I used to like Eclipse

When I first started teaching Java back in 2000, I needed an editor for the students to use. The goal was to have something small and self-contained enough that they didn’t get lost using packages, did a decent job with syntax highlighting, and ideally had an integrated debugger. Code assist was a nice goal, too, but seemed like a long shot.

At the time, for my own development I used Emacs, believe it or not, and an Emacs plugin called something like the Java Development Environment. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember really liking it. It had a good set of templates that I could expand in order to add in syntax, the syntax coloring was very good, and it just felt right.

I played with JBuilder at the time, and even the long lost (but not terribly lamented) Visual Cafe for Java, but never really liked either of them. I think the last version I used of JBuilder was 6. I did play with IBM’s VisualAge for Java, but that was 50% interesting and 50% nightmare. Usually nightmare won in the end — I never liked VisualAge, and the fact that it didn’t have a clue about JSPs didn’t help.

In class, we usually used a shareware program called SitePad. Friends of mine used EditPlus and its derivatives, but I liked SitePad. It was quite lightweight and easy to use. The students found it intuitive and easy.

And then, along came Eclipse.

Eclipse came out as version 1.0, even though IBM’s first version of WebSphere Studio Application Developer was version 4.0.

(I suppose that’s another illustration that not all evil in this world comes from Microsoft.)

I loved Eclipse from the word go. It was easy and enormously productive. The market has since confirmed that impression, as Eclipse grew in market share to dizzying heights, almost destroying the commercial IDE market in the process. Even JBuilder is just another Eclipse plug-in now.

Of course, Eclipse never understood servlets and JSPs. For that I had to suffer through the slings and arrows of WSAD 4, then 5, and now RAD6. Thank goodness MyEclipse came along, or I’d still be fighting those battles. Actually I still am fighting those battles, but at least I have an alternative when I get to choose. I don’t know why IBM assumes everybody has a mainframe on their desk with more gigs of RAM than they can count, but their products bring my computers to their knees. MyEclipse was much better. As Eclipse moved to version 2 and then to version 3, things just got better, faster, and easier.

Until now. Eclipse 3.2 is a beast. It’s almost like somebody from IBM got to the Eclipse foundation and forced them to turn Eclipse into RAD6. It’s massive, awkward and ugly now, with lots of conflicts between the different pieces of functionality. The Callisto release (which included Eclipse 3.2, the Web Tools Platform, and about ten other projects) gave us zillions of lines of code that feel buggy and don’t work together well.

MyEclipse 5, forced to follow the Eclipse 3.2 behemoth, bundles in the WTP and adds a few thousand plugins on top (I wish that were an exaggeration). Lovely. Now I need a couple gigs for everything and still run into problems.

A couple weeks ago I taught a JSF class in Jamaica. One of the students there really wanted to use NetBeans, so we tried that. I downloaded the product, installed their visual web toolkit, and almost immediately crashed the product when I tried to bring up a JSF page. Yikes.

Okay, I thought, I’ll show off what MyEclipse can do. Unfortunately, I allowed MyEclipse to do its normal update that morning. Suddenly its visual editor didn’t work either.

Eventually I had to go to the MyEclipse forums, where they told me I needed to do a clean install of version 5.1 in order for things to work. I did that, and they worked, which is good. Then I decided to play with EJB3 and ran into problems all over again.

EJB3 is probably the most interesting part of Java EE 5. Now that my Hibernate materials project is finished, I want to dig into that. Unfortunately, while Eclipse 3.2 understands Java 5.0 and even Java 5 annotations, MyEclipse 5.1 doesn’t understand Java EE 5. Now it’s back to plugins again.

I went to the JBoss site (JBoss understands EJB3) and installed their JBoss Eclipse IDE using the update manager. Then I tried to create an EJB. Crash and burn.

I eventually had to download a completely separate, bundled instance of JBoss IDE. In that I was able to create an EJB, but ran into massive problems when I tried to deploy it.

