I am a sucker for IDEs and I have been meaning to take Netbeans out for a test ride for sometime now. I have been hearing a lot of good things about Netbeans every since version 6.0 came out and more so ever since the version 6.5 arrived. OK before I proceed further, let me point out the fact that I have been using Netbeans for C++ development and have never used the IDE for anything other than C++. So my comments may be somewhat inaccurate for other languages.
For one the IDE seems to be solidly built and you can find your way around the place easily. Everything is where it should be and there is no second guessing as to what functionality a particular window, menu item or an option provides. Clean and sweet. Netbeans has probably the cleanest interface among IDEs. This is probably the strongest points about the IDE and given the fact that it is available on multiple platforms, means it could be used by people who do cross platform development.
I ran the IDE on Windows using the MinGW and MSYS systems, and it wasn’t very difficult to setup given that I already had MinGW and MSYS setup. The build system for the IDE is via your native Makefiles (*shiver*). I severely dislike the taste of Makefiles; especially maintaining them for large, cross-platform projects that have multiple dependencies. But the IDE manages Makefile issues nicely and I can live with that.
For those who don’t already know, Netbeans is actually a framework and a platform to build applications. The IDE is an application built on top of this platform. The strength of the Netbeans platform is it’s ability to have modules. Platform modules are basically Java classes that interface with Netbeans open API. The IDE also, can be extended via modules to add and enhance functionality. An open API like that also means Netbeans can be turned into almost any type of IDE by simply programming in functionality for a language.
The IDE has an excellent code completion feature, and I have to say it is surprisingly fast. The intellisense of the IDE is top notch, probably better than most free IDEs out there, including my current hot favorite, Code::Blocks. I would even go as far as saying that in some situations it is better than even Visual Studio Express. The Navigator and the class display windows are pretty snappy. Any addition or change made to the code is updated very very quickly. On the intellisense front, it deserves a 7 on 10. The real-time syntax checker also deserves a praise. Oh how I miss these things in VS Express !! Small things go a long way in enhancing productivity and Netbeans is by far the best among the free IDEs in that regard.
Netbeans has a lot of modules using which you can extend the functionality of the IDE and the community support is equally good. I would seriously recommend this IDE to all those who want a free IDE for C++. Netbeans by default supports only the GNU toolset, meaning you won’t be able to use compilers from Microsoft, Intel, Borland and others. The debugger used is gdb but the display and setup of the debugging GUI under the IDE can probably rival any other IDE for completeness.
So what’s to complain? Nothing really; but, just to nitpick, the fonts look a bit messy. There is no hinting on the fonts and it does look a bit drab. No hinting also means I have to use a higher font size than I normally do under VS and Code::Blocks. Talking about Code::Blocks, for me C::B still edges out in front of Netbeans just because it has a build-in GUI designer for wxWidgets, and well Netbeans dosen’t but that is probably just for me. I hope someone writes one soon 😀 . Netbeans is too good an IDE to ignore. However, I must say, I am impressed with Netbeans. It sure seems OSS IDEs are rapidly closing the gap between commercial ones.