NetBeans no longer just for Java

It's becoming increasingly hard to call recently released version of NetBeans, Version 6.5, adds PHP to a list of supported languages that includes Java, C/C++, Groovy, Grails, Ruby on Rails and JavaScript. A preview of the PHP support was available in Version 6.1, released earlier this year. The latest release formalizes the tool's support for the language.

NetBeans' open-source developers are also working to bring Python to the IDE. The list of early-access Python tools includes an editor, debugger and choice of Python runtimes. The NetBeans community is hoping that its members will dive in and provide feedback on the newest flavor.

"Python represents another opportunity to bring a whole community to the NetBeans world," said David Folk, group marketing manager for developer tools product marketing at Sun Microsystems, the chief backer of NetBeans.

Version 6.5 also comes with enhanced support for several Web frameworks, including Hibernate, Spring, JavaServer Faces, JSF crud generator and the Java Persistence API. It also includes a new editor for JavaScript development, which supports Cascading Style Sheets/HTML code completion and the ability to debug client-side JavaScript code in Firefox and Internet Explorer. Look, too, for a new ability to debug multithreaded Java technologies.

The latest version also comes with the newest generation of the open-source GlassFish application server.

NetBeans is gaining some ground among non-Java developers. It's now one of the top two Ruby IDEs on the market, said Gartner analyst Mark Driver. But most developers still use it for Java development, and the coders who do use it for Ruby, PHP and other scripting languages are probably primarily developing in Java, he said.

Nevertheless, NetBeans' broader language support is turning it into more of a workbench along the lines of the open-source Eclipse framework, which makes it more competitive with those market-changing tools, Driver said.

With the arrival of Eclipse a few years ago, many industry watchers expected NetBeans to fade away, as other Java IDEs did. But the toolset continues to stand as perhaps the strongest Eclipse alternative, Driver said. "Not everyone is excited about downloading and assembling Eclipse plug-ins," he added.

Mark Dey, engineering manager of the Ajax tools development team and release boss for NetBeans 6.5, said Java is still the focus of the IDE, and the addition of support for dynamic languages is primarily because those languages are becoming more popular with Java jocks.

"It's becoming a very strong IDE for these other languages," he said. "If you're in NetBeans and you find that you need to edit some JavaScript or PHP code, the transition is seamless."

Allan Davis, lead developer of the open-source nbPython project aimed at providing support for Python development for NetBeans users, said scripting has become an everyday part of a developer's job. That means there's growing demand for that kind of multiple-language support within the confines of familiar tooling environments.

It's a bit unusual for such a major launch to happen so close to the holidays, Folk said. "It's a little close to Thanksgiving, but given that the product is used internationally, we think the timing is good."

Sun plans to introduce a new certification program for the IDE. The Sun Certified Specialist NetBeans IDE training will lead to certification that "provides clear evidence that the programmer has passed stringent testing criteria," company officials said, adding that it will produce programmers with "in-depth experience and proficiency to develop Java technology-based desktop and Web applications using the NetBeans IDE."

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