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NetBeans and Ruby, part 1 Let's be honest, the rise of the Eclipse development platform is the best thing to ever happen to Sun Microsystems' NetBeans integrated development environment (IDE).

Eclipse rolled out a solid platform, with good performance, high levels of extensibility and a rapidly expanding ecosystem of commercial and open source plug ins. NetBeans, by contrast, has been the poor relation with low levels of industry take up, fewer users and not much in the way of momentum.

For NetBeans users the rise of Eclipse provided the impetus needed to match, and indeed to surpass Eclipse. The result? A real turnaround in NetBeans.

In this, the first of two pieces on NetBeans, I'll take a quick tour of the framework in conjunction with that increasingly popular web-scripting duo, Ruby and Ruby on Rails.

The ugly, clunky, slow and not very sexy NetBeans IDE of yesteryear has been showing signs of turn around recently. Sun's open sourcing the project helped, even if much of the open source community remains suspicious of Sun's motives.

The interface has improved, performance is a lot snappier and it has scored some definite points by homing in on areas of weakness in other IDEs (not just Eclipse).

Probably the best example of this is the Matisse graphical user interface (GUI) builder. Eclipse does not come with a GUI builder by default, instead there are a number of competing GUI builders, some open source, some commercial. It's an area that is further complicated by the fact that Eclipse is built using the SWT widget set rather than the Swing libraries that come with Sun's version of Java.

In contrast NetBeans grabbed attention with Project Matisse, a GUI builder that integrates fully into the IDE and that many developers claim is probably the best GUI development tool in the Java world. So much so that there is now even a project aimed at putting Matisse on Eclipse.

And, while both of these heavyweight development platforms are modular and extensible, NetBeans seems to have stolen a march here, too, in that it's much simpler to grab big blocks of functionality in the form of packs. Sun delivered the Mobility Pack (for development of applications on mobile devices using Java 2 Platform Mobile Edition), the Enterprise Pack (for Java Platform Enterprise Edition development in all its forms, including service oriented architectures), the Visual Web Pack (for rich internet applications), C/C++ and, new in this latest 6.0 release is a bundle of features serving Ruby.

With Sun announcing its intention to kill its homegrown Java IDEs last month, the Visual Web Pack and Enterprise Pack are to come with NetBeans as standard.

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