"The main focus for this release has been providing support for the Java 7 standard edition," said Duncan Mills, senior director of product management for Oracle's application tools group. Mills claimed that NetBeans 7 is the first open source IDE to support the new Java (though JetBrains offers a beta of its IntelliJ IDE that also supports the draft specification).
The IDE has also strengthened its ties with a number of other popular software development management tools such as Git, and offers greater integration with other Oracle products, like the Oracle database and the WebLogic application server.
Oracle acquired NetBeans as part of its 2010 purchase of Sun Microsystems. Oracle already had its own Java IDE, JDeveloper. Since then, the company has redirected JDeveloper development to be more of a tool for enterprises to build Oracle Fusion-based applications, while maintaining NetBeans as a tool for the larger community of Java developers who may or may not use other Oracle software.
"The role of NetBeans is to acknowledge there is a huge Java user community out there who have no other relationship with Oracle at all. We want to provide support for those people to help Java grow and be more popular," Mills said. "There has to be a degree of competition to help to keep driving the market forward."
Oracle estimates that NetBeans is downloaded about 550,000 times a month and has somewhere between 800,000 and 900,000 regular users.
With NetBeans 7, developers will get the chance to test out the new version of Java, formally named the Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE) version 7.
"Java 7 introduces a whole bunch of constructs that are specifically aimed at making the language more concise and providing a better developer experience," Mills said.
One example is a revamped "switch" statement, which can now evaluate strings, in addition to numerical values. In prior versions of the language, "If you wanted to compare string values, you had to construct a nested 'if..else' statement to do that, which was, frankly, ugly," Mills said.
The IDE will also come with a set of help tools that will suggest ways that a new Java 7 construct could improve a body of code.
While the Java 7 specification is not expected to be finalized until July, Oracle will supply patches and updates to NetBeans 7 to cover any changes until its final ratification, Mills said.
Beyond support of Java 7, NetBeans 7.0 features a number of other enhancements.
The company has expanded its set of tools for production development. NetBeans is now compatible with version 3.0 of the open source Maven build system, which is used to manage multiple software projects. NetBeans also supports the latest version of JUnit testing framework, 4.8.2. And, for the first time, NetBeans has been integrated with the Git version control software.
This is also the first version of the software to include a set of annotations that would allow developers to use NetBeans as a run-time platform, a feature offered by the competing open source Eclipse IDE for several years. "It provides all those bits you always need for any sort of complex desktop application. You have the core part built for you in a pre-built fashion," Mills said.
Another group of improvements center around greater integration with other Oracle products. This is the first version of the software that allows developers to control Oracle's WebLogic application server from directly within the IDE itself, which can be handy in debugging a new program, Mills said. Oracle has also provided a number of tools to more easily build the connectivity between an application and an Oracle database.
NetBeans 7.0 is a free download for Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, Linux, and Oracle Solaris.