Interview with NetBeans Dream Team members — Part 1

NetBeans Dream Team members react to NetBeans’ turn of fate

Gabriela Motroc

Dream Team image via Shutterstock

It looks like NetBeans is embarking on a new journey to an unexpected destination: Apache. It is leaving Oracle behind, in the hope that a change of scenery will help boost the number of contributions from various organizations. We talked to a few members of the NetBeans Dream Team about Oracle’s decision to donate NetBeans to the Apache Foundation and asked them if this move means that NetBeans will share the same fate as OpenOffice and Hudson.

In the first part of our interview series with some of the NetBeans Dream Team members, we asked Adam Bien, Fabrizio Giudici and Markus Eisele to weigh in on the proposal to move NetBeans to Apache and to paint a picture of the new NetBeans which resides under the umbrella of Apache as opposed to the old one which called Oracle home. 


JAXenter: What is your take on Oracle’s decision to donate NetBeans to the Apache Foundation? Was it a good idea? A necessary step?

Adam Bien: According to the proposal, Oracle donates not only the project but also the man power. NetBeans as an Apache project with paid core developers could give NetBeans additional boost. Apache infrastructure with Git integration encourages external contributions. Moving NetBeans to Apache might also boost contributors’ motivation. I would classify Apache projects as more prestigious, comparing them to an open source, yet corporate project.

An open source project with NetBeans’ complexity is likely to fail without full-time developers.

Also, a lot of corporations are using NetBeans as a platform or have already invested a lot in proprietary plugins. I guess they really appreciate Oracle’s donation.

Fabrizio Giudici: The community has been constantly whining since the Java ecosystem was open-sourced by Sun in 2007 because the governance was “not open enough”. Now that NetBeans will be donated to Apache, it will definitely be “open enough” and the community can prove its value. So let me give a pragmatic answer: I don’t know whether it was necessary or good, but it’s happening and we must try to make the best out of it.

Markus Eisele: I think it is a reasonable business decision. Oracle isn’t an IDE company and they already have different IDEs they support (Eclipse for the Mission Control suite, JDeveloper which has all the business value for their customers). NetBeans always has been my favorite because it is easy to handle and super quick. Besides, it has excellent Maven and standards support.

The signals coming from Oracle are indifferent these days. Java EE has been stalled and seems to be picking up again. Engineers left the JVM team (e.g. Marcus Lagergren, Aleksey Shipilëv). And now NetBeans is going to be donated to the Apache Foundation.

JAXenter: In your opinion, how should NetBeans evolve as part of the Apache universe?

Adam Bien: Oracle’s paid full-time developers are essentially important because they help evolve the hardcode language features (like Java 9 support). Building an IDE is a complex task.

Dedicated developers are crucial for NetBeans’ success in the Apache organization. Building plugins, maintaining documentation, and testing are just some of the things that are more interesting for external contributors.

However, NetBeans should keep the “The Only IDE You Need” theme and be usable right away, without any necessary configuration steps. NetBeans will need a strong governance and release model to bundle the relevant plugins with the IDE and to keep more specific plugins optional.

Fabrizio Giudici: Apache’s first responsibility is to properly handle the mix of Oracle engineers and non-Oracle committers —some are Dream Team mates— and bring them into the new governance model. I know some of those developers personally and they are outstanding guys. Apache’s second responsibility is to take care of the technical migration of all the stuff towards a more open infrastructure (source repo, issue tracker, etc). I think there will be also less bureaucracy for letting new committers in, and it’s good to attract even more developers.

I’m not sure that Apache should be the final destination of NetBeans.

Furthermore, there are a few under-developed or totally missing strategic plugins that require some immediate care. For instance: unlike Eclipse, NetBeans is great because, out of the box and without configuration hassles, it integrates build tools such as Maven or Gradle together with repos such as Git, Mercurial, Subversion. Check out any Git+Maven Java project out there and with just a couple of clicks, you’re building it with NetBeans. But in large corporations, other tools, such as IBM Rational Team Concert, are used. Personally I think it’s an over-complex and over-priced tool, but in the end, it does its job. NetBeans needs at least a reliable integration with the Jazz SCM facility to avoid being kicked off by the Eclipse IDE in these contexts.

