeply integrated in the Oracle tool chain. The design-time tools of Oracle BPEL Process Manager, Portal, and many other components of the Oracle-based platform, are built on JDeveloper and everyone assumed that Oracle would continue to use JDeveloper. The webcast confirmed this: Oracle’s JDeveloper will remain a strategic development tool.

NetBeans is, for Oracle, a rather unexpected and involuntary acquisition. For some time, Oracle seemed unsure of what to do with its new IDE-jewel. How does Anton Epple see the future of NetBeans, as an Oracle acquisition?

“NetBeans and JDeveloper are coming closer together. In the past, Oracle  has already focused on the interoperability of IDEs. It created the JSR-198 “A Standard Extension API for Integrated Development Environments” for this exact purpose. JSR0198, by the way, was led by Ted Farrell.

  Given that the technical hurdles are not high, and the political barriers have fallen, it seems likely that the NetBeans IDE and JDeveloper will exchange plugins pretty soon, via this, or some other similar specification. The NetBeans Form Builder would be of particular interest to JDeveloper of course, and I would imagine that NetBeans would benefit from ADF support.

Since NetBeans offers the more powerful application platform, it is reasonable proposition to use this platform for both IDEs. In the past, Sun has shipped a whole portfolio of IDEs based on the NetBeans platform. Thst is not a bad model to follow. JDeveloper can then continue to support Oracle Middleware-specific development as a strategic tool. NetBeans, meanwhile, can support the mass market. One should not forget that with Sun, Oracle has also taken over responsibility of the Java platform, and NetBeans has traditionally been used as a test platform for new specifications. That is the direction would encourage Oracle to take. Let’s see what Oracle actually does with its two tools.” Anton Epple.

But, Oracle doesn’t only have JDeveloper and NetBeans to factor into its roadmap. Oracle is one of fourteen strategic members of the Eclipse Foundation. It is substantially involved in the Eclipse project and has initiated the JPA 2.0 reference implementation EclipseLink; one of the flagship projects of the Eclipse Platform. As a strategic member of the Eclipse Foundation, Oracle has to designate at least eight committers to work full-time on Eclipse projects. Oracle employees are currently working full-time on projects such as in the Dali Java Persistence Tools Web Tools, the Webtools JavaServer Faces and Webtools releng.

In addition, Oracle developed the Enterprise Pack for Eclipse, a collection of Eclipse plugins for the programming and deployment of applications for Oracle WebLogic Server. Oracle is a long-time supporter of Eclipse, and Thomas Kurian was again very clear about this in his webcast: Oracle remains a strategic member of the Eclipse Foundation, Oracle will continue to equip the Enterprise Pack for Eclipse 11g with new features.

The questions remains: is there still room for NetBeans in the crowded world of Oracle-owned IDEs? In the long run, can Oracle afford to develop three IDEs? Let’s hope that all the positive announcements of the webcast, were not pure marketing spiel. After all, the NetBeans community has already lost Project Kenai – how much more can it afford to lose?

Anton Epple
Anton Epple works as a freelance Java consultant and trainer in Munich. For more than seven years he has led the development of Java desktop applications. As an active member of the open source community, he became Head of the Java Tools community on in 2007. For several years, he works intensively with experts of the NetBeans Platform, and is member of the NetBeans Dream Team since 2008.
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