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JBuilder 2008: Bold vision, rough edges

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Review What is the point of JBuilder, when you can simply use Eclipse? That has been the marketing challenge for CodeGear ever since it decided to scrap its home-grown Java integrated development environment and replace it with a new product based on the open-source Eclipse tools platform.

JBuilder 2007, released in May 2007, was the first of this new breed, and it has now been followed by JBuilder 2008. There are, I guess, three ways in which JBuilder adds value.

First, it is a turnkey installation, whereas making sense of the myriad plug ins and dependencies in Eclipse can be a challenge. JBuilder includes a large number of Eclipse add ons, including reporting tools, data tools, web tools, test and performance tools, and third-party additions such as the Spring IDE. The setup can also install servers like JBoss and Apache for development.

Next, the Enterprise edition includes ProjectAssist and TeamInsight, which takes a wizard-driven approach to installing a bunch of open source team development tools. These are Subversion or CVS for source code managements, Bugzilla for bug tracking, Continuum for continuous integration, XPlanner for project planning, and the Liferay portal that brings these pieces together.

These are great tools, and there is real value in having a simple install, but there are downsides. You have to use Windows Server 2003 or XP as the server, and in some cases you get old versions with no easy way to update them without stepping outside the easy ProjectAssist management tools. For example, Liferay 4.0.0 is supplied, yet the latest is 5.0.1.

Finally, JBuilder 2008 comes with proprietary plug ins from CodeGear's parent Borland Software. The main features are the OptimizeIt profiler, the Together modelling and code visualization tool, along with a brand new thing called Application Factories. There's also a new Swing designer, which turns out to be the Instantiations WindowBuilder product. A smart move, given that the Eclipse Visual Editor project is sadly moribund, and that the old JBuilder Swing designer is still much missed. WindowBuilder meets the need nicely.

Factory code generation

The big new feature is Application Factories, which CodeGear is touting as a significant innovation. It has far-reaching goals, including generating code, and capturing developer intent in order to speed learning for new team members. JBuilder's principal architect Ravi Kumar said: "No other IDE is even attempting to do what we're doing... the IDE is application aware, that is our innovation."

Java and open source developer Matt Raible of AppFuse fame is also enthusiastic. "I believe it's very valuable, from the demos I've seen" he told us. But what does the feature really do?

There are two core elements here. First, there is a tagging and diagramming tool that lets you tag application resources and populate a diagram with hierarchical labels that link to the tags.

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