Sun to discontinue developer tools in favor of NetBeans

Sun Microsystems plans to discontinue its Sun Java Studio Enterprise and Sun Java Studio Creator developer tools and encourage users to move to the NetBeans IDE, the company said Tuesday.

Version 6.0 of the IDE is being released on Wednesday.

Migration programs have been launched to move users of these tools over to NetBeans. At NetBeans' migration tips pages for Java Studio Creator and Java Studio Enterprise 8.1, Sun listed reasons to migrate. They include NetBeans' advanced EJB and Web services support and greater application server backing, as well the packaging of all NetBeans developer tools into a single IDE, Sun said.

The company will continue with the tools for a while, honoring support contracts in place, said Gregg Sporar, NetBeans technology evangelist at Sun.

"It's not the kind of thing [where] you just turn the lights out on a particular day," Sporar said. The discontinuances are being done because users want a single tool and framework that can accommodate combinations of functionality; NetBeans serves as that platform, said Sporar.

"NetBeans is the common component. It is the base of all Sun software development tools," Sporar said.

Sun Java Studio Enterprise is for enterprise application development, while Sun Java Studio Creator offers a visual environment for building Web applications. When launched in 2004, Sun Java Studio Creator was heralded as a way to make Java development easier. But now, developers can get its capabilities in NetBeans, Sporar said.

"What we're instead doing is we're taking those features that made Web application development easier, and we're making them available to a wider audience," he said.

While Sun used to sell the two tools, they, along with NetBeans, have been offered for free of late. Another tool, Sun Studio, for building native applications in C, C++, and Fortran, will remain, said Sporar.

An analyst agreed with Sun's plan.

"It makes sense for Sun to put its entire IDE focus around NetBeans right now as it continues to battle for mind share with Eclipse," said analyst Raven Zachary, research director for open source at The 451 Group. "Having pursued a multitiered IDE strategy, especially with open source, was a mistake, and Sun has corrected [it]."

NetBeans 6.0 is the latest release of the open source IDE that is a rival to the Eclipse tools platform. Version 6.0 features support for programming with the Ruby language and JavaScript.

Developed and released by Sun and the NetBeans community, version 6.0 also provides features for C, C++, and Ruby on Rails. What began as a Java IDE has now been extended to other languages.

"It's not a Java-only world, and the NetBeans IDE is a big tent," Sporar said.

"[Users] need tools to help them be as productive in other languages. In order to provide that functionality, we want the IDE to provide that support for them," Sporar said.

Future versions of NetBeans will add backing for other languages such as PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) and Groovy. PHP support is set for NetBeans 6.1, which is expected in the first half of 2008.

Version 6.0 also features an enhanced code editor with "smarter" code completion, occurrence highlighting, in-place renaming, and improved navigation and inspection, Sun said. Support is included for Java Platform Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 5 development.

A next-generation Swing GUI Builder formerly known as Project Matisse is included, along with a Swing application framework and Beans Binding technology, for modification of user interface controls to accommodate data source changes.

Other features include improved visual tools for building Web applications, Web services, mobile applications, and UML (Unified Modeling Language) models.

Edit/refactor/debug test/deploy functionality for Ruby on Rails development is featured as well. New file navigation for C and C++ developers is offered, with improved debugger integration, Sun said.

Previous technologies available as add-on packs, such as the Visual Web pack for building Web applications and Enterprise Pack for building SOA applications, have been integrated into NetBeans and delivered through a single install.

While NetBeans has had a lower profile than rival Eclipse Foundation, which enjoys support from heavyweights such as IBM and Oracle, Sun stands by NetBeans and touts its growth rate. The NetBeans e-mail subscriber list, for example, has grown from 124,139 subscribers in 2004 to 506,432 subscribers in 2007, Sun said.

Many developers are migrating applications to NetBeans from other IDEs including Eclipse, Sun said.

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