NetBeans 7.1 Review

One of outcomes of switching jobs is you lose some of your favorite tools.  For me that was Zend Studio.  Having done PHP development full time for many years, Zend Studio had become my IDE of choice.

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 Initial Start Up Screen


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.

NetBeans with various Windows open


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.

NetBeans main editor window with other windows closed


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.

NetBeans PHP preference screen


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.

NetBeans Fonts and Colors Preference Screen


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.

The NetBeans Icon


NetBeans 7.1 Review — 17 Comments

  1. I feel very much comfortable with Netbeans. As far as the Php-oops oriented coding is concern I would recommend Netbeans as the IDE.

  2. i can not download netbean’s latest version it says “The requested URL /netbeans/7.1/final/bundles/ was not found on this server.” when i try to download.

  3. Hi I use both:
    1. eclipse + pydev for python (since the python support in netbeans has more ore less been dropped)
    2. netbeans for php development.
    One main argument for netbeans against eclipse+pdt:
    In netbeans you can format the sourcecode (and adapting your coding styles).
    In eclipse+pdt I can only change the tab-space (at least I did not find anything else).

    … and pdt seems to have lost the development momentum (I tested it 3 months ago the last time).

    Actually there is a funny alternative: aptana studio whicht is based on eclipse.
    Here you can for “format source code” and adapt a lot of stuff BUT: they do *not*
    use pdt, they use another plugin (phpedit or so..)

  4. I just started developing in PHP (coming form Microsoft/Visual Studio) and spent quite a bit of time looking for a PHP IDE.  I trialed all the commercial IDE’s/editors and so money really wasn’t an issue.  Netbeans won out.

  5. I agree only that netbeans is more newbie friendly and you don’t have to know much about classpath and compiling/building to produce a working application. 

    But when you want more control and more advanced stuff I’m pretty sure eclipse is the way to go.

    By the way… I was netbeans fanatic for a long time then I tried eclipse again and I’m certain now I won’t switch back to netbeans. Maybe intellij is next step but certanly not netbeans.

    Anyways netbeans is a great tool after all. I give you that…

  6. IntelliJ 11 is so awesome, that I have even bought it.
    BTW Netbeans settings preferences compared to IntelliJ is not so good…

  7. No… I will certainly not go back to Netbeans. For simple things it is ok, but Eclipse outperforms it in nearly everything advanced. Netbeans is like an editor with a little bit of sophisticated tool calling where Eclipse really is an IDE.

    • No.. i will certainly not go back to Eclipse! 
      I have been using both eclipse and netbeans professionally (java), and when i can choose myself its a nobrainer: Netbeans!Netbeans do the same things as eclipse – but smoother and with all the stuff you need build in out of the box.Not saying that netbeans can do things that eclipse can’t – the same is true the other way around, but in my experience netbeans just is more intuitive to use.

  8. from my perspective – Eclipse is slow, too bloated, and clumsy. Netbeans is better. But both of these are far from “the best IDE”. I love open source, and my current choice is Netbeans, but I’m constantly searching for better and faster  native aps (for linux or windows), which are not slow and clumsy as these two 🙂

  9. why would we gradually move? because setting preferences is difficult in eclipse?
    or because netbeans was created with java in mind? AFAIK eclipse was also designed with java development in mind.
    I am a long time user of Eclipse and ex netbeans user and I have to disagree with your arguments. setting preferences is straightforward and java development support is great. the feel you get while developing is also not as bloated and “old car” as you say