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Eclipse vs. IntelliJ IDEA

Software developers are very parochial about their tools. Religious wars start when you try to compare them. Vi vs. Emacs is probably the canonical software tool dispute. I spent years living in GnuEmacs but I still use vi occasionally. They’re both useful in their own way.

The Java world has its own software tool wars about which Java IDE is best. A few years ago they were all pretty bad. Too slow, too cumbersome and not able to scale to be useful for “real” software projects. Things have improved considerably since then. Now I spend most of my time using Eclipse. It’s worth the learning curve. It offers real productivity benefits over a generic text editor. For example, we have some home-grown plugins that make it very easy to automagically set up a workspace for our code inside Eclipse. And once you have your code inside Eclipse you can take advantage of the refactoring features to make structural changes that would take a lot longer in a text editor.

David Gallardo has written a series of articles on Eclipse that compare it to IntelliJ IDEA, NetBeans and JBuilder. The purpose of these articles is to convince developers using these tools to move to Eclipse so they aren’t really intended to be balanced comparisons.

I’ve used NetBeans and JBuilder but not recently. I’ve never used IntelliJ IDEA but I’ve heard lots of good things about it. It wouldn’t be a viable option on my current project since we’re writing Eclipse-based code. Browsing through the IntelliJ web site it looks like IDEA might support a few more types of refactoring than Eclipse but I don’t think that the gap is substantial.

Personally I think it’s healthy that there are a number of Java IDE alternatives. But you have to wonder how long IDE vendors will be able to survive against Eclipse.

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