Steven Vaughan-Nichols writes, "In this corner, weighing in at a net worth of over $22 billion, is the Java IDE challenger: IBM with Eclipse and its friends. And in the other corner, the founder of the cause, the Java Jock, weighing in at a net worth of just over $3 billion and the still-undefeated champion: Sun with NetBeans. Are you ready to rumble?"
In NetBeans, cross-platform interoperability is the name of the game. With Abstract Window Toolkit (AWT) and Swing, an IDE not only produces code that works on multiple platforms, the IDE itself, right down to its windows, works and looks the same whether you?re running on a top-of-the-line Sun Blade 2000 Workstation or a pokey Linux Pentium box.
Eclipse, on the other hand, isn't 100% Pure Java. Its graphics infrastructure is provided by the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT), which uses the GUI provided by the resident operating system. It works a lot faster, but you're not going to be able to step from Eclipse on an IBM pSeries system running AIX to a Windows PC without having to look two -- make that three -- times, to make sure that the IDE framework really is still Eclipse.
Oracle was, and still is, a longtime supporter of NetBeans, AWT and Swing. You don't have to take Oracle's word for it. You can see it in JBuilder. But, then in November of last year, Oracle joined Eclipse and at about the same time proposed JSR-198, the Standard Extension API for Integrated Development Environments, to the Java Community Process.
Anyway, at least for me. I tried NetBeans as well as Eclipse, as well as about a dozen IDEs. In fact, for a long time I was so frustrated with all those IDEs that I did most my development with vi and Emacs. Until I tried IntelliJ. IntelliJ is pure Java, so I can use it on Windows, Linux, or on my Ultra workstation. Their latest versions seems really fast, too.
Besides being an IDE, IntelliJ is also an example of an awesome Swing app. As I develop a lot Swing UIs for my application, IntelliJ has been sort of an inspiration.
It's a matter of taste and habit. I have used Netbeans for years now, and although it was slow during the first years (it requires 256MB RAM), I am very happy with it now. It is open source, has tons of extensions and runs AOK on a modern computer. One nice feature is that it let's you use other text editors, e.g. emacs, from within the Netbeans environment.
One thing I do miss in all these IDE's is round trip modeling a la Together Control Center (now in Borland's hands). Going from UML to code and back again is a really helpfull feature that is lacking in most IDE's.