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The Java Tool/Add In of the Year Winner Outshines the Rest

  • By Dick Wall
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The category of Java Tool/Add In of the Year makes a couple of important distinctions from the Development Tool of the Year. For one thing, this is a Java-focused award, whereas the Development Tool of the Year included Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and Eclipse (which would imply that Eclipse is, correctly, treated as a cross language IDE because it supports many other languages and platforms than Java).

Also, the category covers add-ins as well as tools; in other words, plug-ins for other tools also qualify for this category. This means that even small, well targeted, add-ins from any source—be it big corporation, small company, or open source—all can compete for this award.

With that in mind, let me tell you about the winners and runners-up in this category.

The Finalists

This category proved to be a popular one for the 2006 awards, and six products were nominated. Those products are:


Innaworks mBooster is an automated optimizing compiler aimed at the Java Micro Edition developer. The product reduces the memory footprint and increases the performance of Java ME (formerly known as J2ME) games and applications.

The product is currently at version 2.1 and sports a stack of impressive and well-targeted optimization strategies, including:

  • Re-compression of jar, image, and sound files to reduce memory usage
  • Class hierarchy refactoring
  • Method in-lining

And many more optimizations aimed at both the application as a whole, and "interprocedural" optimizations.

If your development depends on Java ME, and you want to make it faster and smaller, check out mBooster.


OptimalJ from Compuware is described as Model-Driven Development for Java. The product enhances IntelliJ IDEA (see below) and adds advanced architecture analysis and performance profiling capabilities as well as enhancing the already strong refactoring support in IDEA.

The modeling, based around UML and with an emphasis on agile approaches, drives the development process and allows architects to be architects, guiding and shaping the overall design before getting stuck into the coding. It is available in three flavors—Professional, Architecture, and Developer editions—with a different focus for each flavor based on the role of the developer it is intended for.

A full set of features can be found at http://www.compuware.com/dl/OptimalJDEFactSheetFINAL.pdf.

IntelliJ IDEA 5.0

From an add-in to IDEA to the IDE itself. IDEA always puts in a strong showing in Java development tool awards, based on a very loyal following for the product.

Although IDEA is not one of the IDEs that I regularly use, I have never heard anything but great stuff about it from those who do use it. The compliments range from "it practically writes the program for you," through accolades about the use of sensible defaults throughout the development experience, to the excellent refactoring support that is one of the biggest features of the product.

The list of features are excellent, with support for Java EE, Ant, JUnit, and source control products. The editing environment has intelligent coding assistance (the basis for "it writes the program for you") and advanced code automation. Over 200 plugins are available from the Jetbrains site, and it is hard to imagine a refactoring you would need that is not provided.

Features new in 5.0 include:

  • Java ME (formerly J2ME) support
  • Many new refactorings
  • New plugin API to make construction of plugins easier
  • Subversion integration
  • Editor supports Java, JSP, HTML and XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, and XML

And many, many more.

The new plugin API is a fairly recent development and is aimed squarely at simplifying development of IDEA plugins, hence bringing more plugins to IDEA. This move appears to be a response to the growing popularity of (and huge number of plugins for) Eclipse.

There is a reduced cost version of IDEA for academic users who qualify, and a mechanism to get open-source projects approved to use the IDE for free, and right now there is also a special "personal" version available for half price ($250); it can be used for non-commercial use.

IDEA is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X

JBuilder 2005 Enterprise

Borland's JBuilder has a long history of excellent Java development support. One of the first companies to get in on the game with Java development, JBuilder has long been the choice IDE of many big companies, and has always provided a large feature set and a great deal of flexibility.

The strong points associated with JBuilder include an excellent attention to detail, resulting in a consistent and very polished product, and excellent help system. Some of the slightly weaker points compared to competitors include limited UML support, and collaboration.

Three versions of the IDE are available:

  • The flagship Enterprise edition, which is aimed at full Java EE development and includes all of the Java EE standards, as you would expect. Support is also included for a broad range of Java Application Servers, both commercial and open source.
  • Although the Enterprise version of the IDE won the award, it is worth noting that a less expensive Developer edition and a free Foundation edition are also available. The Developer edition drops the full support for Java EE, but still provides a great deal of functionality to the professional Java developer. Foundation is a free unrestricted version that can be used for personal or commercial usage and provides a no-risk way to try out the IDE.

In perhaps one of the more controversial decisions in the Java world recently, Borland has decided to provide a parallel set of plugins for the Eclipse IDE that mirrors the functionality of JBuilder. This has upset many of the JBuilder fans I have talked to, and also caused a great deal of speculation that Borland will eventually drop JBuilder as an IDE in favor of Eclipse. For now, at least, it is clear that Borland will keep JBuilder development running in parallel with the Eclipse plugins.

JBuilder is available for the Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and Solaris platforms.

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This article was originally published on January 12, 2006

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