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NetBeans 6.1 packs welcome additions

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Hot on the heels of a successful 6.0 release, which we covered here and here, Sun Microsystems has delivered NetBeans 6.1, just in time for the company's annual JavaOne and CommunityOne events in San Francisco, California.

As you'd expect from an incremental release, the aim is to introduce enhancements and bug fixes rather than big blocks of major new functionality.

Based on my experiences with the beta, though, there are some noticeable - and welcome - additions. These include improved support for Ruby and JavaScript, and more in the way of linking to MySQL. The most obvious change, though, is unrelated to particular areas of functionality: overall, this release is snappier.

NetBeans 6.1 is much faster on loading. Running 6.0 and 6.1 side-by-side makes it easy to compare the two, and 6.1 is definitely ahead. But it's not just in loading. The editor seems more responsive, for example, with noticeably quicker code completion. Speed in the integrated development environment, though, a little bit like broadband speed: it's great when you get that boost, but after a while it's business as usual.

In functionality terms there's a lot to report on the Ruby front. The supplied version of JRuby is the 1.1 first release candidate along with version two of Rails. Secondly there is now also a Ruby platform manager, which makes it easy to support multiple Ruby versions. It means that you can target particular Ruby platforms on a per-project basis rather than having to switch the IDE between JRuby or Ruby. In this respect it means that, once again, NetBeans provides similar levels of functionality for Ruby as it does for Java.

Ruby isn't the only non-Java language getting improved support in this release. JavaScript is the other big winner, and improved support is one of the biggest areas of new functionality. Editor improvements include semantic highlighting, code completion, refactoring support and more. A nice touch is the browser compatibility dialog that lets you select the version of browser and JavaScript you are using. Also useful is the ability to run bits of JavaScript code from within the IDE. Given the increasing use of Ajax with both Java and Ruby applications, this increased level of JavaScript support is a good move.

Not all of the changes focus on language support, though, and there has been a fair amount of work done on improving NetBeans' supports for additional tools and frameworks. These include the provision of support for Mercurial source control, in addition to existing support for CVS and Subversion. Spring and Hibernate both get improved support, including wizards for creating configuration files, code completion for config files and refactoring support.

Another area that has seen significant advance is support for MySQL - no surprise now that MySQL is owned by Sun, really. The database explorer includes new support for MySQL, including easier registration of servers, links to the admin tools - which have to be installed locally - and the easier creation of connections. It's a sure sign of things to come in the future. Hopefully forthcoming releases will include more in the way of integrating MySQL tools within NetBeans rather than simply acting as a front end to them.

There have also been plenty of other small-scale changes worthy of mention. These include: the new sharable libraries capability; look and feel improvements, including floating windows; Java Beans support - which was dropped in the upgrade from NetBeans 5.5 to 6.0 - including property dialogs; member and hierarchy inspection for Java classes where there's no JavaDoc is available; and JavaDoc code completion.

In all, then, this is a release that keeps up the NetBeans momentum. It consolidates 6.0, adds some nice new features, and improves interoperability with MySQL, Mercurial, Hibernate and other tools and frameworks. At a time when the rival Eclipse open source framework is undergoing a bit of soul searching, NetBeans appears to be moving forward.®

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