The Future Of NetBeans

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Future-of-NetBeans

On January 27th 2010, Oracle Corporation posted a press release on their official website, announcing that they had finalised their long-delayed acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

The IT world has been abuzz with speculation regarding what
could happen once Oracle gets its hands on Sun’s portfolio of
existing products, since the takeover was proposed back in April
2009. The announcement that the merger is definitely going ahead,
has only
increased speculation
.

Most of the questions, of course, revolve around the popular
programming language Java, but a big question mark is also
currently hanging over Sun’s open source NetBeans platform and
integrated development environment (IDE) for developing with a
variety of programming languages, including PHP. Python, Groovy,
Ruby, C, C++, Clojure and, of course, Java and Javascript.

The current NetBeans IDE is version 6.8, released back in December, 2009. It was
the first IDE to provide complete support of Java EE 6 and the
GlassFish Enterprise Server v3.

However, Oracle already has its own IDE commitments: it is one
of the big contributors to the open source Eclipse IDE, and has
developed its very own freeware IDE, JDeveloper, which provides
features for developers using Java, XML, SQL and PL/SQL,
JavaScript, BPEL and PHP.

JDeveloper isn’t just a product for Oracle, it is deeply
ingrained in Oracle’s tool suite: Oracle BPEL Process Manager ,
Portal, and many other components of the Oracle platform all build
their design time tool on top of JDeveloper. It is also the
platform for Oracle’s Java Development Kit-based SQL Developer IDE.
The most recent release of JDeveloper is version 11g (11.1.1.2.0), which was made
available in November 2009.

And then there’s Oracle’s affinity with Eclipse.

Oracle has much invested in the Eclipse IDE. Oracle’s major
contributions to Eclipse include The EclipseLinkproject, which
provides a runtime persistence solution and extended functionality
for enterprise Java and SOA application development; JavaServer
Faces Tooling which aims to simplify the development and deployment
of JavaServer Faces (JSF); and Dali Java Persistence Tools to
support the building of extensible frameworks to simplify, define,
and edit Object-Relational (O/R) mappings for EJB 3.0 Java
Persistence API (JPA) Entities. Oracle leads all three of these
projects – and has a hand in several more Eclipse-based
projects.

No-one can argue that Oracle’s contribution and involvement with
Eclipse isn’t substantial. And NetBeans is a rival IDE. This has
led Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols to declare, simply
“(NetBeans) is history. Oracle is a big-time Eclipse supporter” as
if NetBeans’ fate is signed and sealed, and no further explanation
is necessary.

But there’s a third party in this IDE drama. Oracle’s fondness
for Eclipse, and its knack for developing its own IDEs, come neatly
together in the third IDE (if you count the newly-acquired NetBeans
IDE) Oracle now have to play with: Oracle Enterprise Pack For
Eclipse.

Oracle Enterprise Pack For Eclipse (OEPE) is a set of plugins
designed to deploy, debug and develop applications for Oracle’s
WebLogic Server (Oracle’s answer to Sun’s GlassFish Server which,
of course, Oracle now owns as well…..) The current version of
OEPE, 11gRI is a combination of WebLogic and Oracle’s contributions
to the Eclipse platform – the Eclipse platform that is a direct
competitor to NetBeans, don’t forget.

So, Oracle now has NetBeans, but as an IDE it evidently prefers
Eclipse, and on top of that it has two of its very own IDEs – OEPE
and JDeveloper – and it isn’t likely to abandon those anytime soon.
But which IDE tops Oracle’s priorities list? During a webcast available now at the Oracle website,
Ted Farrell, Chief Architect and Senior Vice President at Oracle
Corp, made it very clear where Oracle’s first IDE loyalties
lie:

“Oracle JDeveloper is Oracle’s primary development platform for
Java, SOA and Rich Enterprise Applications.”

Perhaps anticipating cries that Oracle will ‘phase out’ its open
source IDE rival, NetBeans, Farrell assured the viewers that
Oracle’s moto, post-Sun acquisition, is “productivity with a
choice,” and pledged Oracle support, regardless of the IDE you
choose to work with.

“We want to give you the choice to pick the development
environment that you want….that choice is yours, we don’t want to
dictate any of that. But, once you’ve made that choice, we want to
offer you the tools and the lifecycle and the infrastructure to
make you as productive as possible.”

Noble sentiments, but what does ‘Oracle support regardless of
IDE’ actually mean? Basically, it means that Oracle are going to be
developing and caring for three IDEs – simultaneously. Factor out
the extra workload for Oracle, and this sounds like a surefire way
to keep everybody happy. However, Oracle have already made it clear
that all IDEs are equal, but some IDEs are more equal than others,
and this seems to be the case when you take a closer look at their
development strategy.

In an epic five hour long live
webcast
broadcast on the day Oracle announced the acquisition
has been finalised, senior Vice President of development, Thomas
Kurian said that Oracle plans to focus NetBeans on PHP, Python and
other dynamic scripting languages, while pushing JDeveloper IDE as
its strategic development environment. Is there a reason behind
Oracle’s decision to “give” NetBeans these particular languages?
Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions thinks so:
“There really is no need to do scripting in a Java IDE……..This
might just be a way of sunsetting NetBeans.” Although, she is
perhaps understating PHP’s importance to the programming language
market

To Senior Java Developer Armel Nene, it isn’t a three-way fight. “Oracle
will never drop JDeveloper therefore the real fight is between
Eclipse and NetBeans.” Implicit in Nene’s argument, is that Oracle
simply cannot keep its promise of developing three IDEs
simultaneously, and the lesser of two evils would be to withdraw
its commitments to Eclipse. “Eclipse will not never close shop
because Oracle has left them which is not as worse as lack of
investment in the NetBeans community.” He proposed that Oracle
should “immediately start porting all their Eclipse plug-ins to
NetBeans,” and focus on developing NetBeans and JDeveloper,
although he admitted that “dropping Eclipse support would close
doors to millions of developers.”

