Feb 6

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

What's Up with NetBeans?

We've been running a technology futures market with Yahoo! Research for the past year. Participants try to predict the "buzz" around technology in a fantasy stock market. The results are measured against the actual search volume on Yahoo! And that's what's most interesting to us at O'Reilly, as we're trying to find data sources that give us some "hard numbers" about the technology trends that we are exploring.

I was just browsing the buzz game, and discovered something that surprised me. While the futures market still has its money on Eclipse, in the past year Netbeans has passed Eclipse in actual Yahoo! search volume.


Here's a brief explanation of how to read the graph. It has three sections. The top section trends the stock price in the fantasy stock market. (The reason the top graph here starts mid-year is that that's when we added this market to the game, so there is no data for the earlier part of the year.) The middle section shows spikes in the trading volume. And the bottom section of the graph is where the meat is. It shows the relative Yahoo! sales volume for the various technologies in the market group. As you can see, with an Eclipse stock price of 14.26 to NetBeans 11.26, Emacs at 10.08, and JBuilder at 8.56, the game players are still valuing Eclipse most highly. But with approximately 30% of the search volume to Eclipse's 25% or so, NetBeans (the orange line, which passed Eclipse, the blue line, back in the fall) is apparently the search volume winner. (Also, isn't it great to see how many people still use Emacs as an IDE!)

I don't really follow the IDE wars, but this result surprised me, so I thought I'd ask my readers if you have any ideas about this result. It could be an artifact of the Yahoo! user base, for example, with very different results if we were able to run the same exercise against Google search volume. And search volume doesn't necessarily indicate usage. So I'm not sure I'd take it as the final word on the popularity of the two IDEs. However, the change is interesting. What has NetBeans been doing lately to drive up its buzz?

Some other interesting graphs to take a look at (keeping in mind that the real meat is in the bottom third of the graph, vs. game player sentiment in the top third): While participants value Open Office very close to Microsoft Office, Open Office only has about 1/4 the search volume of Microsoft Office; Solaris and Red Hat Linux are neck and neck in search volume, and (no surprise in this one) MySQL still dominates the open source database market. (Good news for us, since the MySQL Conference, which we put on jointly with MySQL AB, is coming up.

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Comments: 27

  Migs Paraz - JavaOpen [02.06.06 09:07 PM]

NetBeans has pushed out 5.0, and is making noise on their JavaEE 5-compatible NetBeans Next. The Sun blogs (including those you host on!) have also been very active.

The buzz is all about Sun trying to catch up with Eclipse. Many, including myself, believe it has "eclipsed" Eclipse in enterprise Java functionality.

  Romain Guy [02.07.06 02:54 AM]

Indeed, the new 5.0 version is responsible for this surge of activity. This release is a HUGE improvement over the previous ones and include many productivity features at ever level: great J2EE support, integrated/free/open source J2EE server, excellent rapid development module for J2ME applications, integrated performance profiling tool and best of all (at least to rich client developers) a new user interface builder called Matisse.

This last point is very interesting because Matisse is the most innovative user interface builder I know of on the market (include Apple's and Microsoft's products). It makes the user interface creation process very easy and natural.

The reason of this buzz? Response to a harsh competition (which is good for us developers) and innovative new features.

  janalyst [02.07.06 03:01 AM]

I note that the buzzwords for Eclipse don't actually include 'Eclipse'(for obvious reasons), but the buzzwords for NetBeans do include 'NeatBeans'. I wonder how much excluding this search has affected the buzz index?

If I just enter 'Eclipse' into Google, is my #1 Result, Yahoo it is #5.

  insideinsider [02.07.06 06:23 AM]

IBM's Eclipse made a variety of short term optimizing decisions - using proprietary technology, which bolts users to IBM products and services.

Sun took the open approach with netbeans, and seems to be proving that open (and true open source) wins the day in the long run. I'd be long netbeans at this point - I see folks moving away from Eclipse more and more.

  Ian Skerrett [02.07.06 06:58 AM]

It seems that the buzzword used for Eclipse is 'eclipse ide' but Netbeans uses 'netbeans'. I know we rarely use the term Eclipse IDE. If you try 'eclipse java', I think you would get a different result.

Tim, is it possible to update the buzzwords and try this experiment?

