Eclipse vs. NetBeans: A War of Words

So it was a month or so ago that I first caught wind of this new Eclipse project. A colleague of mine shouted over to me, “Hey Matt, did you see the thing about IBM donating $40 million in software to a new open-source developer platform?” No, I said, could you forward it to me? And it was on…

Shortly thereafter, I’m talking to Sun PR, trying to arrange an interview for what I thought was a completely unrelated story about Sun’s Forte for Java developer offering, and the fellow I’m speaking to starts dropping lines about Eclipse. Something like: “If you want to hear our feelings on Eclipse, we’re willing to talk about that, as well.” Curious, I thought what would Sun want to talk about Eclipse for…was it part of the project? With confidence in my voice, but confusion in my head, I said, sure, that’d be cool.

***

Blah, blah, blah, Forte for Java is now compatible with the J2EE 1.2 reference implementation. Enough already, I’m thinking as I interview Drew Engstrom, Sun’s product line manager for Forte for Java. Let's get to the stuff about Eclipse.

At this point, I’ve done my research, and am well aware Sun has nothing to do with Eclipse. As such, I'm eagerly anticipating some nasty comments from Sun about the new platform.

“[IBM] has ridden Java’s popularity to their own benefit, and now they want to corrupt it by fragmenting it,” Engstrom said, talking about IBM’s role in the Eclipse project, which is a J2EE-based platform for developer tools. “It seems like a very self-serving strategy, rather than working through the existing communities that are doing just fine.”

Engstrom and Sun are apparently of the view that Eclipse is a direct rip-off of NetBeans, the open-source platform on which the Forte for Java line is built. Furthermore, they are disturbed that IBM pushed Eclipse live with two new specifications – JFace and the Standard Widget Toolkit – without first running them through the Java Community Process. And Engstrom even went so far as to equate IBM’s dealings with Eclipse as analogous to a movement to overthrow the JCP.

So now I’m on the phone with IBM, taking a briefing on Eclipse. And after we go through the motions – “Eclipse is a revolutionary platform that is going to change the way developers do their business. It’s scalable, flexible, and whatever else-able.” – I reveal Sun’s sentiment on the project, and ask for IBM’s take.

Scott Hebner, IBM’s director of marketing for the WebSphere line: “Eclipse is absolutely complementary to Java and the J2EE platform.” He continued on to say IBM fully supports the JCP and will continue to in the future. But Hebner was reluctant to elaborate further.

In a later conversation, IBM’s program director for WebSphere technical marketing, Stefan van Overtveldt, responded more directly to Sun’s NetBeans accusation, saying “Eclipse is a clear superset of what's in NetBeans.” However, he described Eclipse as a superior platform for integrating developer tools. He then suggested Sun may be bitter because Eclipse has already received the endorsement of more than 30 major tools vendors.

“Sun has never really taken that step to make [NetBeans] an industry-wide platform,” van Overtveldt said.

As for Sun’s accusations on the JCP front, van Overtveldt said the JCP-sponsored Abstract Window Toolkit was insufficient for what IBM was looking to do with Eclipse. As such, he said, IBM was forced to use JFace and SWT as part of the Eclipse platform.

“The overall function of the AWT windowing class is not sufficient to build the rich tools that developers want,” said van Overtveldt. “Sun makes this sound like a big deal, but [going live with specifications before they’re approved by the JCP] happens all the time. We could not wait for the JCP review process to bring this to market.”

According to van Overtveldt, IBM has since submitted JFace and SWT to the JCP review board.

***

This last conversation, with van Overtveldt, took place Monday, Dec. 3, about a month after Sun voiced its “concerns” about Eclipse. Looking back on my exchanges with Sun and IBM, it seems as though Sun was simply trying to taint the Eclipse announcement with some loose accusations.

I feel so used. Here I was thinking I might be on to a big story about a coup d’etat pitting IBM against the JCP, and it turns out to be nothing more than sour grapes.

C’mon Sun, it’s a competitive landscape out there. Stop wasting your time talking trash about Eclipse and get working on that NetBeans platform. A war of words makes for good press, but winners are made on the battle field. Let’s get it on, Eclipse vs. NetBeans. I wan’t to find out which technology powerhouse can really build the better open-source platform for developer tools.

About the Author

Matt Migliore is regular contributor to ENTmag.com. He focuses particularly on Microsoft .NET and other Web services technologies. Matt was the editor of several technology-related Web publications and electronic newsletters, including Web Services Report, ASP insights and MIDRANGE Systems.