In a recent survey of 700 developers, respondents may have rated Microsoft Visual Studio as the most popular, but they ranked other integrated development environments higher when it comes to features.
Admittedly, that’s not surprising, as Microsoft dominates the .NET IDE market, whereas numerous vendors carve up the Java segment. In Java, Eclipse was by far the top IDE, according to the Evans Data survey.
Other IDEs with large followings included Macromedia (now Adobe) Studio MX, which is used largely for painting web clients; Oracle 9i Developer Suite (which includes the Java-based JDeveloper); and Borland JBuilder.
But the study revealed a few surprises. Top ranked in features were IBM’s Rational Application Developer, followed in order by Borland JBuilder and Sun Java Studio. Conversely, the study claims Oracle has neglected its tools and said BEA, whose WebLogic Studio remains an immature product, was ranked bottom.
According to Evans Data president John Andrews, the most important features to developers in order of priority are having a strong compiler so programs can be efficiently translated to machine level; a debugger, to help developers clean up after themselves; data access, which established database connections; modeling, for architects; and GUI frameworks or libraries, which provide preset routines for often-used functions.
Not surprisingly, Borland, which built its reputation on efficient compilers, continued to rank at the top, followed by Microsoft, whose development environments have always had close links to Windows platforms. Debuggers proved a similar story.
When it came to modeling and design, Rational, which began life as a modeling tool, remained the incumbent choice. Surprisingly, Microsoft, which several years ago acquired and beefed up the popular Visio charting tool for modeling, placed next to last. Instead, Macromedia ranked second, followed by Sun Java Studio.
Finally, for when it came to libraries, Microsoft banked on its long track record of providing foundation classes starting with Visual Basic to claim top spot, followed by both IBM tools: Rational Studio and WebSphere Studio.
For some reason, the study didn’t cover data access.
Significantly, popularity did not necessarily translate to satisfied customers. Oracle had plenty of developers who ranked it at or near bottom in almost every category. Of course, it could be argued, the more developers, the more chance to have dissatisfied customers.
That was borne out by IBM Rational and Sun, both of which ranked in the lower half (in number of respondents), scored frequent high marks. That was compounded by the fact that the Rational tool has undergone significant technology turnover under IBM’s watch (for instance, it had a false start as the result of IBM’s 2002 acquisition of Nuvis and its early promotion of XDE).
Significantly, while Eclipse scored as the top Java tool (and second overall to Microsoft), developers largely viewed it as a work in progress. While its compiler, code editor, it lagged in almost every other category. Ironically, while its compiler was rated high, its overall performance (for which compilers should be largely responsible) ranked dead last.
And, as Andrews pointed out, the study had a few ironies. The surprising fact was the continued strength of Borland, he noted. With an overall feature ranking dwarfed only by Rational, Borland is still getting out of the IDE business.