Blech. It didn’t used to be this way. You downloaded Eclipse and unzipped it and you were off and running. Now everything is a painful mess of conflicting plugins and version numbers. Maybe I’m just tired, but it takes so much energy now to get all this stuff working any more.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I seriously doubt either product is going to get any smaller. I can only hope the bugs will get fixed and the different pieces will start playing nicely with each other.

Of course, don’t even get me started on the fact that Firefox 2.0 hangs roughly once every other day.

About Ken Kousen
I teach software development training courses. I specialize in all areas of Java and XML, from EJB3 to web services to open source projects like Spring, Hibernate, Groovy, and Grails. Find me on Google+ I am the author of "Making Java Groovy", a Java / Groovy integration book published by Manning in the Fall of 2013, and "Gradle Recipes for Android", published by O'Reilly in 2015.

8 Responses to I used to like Eclipse

  1. bytes2000 says:

    I tried both Jcreator, Eclipse and Netbeans. And the clear winner is Netbeans 5.5
    Give it a try but download the Enterprise pack (with sun app server) It has everything that you need for J2EE development, and it has some nice wizards that will make you happy.

    Docs/tutorials> http://www.netbeans.org/kb/index.html
    A nice blog about netbeans> http://www.planetnetbeans.org/

  2. kousenit says:

    I did download NetBeans 5.5 and added in the Visual Web pack. That’s what failed when I tried to do JSF. I’ll try the Enterprise pack instead.

    I have to say, though, that I’ve liked MyEclipse for years and hope to continue to use it where possible.

  3. williamc says:

    Hi,

    I suggest you use netbeans visual web pack 5.5, just released! I guess there must be something wrong with your JSF page. Thouthands of us are using netbeans 5.5. It is really fantastic. If you don’t give it a serious try, you might miss a wonderful tool.

    -William

  4. kousenit says:

    I did download Netbeans 5.5 along with the Enterprise pack. So far, so good.

  5. decoding says:

    NetBeans 5.5 is an excellent Java IDE.
    The final version of Visual Web Pack has been released this week.
    I suggest the following Flash tutorials, that demonstrate some of the NetBeans cool features.
    http://www.netbeans.org/kb/55/flash.html

  6. Wolfie says:

    I can relate to your complaints. EJB3 and JSF are a major step forward in the J2EE spec but somehow the toolsets have been slow to handle this well. There are too many cooks in the kitchen and someone needs to take control.

    I’ve just about had it with eclipse/myeclise now.

  7. Tony Ugando says:

    I suggest Netbeans 5.5 with Visual Web Pack 5.5 final release. Add ICEFaces 1.5.3 as a module, and you then have a slew of AJAX components, which you can add Visually to your pages. It will take years for Eclipse to reach Netbeans current web development functionalities. Netbeans has truly “Eclipsed” Eclipse.

  8. kousenit says:

    I agree and disagree. I’ve been playing with NetBeans for a couple of months now and I still am not wild about it. It does seem to do the job and in many cases it’s way ahead of Eclipse, but I still find it rather ugly and awkward.

    As a recent example, I tried to use NetBeans to deploy an EJB3 app to JBoss. I was able to start the JBoss server inside the environment, but then was unable to stop it. NetBeans seemed to think it was already stopped, so it greyed out the stop button. Nothing I did could change that. Since it also captured the JBoss output window, I couldn’t just go there and type Control-C, which is another way of stopping JBoss, though not the best way to do it. I eventually had to go to the Admin Console and dig around until I found the right service to stop. That worked but lead to other problems later.

    I think NetBeans is good, but the latest MyEclipse versions are still better for me. As soon as they finally add EJB3 support (and Java EE 5 support in general), I’ll be fine with them again. I think that’ll all happen by this summer.

    I will say that I truly dislike the WTP (web tools platform plug-in) for Eclipse. It’s ugly and awkward and bloats the heck out of the platform. IBM really did a number on them this time. If the MyEclipse people hadn’t spent all that time cleaning up all the problems it introduced, I’d still be having a lot of trouble with it.

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