I have previously espoused opinions about IDEs. But, I’ve heard great things about Eclipse, including this rather direct statement from a developer who I respect:

Having a solid IDE like IntelliJ or Eclipse so radically improves your productivity that I quite simply don’t see how you can call yourself a professional developer without using one.

So, I thought I’d give Eclipse a try. Again. The latest version is Eclipse 3.1. This time I wasn’t going to try to get by with just the free tutorials. I did some browsing on Amazon and found Eclipse Distilled. This book, while aimed at Eclipse 3.0, is eminently readable and quite informative on the Eclipse way of doing things. All the views and perspectives and projects and jargon can be a bit confusing, so I was happy to pay $35 for this guide.

After using Eclipse for a few weeks, I have some likes and dislikes:

Likes:

  • Code completion: huge. Hitting control-space and choosing a method rather than having to remember exactly what it is named is big. (Charles Petzold talks about a similar feature called IntelliSense in Visual Studio and some of the ramifications. Not sure if all of them apply to Eclipse.)
  • Integration with existing projects: while you can easily start new projects with Eclipse, I was also very impressed with how easy it was to bring an existing codebase into the system and begin using Eclipse to modify it.
  • Refactoring: again, huge. I find that I use the ‘rename method’ refactoring most often. The ability to just change the name of a method in one place and have it propagate allows you much more flexibility.

Dislikes:

  • Using CVS externally confuses Eclipse: I consider myself a power user of CVS. This means it’s often easier for me to drop down and run commands from the prompt. This seems to confuse Eclipse, especially when I’m adding files.
  • No support for local CVS repositories: it’s a known bug, with some workarounds available.
  • Memory usage: 150M of memory is used, even when it is doing nothing. Now, I realize that most new boxes are shipped with gigs and gigs of memory, if you run Eclipse inside VMware with Oracle and Tomcat, eventually things start to get a bit crowded.
  • I have a few other quibbles, but above are the main ones I’ve run into so far.

So, ok, ok. I was wrong. Those of you who have used Eclipse or NetBeans or VisualStudio or IntelliJ or Visual SlickEdit are snoozing right now, but I’ve learned something important. IDEs can be very good and when a free cross platform IDE is available and paired with an external build tool, the results can be powerful indeed.

“Eclipse Distilled” at Amazon.

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