Ian Skerrett
Eclipse Foundation

  Marcos D. Medeiros [02.07.06 07:12 AM]

Nothing weard about people using emacs, it is the same editor used for any other language, and have lots of features (much more than eclipse).

I, myself, like eclipse better for java. But it is only because eclipse checks for sintatic errors on the fly. If emacs did that, I'd use it.

  Wayne Beaton [02.07.06 08:24 AM]

With regards to the comments posted by insideinsider, IBM does not own Eclipse, nor is there any IBM proprietary technology included in Eclipse. IBM does contribute significantly to various Eclipse projects, but everything they contribute is released under the EPL (just like everybody else). IBM has been able to build and release several successful products based on Eclipse technology, including Rational Application Developer, but these products are not "Eclipse".

  James Shatner [02.07.06 09:24 AM]

How can we belive that Eclipse Foundation is independent, if almost all Eclipse bugs are assigned to IBM employees? At least stop lieing about the independence if you want people to believe in your open source story.

  Charles Ditzel [02.07.06 09:39 AM]

Of course, Ian would prefer to use "Eclipse Java" which also gets eclipse-oriented links and eclipse-oriented developments on the island of Java. :) Since this is about technology "brand" it seems fair as-is. However, the results are not an anamoly - NetBeans has more tripled in active users in the past year.

  Ian Skerrett [02.07.06 02:01 PM]


I guess it is how you define independence? It is a fact that the Eclipse Foundation is a not-for-profit entity. IBM does not own or control Eclipse in any legal sense. As with any open source community, we are based on contributions. As you have pointed out, IBM makes a lot of contributions. We also get contributions from over 30 different companies.

I think the point being made was that IBM was optimizing Eclipse to their own products. I would challenge anyone to prove or support this fact. No one seems to be able to provide specifics. What product is being optimized? If they were doing this why would BEA, Borland, JBoss, Oracle, SAP, Sybase, the list goes on, be building their products on Eclipse? Do you really think some of these competitors of IBM would be using a platform that is optimized to IBM products?

So we can debate the definition of independence. I actually don't think anyone is lying. IBM is a significant contributor; no disputing that? However, I would stipulate that the scale of participation in the Eclipse community demonstrates we have an open extensible platform that is an exemplar on how to build open source communities.

btw, in the spirit of openness I work at the Eclipse Foundation, so I have my obvious biases.

Ian Skerrett

  Ed Burnette [02.07.06 06:31 PM]

Use "eclipse java" vs. "netbeans java" for a fairer comparison. But I don't doubt interest in NetBeans has been surging. NetBeans 4 and 5 were massive improvements over the old versions. And I think quickly churning out releases and version numbers enhances the feeling of a dynamic "internet time" community. Eclipse could learn a lesson there.

  ajk [02.07.06 07:17 PM]

I'm not a big-time developer, but I've used both in the latest releases, like them both, and I have to say that I think I like Netbeans 5.0 better. It seems to come ready-packed with more of the stuff that Eclipse depends on from plug-ins, and can do everything that Eclipse can do just as easily (in some things, maybe even better). I like its appearance a little better too, actually. ;) Personally I think what helped drive Eclipse so far so fast was how easy it was to do plug-ins for it -- outside developers had an easy path to become part of the program, and everyone's ego needs to be fed a little. Now although Netbeans comes with a huge amount of stuff already built in, it has a totally new plug-in process as well; we'll see if there are people who want to contribute to something that doesn't "eclipse the Sun" but rather "lets it shine" :).

  Robert Brewin [02.07.06 10:31 PM]

Interesting. We know from tracking the statistics for downloads and active users that Netbeans has indeed well over tripled it's active user count in the last year alone: Looks like that may be reflected elsewhere as well (search volume). This is a very good thing, not just for Netbeans (of course) but for developers. It may seem like a tired cliche, but competition fuels innovation (certainly does with us) ... and the beneficiaries will be developers who can expect better tools from both Eclipse and Netbeans as they compete as equals instead of a lopsided David and Goliath duel.

