October 31, 2007

Netbeans surprises me

Follow-up to Netbeans 5: Still not switching from Secret Plans and Clever Tricks

I’ve never been able to get on with Netbeans as a java IDE. Somehow, if you’re used to Eclipse it’s just too wierd and alien, and things that ought to be simple seem hard. I’m sure that if you’re used to it, it’s very lovely, but I just can’t get started with it.

However, one thing Eclipse is not very good at, IME, is Ruby development. There are plugins, but I’ve never had much success with them; debugging support is patchy-going-on-broken, syntax highlighting / completion is super-basic, and it’s generally only one (small) step up from Emacs with ruby-mode and pabbrev.

(Note that I’m not talking about Rails development here, I’m talking about using Ruby to write stuff that would previously have been done in perl – sysadmin scripts, monitors, little baby apps and so on. Things of a couple of hundred lines or so – nothing very big, but enough that an unadorned text editor is a bit of a struggle.)

There are other Ruby IDEs of course, but they’re almost all (a) OSX specific (b) Windows specific, (c) proprietary, or (d) crap. I’d like something free, that runs on linux, but doesn’t suck, please.

Now, Sun have been making a big noise about their Ruby support generally for about the last 12 months or so, so I thought I’d grab a copy of the Ruby-specific Netbeans 6 bundle and try it out.

And, surprise surprise, it’s really good. Out of the box it almost just works – the only minor hackery I had to do was a manual install of the fastdebug gem, but the error message linked me to a web page explaining what I had to do and why. Debugging works, you can do simple refactorings, syntax highlighting and code completion are reasonably sophisticated. And it looks nice, performs well, and is all fairly intuitive to use, even for a died-in-the-wool eclipse-er like me.

So, three cheers for the Netbeans team, for filling the gaping void in the Ruby IDE space. Development still seems to be pretty active, so hopefully we can expect even more goodness in the months to come.


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