I’m not sure that Apache should be the final destination of NetBeans. Ten years ago many people were strong believers in the “magnifiche sorti e progressive” of the open source movement: they thought that a large, heterogeneous team of very diverse contributors could do everything, it just needed meritocracy and a good governance. Time showed us that complex products need a strong stewardship by a corporate: think of Linux distros, the Java Runtime (Apache Harmony sunk as soon as IBM withdrew funding), JBoss… So I’m not sure that NetBeans could stand the test of time with a group of corporates banding together just because they use the IDE or the Platform to develop their products, thus not directly making money out of NetBeans. I’d feel safer if a single corporation came out with a successful business model, of the kind “free product, paid consultancy/support”. But, for this scenario, NetBeans needs to be fully integrated with a complete software factory – a source code repo, a binary artifact repo, an issue tracker, a CI system, etc… I don’t see making money out of an IDE alone.

Paradoxically, the Apache License (personally my favorite) perhaps is not the most suitable for this model. In spite of Stallman’s intentions (a typical case of “heterogony of ends”), time proved that in many cases GPL is more friendly to owners than to users and better fits a strong ownership. It’s not a showstopper, though. The Apache License, on the other hand, will be more palatable for adopters of the NetBeans Platform.

In any case, things aren’t black or white and the story can have multiple ends.

Markus Eisele: I wish for a bright future. It is certainly the only chance for NetBeans to keep the vibrant community alive with Oracle pulling back their support. It will be critical for a couple of months to keep the Oracle team engaged, as they are the ones carrying most of the in-depth knowledge.

Another important part will be the infrastructure. I assume that a project of this size with such a long history has a lot of weight that needs to be stripped down and simplified. I know a couple of plugin contributors and even implemented one myself for fun. Getting the project set up in a way that makes contributing easier, not just from a license perspective will be key. And keeping an independent and non-politically motivated plugin eco-system alive and kicking with NetBeans is one of the biggest chances against the competition.

This is certainly the only chance for NetBeans to keep the vibrant community alive.

JAXenter: There have been cases in which companies donated projects to foundations because they didn’t really want to invest in them anymore —see OpenOffice and Hudson. Is this the case for NetBeans?

Adam Bien: The difference is Oracle’s additional commitment to NetBeans. An open source project with NetBeans’ complexity is likely to fail without full-time developers.

Fabrizio Giudici: I think that there’s quite a clear record: if a product is strategic, Oracle keeps it within reach. It’s a sound business attitude after all. So, while I trust that Oracle will keep a commitment in the short time, as promised, I think it will probably slowly step down.

NetBeans 9 is the IDE for Java 9.

Let me tell NetBeans adopters something: there’s no need to worry, no drama is going to happen soon. NetBeans 9 is the IDE for Java 9. Keep your trust in NetBeans for now; otherwise, you’ll ignite a “bank run” that could be fatal to the product. It would be a pity to end up with just two IDEs – the Eclipse IDE, which many can’t stand – and IDEA, which is excellent, but I don’t trust the true openness of the “free” version. Keep NetBeans, keep an eye on what happens in the next years and adopt a risk mitigation plan should things go bad.

The best approach is to use build tools such as Maven (my favorite) and Gradle: NetBeans perfectly integrates with them and they are compatible with Eclipse and IDEA. My primary customers have been adopting this strategy for some years: they fully enjoy NetBeans, at the same time they are not locked-in.

Markus Eisele: This has to be proven wrong. And the only company that can ultimately do that is Oracle at this point. I haven’t looked at the detailed commit statistics but I assume that from the list of contributors on the incubation proposal it would be easy to tell who’s been doing most of the work so far. I think with Hudson the story is for sure different. The community fork did take off very well and turned into the de-facto standard. It is more of a success story for donating a project. OpenOffice has a different story, too. To me, the future looks brighter for NetBeans now.

Thank you very much!

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments