Since Zend Studio costs money, as a newbie to my new company, I didn't see a lot of Zend Studio's installed. In fact, I saw few IDE's. Most of the edits were done on a Linux server running Vim. This seemed a little archaic to me. I wanted to set up my beloved work environment, back to open-source.
Naturally, I downloaded Eclipse PDT based on the Helios release, on which Zend Studio is built. I had used Eclipse before Zend Studio, and so this was pretty close to home. All the menus and functionality, except for some of the Zend Studio features, are the same.
In the process of configuring Eclipse, I, of course, started messing with preferences. Anyone who has used Eclipse understands what a nightmare the Eclipse preferences are. It takes you quite a bit of time to initially configure preferences. So you don't have to reconfigure then again, you export your preferences and import them to the new Eclipse environments.
I did an import of my Zend Studio preferences and then started changing some setting, and I had a hiccup. The hiccup was Eclipse balked at some setting I set, and blew away my entire workspace. I'm guessing Zend Studio preferences have problems with importing to Eclipse. I had to reload everything including re-configuring my preferences. What a nightmare.
When things like this happen, I get pissed, and go looking for new tools. After a preliminary search showed that Netbeans had good reviews, I decided to give it a try. I had tried Netbeans before, and found it wanting for PHP development, but that was four years ago. It deserved another look.
Netbeans is a Java application and requires Java to run, which is probably already loaded on your computer. The Netbeans license is owned by Oracle from its acquisition of Sun, but it is a free and open source IDE.
Since PHP is now an object-oriented language, like Java, NetBeans has incorporated PHP into its editor. You have a choice to install NetBeans with just the PHP bundle, which is what I did, since I do not do a lot of Java work.
The Netbeans 7.1 download and install was seamless. The installer downloads 46.6 Mb, which grows to 152.5 Mb on install. By the way, my Eclipse Helios folder checks in at 390 Mb. The installation took about 5 minutes and NetBeans came up quickly and easily.
If you do a feature by feature analysis of Eclipse and Netbeans, you'll find that both IDE's pretty much have the same features and functionality. You'll find several good articles on the web about this, so I won't go into individual features here.
If your doing Java development, Netbeans should be your IDE of choice, since it was built with Java development in mind. What surprised me was how far Netbeans has come as a PHP development environment. If your a PHP Developer, NetBeans has integrated support for Git, Debugging, PHPUnit testing, PHPDoc, Smarty templates, Symfony Framework, and the Zend framework. Need I say more.
If both IDE's pretty much have the same functionality, what is the difference between the two? Well, it comes down to the feel of the IDE as your using them.
I thought about good analogies and similes for the two editors. Here's my take. Eclipse is like an old car that you keep fixing up, it's serviceable and runs good, but every once in a while, you get irritated, because something doesn't work right. Netbeans seems like a new BMW sports car. If Eclipse is a house built with a series of additions, Netbeans is a house built from the ground up by an architect. Eclipse feels bloated. Netbeans feels integrated, not like your bringing up a separate application every time you go to a new area of the IDE.
One major weakness in Eclipse is setting preferences on how you want the editor to work. Each plugin added to Eclipse has its own preferences, every section of Eclipse has it own preferences. What that means is setting preferences is a nightmare. Not only that, if you set a preference in one area, it might not be set in another, and may collide with another preference, sometime throwing errors, or shutting down the editor. I've had all of this happen.
In contrast, NetBeans preferences are a pleasure. Colors and fonts are configured in one tab, PHP in another tab. You can set all colors and fonts for all languages at once, not like Eclipse.
In all fairness to Eclipse, I'm comparing this to Eclipse Helios PDT. I downloaded the Eclipse Indigo 64bit and added the PDT plugin, and I find this version quicker, and much more stable. I would recommend Eclipse PDT users uninstall Helios, download Indigo, and add PDT. I think you'll like it better, if you stay with Eclipse.
In conclusion, because of problems I've had configuring colors with Eclipse, even using the Eclipse Color Theme Plugin I wrote about in another post, I find myself using NetBeans to write my code.
I highly recommend you download and try NetBeans. You can have both IDE's running at the same time without conflicts. If you don't like NetBeans, you can stay with Eclipse, but in the process of using both, I think you'll find yourself gradually moving to NetBeans as your IDE of choice.