  Robert Thornton [02.07.06 10:36 PM]

NetBeans surpassed eclipse in functionality with its 4.0 release last year. With its 5.0 release only a few days ago, it blasted eclipse into the dark ages. Not only does it do more, do it better, and do it with style, NetBeans does it with less bloat, less complexity, and less memory. Eclipse has such an appetite for system resources that it can barely run on my laptop. NetBeans, on the other hand, is snappy and responsive.

Eclipse is still uses its own medieval project system and fails to grasp the versatility of Ant. NetBeans has embraced Ant completely. The ability to customize your NetBeans project through its Ant scripts is limitless. Oh sure, Eclipse can execute an ant script (NetBeans did that for years), but if your organization, like mine, has a highly customized ant script to build its many libraries and applications on a variety of environments and systems, its really tedious to have to set up a separate eclipse project for each library and application as well.

If you can add value to *free*, one of the biggest value added features is the profiler. It is intuitive and easy to configure and use, and it is of professional quality.

Right out of the box, NetBeans 5.0 comes feature-rich, and ready to tackle any project you pass it. Eclipse, on the other hand, comes in a bloated, yet basic package. Then you have to download more and more and more to finally give it the features you need for it to do real work. I sense the Eclipse Foundation would rather we try out the foundation members' commercial offerings before we revert to the basic free plug-ins.

Eclipse only recently left the beta stage in its support for web development, almost as if it were an afterthought. NetBeans has supported web development for years as part of its core functionality. Its web support has had time to mature and grow.

I've been using NetBeans since the Forte 1.0 beta days. While it’s true that NetBeans had an awkward adolescence (the pre-4.0 years), it has finally matured into lean and vigorous prime. Eclipse, by contrast, enjoyed a long infancy being coddled and praised by it parents and admirers; but it's no longer the pretty baby it once was. It’s now chubby and clumsy. One can only hope it will eventually get off welfare support itself without the backing of its multitude of corporate sponsors. The fact that NetBeans has risen to its current glory with only the backing of its one corporate sponsor and a legion of worldwide grass-roots developers speaks volumes as to its ability to win the day.

The Eclipse was brief, but now the Sun is shining brighter than ever!

  Fernando Lozano [02.08.06 06:50 AM]

It's not just NetBeans 5.0 that drives the "buzz" growth. NetBeans 3.6, 4.0 and 4.1 were delivered in a short time frame and each with significant improvements. In the same time, Eclipse provided just point updates, with no major new features.

It also helped the frustation with Eclipse lack of abilities for JSP debugging and visual (Swing or SWT) development. Seasoned pros tend to prefer Eclipse (except when doing visual development) but newbies are a strong force regarding to popularity and Netbeans is much more amenable to them.

Sure there are Eclipse VE and WTP, but VE is still far from usable (too heavyweight) and WTP took too long go deliver a release. And they are separate projects.

To hurt Eclipse even nore, the user has to make huge downloads, 300MB Eclipse SDK + WTP + EMF, etc x 70MB for equivalent Netbeans (worse yet because they are advised to download Eclipse and plugins SDK when they should need only the runtimes), and has to manually download and add WTP / VE prerequisites (which are other Eclipse projects).

Eclipse has many other interesting projects, like BIRT, but the fact they are pulverised (while Netbeans is allways one only product release) makes it difficult to build brand.

So the latest year was Netbeans year and Eclipse let much of its momentum fall down. I expect this trend to continue in 2006. But if Eclipse provides a streamlined, smaller release combining WTP and VE (and also solves VE performance problems) it will be tough competition for Netbeans.

  Roman Strobl [02.08.06 12:06 PM]

I have few comments to the last post.

Re: WTP - we have few more nice "surprises" prepared. Since other Sun's IDE are now for free, there is not many reasons why not to provide parts of these IDEs as plug-ins. So NetBeans may get additional functionality such as WYSIWYG JSP editing or UML modelling. The timeframe is not known yet, but it will happen. Eclipse has to catch up with our current functionality, but we have major features already done in other Sun's IDEs so we can deliver very fast.

Re: VE - I've been using VE for a while. No matter how I try to be objective - it's just very hard to use. I know how to create a Swing form using various layout managers, but I failed to create a Swing form in half an hour and the performance was quite bad. This is not a rant - that's reality. Our developers are already working on the next version of Matisse which will solve other issues with GUI development in Java - they cooperate closely with Swing team.

