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Why are you uninstalling NetBeans IDE?

Posted by malcolmdavis on February 13, 2006 at 7:57 PM PST

NetBeans starts with the expected product experience:

  • Easy to download and install.
  • The product loaded quickly.
  • Typical start screen with progress bar.

After 3 pages of notes, I surmised that the NetBeans team still doesn't get it. It is look and feel, it is user experience, it is the GUI experience on the Windows platform.

The following are some minor complaints after a few hours of playing around with NetBeans:

Fonts:  The first thing I noticed was NetBeans fonts. The fonts look gritty, and are missing the smoothness of anti-alias.  Recommendation: Fix the lettering by using system fonts. If Swing has issues system fonts, fix Swing. If Swing cannot be fixed, develop new technology that works correctly.

Key Bindings:  I try my best NOT to use a mouse, so I may be more sensitive than others to the lack of the natural systems key bindings. In the Windows OS, the + and - keys open and close a selected tree branch, the * key expands the entire branch to display all the children elements. However, the NetBeans trees do not work as expected.  Recommendation: The natural key bindings of the OS should be used. The key bindings are part of the 'feel' of an OS, and are a significant element in the user experience. I shouldn't have to re-gear my brain when switching between applications. If Swing has issues with key bindings, fix Swing. If Swing cannot be fixed, develop new technology that works correctly.

Help:  I thought by now NetBeans developers would have their head around Help. I decided to search help for Anti-Alias. Rather than return a 'nothing found' message, the search just seemed to do nothing. I searched for things I knew existed and a bunch of red-dots, numbers and text appeared.

I left Help open as I worked. As I opened dialogs, Help would pop to the top and align itself with the dialog. The popping to the top behavior became annoying at times, and the Help screen jumped to different locations on the screen.

Recommendation:  Drop the red-dots. The red dots don't provide any visible value, and the dots eat up real estate that could be used to display more text. The hit numbers are not properly right aligned. Additionally, the text results needs to line up; the tiered affect makes it more difficult to scan. I was disappointed with the Help mechanism, and the lack of basic Help features.

Help Note:  A nifty help mechanism provided with PHP is User contributed notes. The notes are appended to the original help documentation. Any page in help could contain notes contributed by the community. I found the notes useful when configuring, learning and using PHP.

Auto-complete:  After creating a project and jumping into the main program, the first thing I tested was the auto-complete feature by inserting a File import statement. (Note: Normally I allow the IDE to automatically fill-in the imports, however I was in 'kicking the tires' mode,) I was aiming for import java.io.File; and things went as expected until I got to the f in File. I was expecting the File classname to be displayed at the top of the list, from which I could simply hit the return key. Instead, a list of macro names was displayed rather than classnames. [BTW, Eclipse does not provide the correct behavior either. Eclipse wants to do import java.io.*;. However, with Eclipse I can use the hot key (ctrl+space) and get the correct behavior].  Recommendation: Where broken, fix the Auto-complete behavior.

Not all bad

NetBeans contains a rich set of features such as the Macro Recorder and Player, and items like printing are much better in NetBeans then Eclipse. I'm sure there are a great number of aspects I would enjoy about NetBeans, however after 2 hours of staring at non-system fonts, I had enough.

Usability Snafu

By no means, did I cover all the Snafus I found in my simple system test. I'm not getting paid to be a NetBeans tester. NetBeans might want to find a real Windows person to tear into NetBeans look and feel. Maybe that way, the NetBeans developers will understand the pain people like myself are feeling.

NetBeans defenders

There are people that will defend NetBeans and Swing at any cost. Believe it or not, this blog is not a bash of NetBeans or Swing. If NetBeans' IDE is designed for Solaris, and works well on Solaris, great. [Note: NetBeans is far better than the last version of Microsoft VisualStudio. I spent 4 months with VisualStudio 2003 and thought I was going to hang myself. I'm surprised that Microsoft could get away with charging for such a piece of junk.]

Nevertheless, Java was pushed as the transparent way of developing cross platform UI. In my minds eye, NetBeans should be the realization of the transparency. If Sun, the Java community, and/or NetBeans team, no longer desire that transparency, then in my own opinion a big opportunity is being missed.

I know I'm whipping a dead horse in regards to Java UI development. I just wish Sun would turn some of the energy from hyping NetBeans to solving the real UI problem. If Sun solved the real problem, many of NetBeans issues would resolve themselves, and NetBeans would require little hyping.

To see the fruition of a truly portable UI, should I rely on SWT, third party libraries, another technology entirely, or should Sun finally step up to the plate and make it happen?

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