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NetBeans, look & feel comments

Posted by malcolmdavis on August 18, 2004 at 10:11 PM PDT

Based on comments from my blog NetBeans 3.6, I downloaded and installed the beta of NetBeans 4.0. NetBeans shows major signs of improvement in many categories (performances, memory footprint, app layout, features). Sun's effort will make NetBeans enthusiast happy. However, it also demonstrates a major issue.

Working in multiple environments, dozens of tools, the sense that there is a 'native look & feel' escapes many developers. Possibly because many programmers care more about developing object interfaces than user interfaces.

When I first started development during the O/S 2.0 & Windows 3.0 days, consistent 'look & feel' was a huge issue. It was an important detail that app keys have specific mappings (such as F1 for help), and commonly used functionality was in the same location (such as opening a document). Eventually, even toolbars had the same images, and common dialogs appeared. The mindset is similar to 'coding standards', users shouldn't have to re-tool their head each time they start a new application. Additionally, all that was required by developers was to follow the published guidelines. [Yes, the standards are published. I first read the UI guidelines for O/S 2 development in the late 80's.]

The NetBeans guidelines can be found at http://ui.netbeans.org/docs/nbui_styleguide/style_guide.html

Java Look and Feel can be found at http://java.sun.com/products/jlf/ed2/book/

The promise of native look and feel was promoted by Sun via Swing. "A Java application running on the Mac can have the Mac look and feel, the same one running on Microsoft Windows can use its look and feel, and that same program running on UNIX can use a UNIX look and feel." - James A. Gosling
http://java.sun.com/products/jlf/ed2/book/HIG.Foreword.html

Wow! What a concept. However, I haven't seen the promise of "native look and feel" realized through Swing, NetBeans or Sun.

Each major IDE has pros-cons. I'm not disputing that NetBeans contains things that are missing from Eclipse, and NetBeans does several thing better than Eclipse. However, Gosling and friends slammed IBM's SWT during JavaOne fireside chat. SWT does give the 'native look & feel" that the end-user expect, the same end-users for whom I'm developing applications. Sun should provide a great alternative to SWT, and demonstrate that alternative in a product.

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