Re: BIRT - I agree, this is an interesting project. We need to come with an alternative, but since version 5.0 has good plug-in development support, anyone can write it (and sell the plug-in).

I also don't think Callisto will be a good enough response to NetBeans, simply because it will be too large and loosely integrated. We make sure features in NetBeans are well integrated and work out-of-the-box, it's the reason for many people to choose for NetBeans. Callisto might be an attempt to fix it, but I think you need to think about issues like usability or level of integration from the beginning. So trying to combine many existing plug-ins into one big IDE will be a big challenge and I am really curious how Eclipse will handle it. Just putting the plug-ins together doesn't solve all current customer pain points.

Just 2 cents from a NetBeans enthusiast working at Sun :)

  dustin [02.11.06 02:45 AM]

Swing has now been in development for 7+ years and the toolkit plus best practices for using it have improved tremendously in that time. Now we have Sun pushing hard to improve NetBeans (good for them) and the people seem to like it.

  Kevin Hutchinson [02.12.06 09:04 PM]

Where's "vi" or "vim" in the IDE list? Surely it has to be the all-time best coding editor? Come to think of it, where's "ed" (only joking ;-)

  tommy [02.14.06 08:23 AM]

I found this story particularly interesting since the Google keynote at EclipseCon last year illustrated that Google searches on Eclipse were more often intended to be for the Mitsubishi Eclipse (the car) than for Granted this is Yahoo, not Google. But, it does raise the question of whether it's possible the number of Eclipse searches on Yahoo were further amplified? AFAIK, there's no car named NetBeans.

  Donald Smith [02.25.06 09:29 AM]

35.59% of all search hits that clicked through to in January were just and only on the search "eclipse". A distant second is "eclipse download" at 2.66%. It seems clear to me that when people are looking for us, they search for "eclipse".

From the "buzz" words used in this:

"eclipse ide" is only 2.45% of our search hits.
"eclipse java" is only 2.24% of our search hits.
"eclipse java tutorial" is

  Tim O'Reilly [02.25.06 09:41 AM]

Don --

I agree that the buzz game is not an accurate measure of absolute levels of interest, especially on terms where there is a common search equivalent, and you have to qualify the search terms as a result. But as a trend indicator, there is some validity regardless of whether the search terms capture the most common searches accurately. Because the same terms are used across the life of the measurement, a relative increase is still an increase.

But your data points are very valuable, and I will feed them back to Yahoo!

BTW, what are the other top searches on

  Patrick Schriner [03.01.06 12:27 AM]

> We know from tracking the statistics for downloads and active users that Netbeans has indeed well over tripled it's active user count in the last year alone

Well I download every version of NB and have to admit: I try them, and uninstall them. Does that make me an active user?

I´d guess an accurate measure would be:
How many people used NB plugin center mechanism in NB?
How many people downloaded a particular popular Eclipse plugin?

That might give you something about "active users"

BTW, I hate to always read the same names as authors of senseless postings which are mostly FUD.

  John Muir [03.03.06 12:04 PM]

I have also used both Eclipse and Netbeans off an on for the past few years. I was using Eclipse only for the last 18 months but was very impressed with the scope and integration of Netbeans 5.0. It's much easier to get results for web projects and the new matisse visual editor for GUI's is a real work of art. Many thanks to the developers for a job very well done!

  Neil [03.09.06 02:07 AM]

@James Shatner,

If IBM "owns" Eclipse because they fix a lot of Eclipse bugs, does that mean they also "own" Linux? Furthermore, how many NetBeans bugs are assigned to non-Sun employees?

This metric is just completely meaningless. Reductio ad absurdiam: does my handyman "own" my house?

Can: open. Worms: everywhere.

- Neil

  jon [03.29.06 10:51 AM]

wonder what would happen if a solar or lunar eclipse was happening... how would your search stats handle this?

  Jon Strayer [03.29.06 12:07 PM]

I use Eclipse and I've never typed the phrase "Eclipse IDE" into any search engine, let alone Yahoo!.

I'm not sure what the bottom third of the graph is measuring, but it's not users.

  Tim O'Reilly [03.29.06 06:42 PM]

The bottom of the graph is indeed measuring search volume. So even if you've never typed those things, other people have.

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