“Something has to give,” he concluded, not unreasonably.

Ted Farell’s webcast, perhaps unsurprisingly, glosses over the
big question (namely, why would Oracle want to divide their time,
energy and, most importantly, money, between three different IDEs?
Especially considering JDeveloper is clearly Oracle’s IDE of
choice, with Eclipse coming in second….) to present a win-win
situation for everyone. This, is that the three IDEs will develop
amiably side-by-side, good-naturedly borrowing and lending bits and
pieces from one another. Every IDE’s a winner, apparently.

Oracle is apparently chomping at the bit to implement the first
phase of its proposed IDE inter-breeding. Plans are already afoot
to pop out JDeveloper’s editor and replace it with NetBeans’
Matisee Swing graphical user interface (GUI) Builder.

In JDeveloper 10g, there was an extension called Simple Java
Bean Editor that allowed developers to edit beans’ Properties.
However, this editor was dropped for the 11g release, the most
recent version features a view editor.

Ted Farrell proposes this as a two-way process, with Oracle
porting some middleware support from JDeveloper into NetBeans, to
create NetBeans as you know it, but with “additional resources”
pilfered from Oracle’s existing software suit.

“If you’re a NetBeans user today, you’ll still be a NetBeans
user after the acquisition,” Farrell assures the NetBeans
community.

And that NetBeans community is staying put: NetBeans.org is
remaining open for business,

“It (NetBeans.org) is still the place to go if you’re looking
for plugins, or you want to publish some plugins…….nothing
changes here,” Farrell assured NetBeans.org users “we’re keeping
those resources there for you.” In fact, he pledged that Oracle
would pump more resources into NetBeans.org, than Sun Microsystems
ever did. What these ‘extra resources’ will be, he failed to
specify, although there’s no denying that “we’re keeping it open –
and we’re making it better!” is a neat bit of marketing spiel.

Once again, the situation is even more complex because Oracle
already has its own version of a newly-acquired Sun resource:
Oracle Technology Network (OTN).

NetBeans.org is a community where people can develop modular
desktop applications using the NetBeans Platform framework;
download the latest nightly builds; write tutorials for other
NetBeans.org users; and participate in discussions and share
knowledge with other users. OTN is Oracle’s community for
developers, database administrators and architects that use either
Oracle’s own products, or computer-industry-standard technologies,
such as Java, PHP and Linux. Farrell puts the total OTN subscribers
at over $1 million, and NetBeans.org is a similarly vibrant
community.

Two invaluable resources, with a definite overlap. Logic
dictates that Oracle’s first loyalty is to its own community
portal. However, according to Farrell, Oracle will continue to
develop both, because the developer community needs both –
apparently, OTN can offer an important social networking aspect,
and additional articles that are lacking from NetBeans.org. Farrell
encourages the NetBeans.org community to start using OTN as a
complementary resource. If even half of the NetBeans.org community
took Farrell’s advice and started logging onto OTN, then the
benefit to Oracle would be substantial. Maybe at the next webcast,
they’ll be able to place the total number of OTN subscribers at $2
million? There was no mention of OTN subscribers using NetBeans.org
as a complementary resource. So, why are Oracle encouraging
NetBeans.org subscribers to use their OTN portal, but aren’t
encouraging their own subscribers to use NetBeans.org? Do
NetBeans.org subscribers even need another fully-fledged community
web portal, on top of the one they already use? It seems Oracle are
just chasing after new subscribers.

Thankfully, there’s one area where there’s no room for
confusion: licensing. Oracle has laid down a cut-and-dried roadmap
for NetBeans licensing. Any version of NetBeans 6.8 or earlier will
follow the policy they originally negotiated with Sun. However,
Oracle are going to extend the existing support policies for
NetBeans 6.8 and earlier, to bring them into line with Oracle’s own
Lifetime Support plan. More details on Oracle’s
Lifetime Support can be found at their official website.

Meanwhile, versions of NetBeans 6.9 and greater will move to
what Farrell describes as “an oracle support policy.” This policy
will apparently offer “more choices,” will be “more beneficial to
you as an end user” and feature “an unlimited apps policy.” In
addition, Sun customers will now be able to access, and make use
of, Oracle’s online support portal.

Despite some encouraging words from Oracle, there has been
one alarming, NetBeans-related development, with Oracle announcing
the phasing-out
of project Kenani’s public-facing portal. Sun’s open source project
host, was developed to be compatible with NetBeans.
Many of
the services provided by Kenai were accessible directly from the
NetBeans IDE, including creating new projects and opening and
retrieving the sources of existing Kenai projects. Dropping an open
source host that is so neatly integrated with NetBeans, hardly
conforms to Oracle’s “producitivty with choice
promise to support all developers equally, regardless of which IDE
they choose.

Whatever happens with NetBeans in the future, one thing can be
sure: only time will tell whether Oracle will be able to fulfil its
promise of developing three IDEs and two community web portals
simultaneously, or whether NetBeans – arguably at the bottom of
Oracles priority list – will be left behind in Oracle’s three-way
IDE race.

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