Sunday, April 6, 2008

That Other IDE

The obvious question is, "Why do we need another free IDE when the one we have is so popular?" Well, I guess some GUI programmers at Sun and NetBeans were wrestling with ubiquitous astronomical administration and thought, "We can do better than this."

So they did.

I've worked with more than one IDE over the years and I was impressed with the software industry when so many big names got together and supported one free tool for the open source community. The community for it is huge and the amount of support for it impressive. But "you get what you pay for" applies to some aspects. Installing and configuring some IDEs can be tedius. Getting the versions of everything you need for a plugin you want to use can be a chore. There just seems to be something lacking in the place where the sun goes out - precision.

The world already has many free IDEs. The best way to get people to use a new one is to make it better. In the way that some companies have excelled despite established competition in an industry, quality and customer service makes the difference. This is not rocket science. Aiming for higher quality requires more commitment. The bottom line is affected by this attitude but where widgets (pun intended) are essentially the same, there's not a lot of opportunity for distinction. Project management techniques are to blame for sloppy software. When meeting dates is more important than getting it right, quality is the first thing to get the axe. When there is no charge for your software, what does the date matter? Take the time and effort to only release a perfect product. It's been done before.

IDEs have evolved for many years so there are aspects that programmers know and come to expect. It's not really an option to change what and how an environment is used. NetBeans is better in subtle ways. If you are familiar with an IDE, there is no learning curve with this one. The standard user interface is something that was not broke, so they didn't fix it. Any well designed user interface will be transparent to the user. By that, I mean it will be intuitive enough that the user won't notice any difficulties with it. "No comment" (especially no bad ones) is a good thing with interface design. I don't recall any problem finding something in the NetBeans IDE. That is significant.

After a flawless install, (nice work guys) my first thought on seeing the GUI was also "nice!" The simple look-and-feel just seems better. Maybe they used higher resolution on the button icons or injected gensing into my graphics card or something. The whole thing just has a cleaner, sharper facade on it.

It only took me a few seconds to decide that I liked NetBeans. Whether I liked it the most took a few more minutes.

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