A Brief History of NetBeans

NetBeans started as a student project (originally called Xelfi) in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, in 1996. The goal was to write a Delphi-like Java IDE (Integrated Development Environment) in Java. Xelfi was the first Java IDE written in Java, with its first pre-releases in 1997. Xelfi was a fun project to work on, especially since the Java IDE space was uncharted territory at that time.

Here you see the original group of students who constituted the original NetBeans Team:

original NetBeans Team

The project attracted enough interest that the students, once they graduated, decided that they could market it as a commercial product. Soliciting resources from friends and relatives for a website, they formed a company around it.

Soon after, they were contacted by Roman Stanek, an entrepreneur who had already been involved in several startups. He was looking for a good idea to invest in, and discovered Xelfi. He met with the founders; they hit it off, and a business was born. The original business plan was to develop network-enabled JavaBeans components. Jaroslav Tulach, who designed the IDE's basic architecture, came up with the name NetBeans to describe what the components would do. The IDE would be the way to deliver them. When the specification for Enterprise Java Beans came out, it made more sense to work with the standard for such components than to compete with it--but the name stuck.

In the spring of 1999, NetBeans DeveloperX2 was released, supporting Swing. The performance improvements that came in JDK 1.3, released in the fall of 1999, made NetBeans a viable choice for development tools. By the summer of 1999, the team was hard at work re-architecting DeveloperX2 into the more modular NetBeans that forms the basis of the software today.

More Than An IDE... and Open Sourced

Along the way, an interesting thing happened. People began building applications using the NetBeans IDE's platform, together with their own plugins, often creating applications that were not development tools at all. In fact, this turned out to have quite a market. Later, in 2000 and 2001, a lot of work went into stripping out pieces that made the assumption that an application built on NetBeans was an IDE, so that the platform would be a generic desktop application suitable to any purpose. This work turned out to be healthy for the codebase of the IDE as well, encouraging a clean API design and a separation of concerns.

Something else was afoot in the summer of 1999. Sun Microsystems wanted better Java development tools, and had become interested in NetBeans. It was a dream come true for the NetBeans team. NetBeans would become the flagship tool set of the maker of Java itself! By the Fall, with the next generation of NetBeans Developer in beta, a deal was struck. Sun Microsystems had also acquired another tools company, Forté, at the same time, and decided to rename NetBeans to Forté for Java. The name NetBeans was dropped--for a while.

During the acqusition, the young developers who had been involved in open-source projects for most of their programming careers, mentioned the idea of open-sourcing NetBeans. Fast forward to less than six months later, the decision was made that NetBeans would be open sourced. While Sun had contributed considerable amounts of code to open source projects over the years, this was Sun's first sponsored open source project, one in which Sun would be paying for the site and handling the infrastructure. The very first decision made was that it sounded logical to call the new site: NetBeans.org. In June 2000, the initial netbeans.org web site was launched. The years that followed focused on continual enhancements from release to release, as described in the section below.

When Oracle acquired Sun in 2010, NetBeans became part of Oracle, which continues to sponsor it. Oracle actively seeks new developers to work on the NetBeans team and sees NetBeans IDE as the official IDE for the Java Platform.

Continual Enhancements from Release to Release

An open source project is a living entity that needs time to find the right balance of people and contribution. Its growth is always an ongoing process.

  • The first year (through NetBeans 3.2), the project spent trying to find its feet. The next few years involved learning about what worked in terms of open-source processes. (In the first two years, the development process was so open that more time was spent debating than implementing.) The growing pains paid off. With NetBeans 3.5, huge strides in performance were made, and tests and processes put in place to prevent regressions. With 3.6, the windowing system and property sheet were reimplemented, and the user interface cleaned up tremendously.
  • NetBeans 4 was a complete change in the way the IDE worked. A new project system not only revamped the user experience, but also made it possible to replace infrastructure that had held the NetBeans back. The NetBeans 4.1 release was built on the new project infrastructure of 4.0, and added more features and full J2EE support.
  • NetBeans 5 introduced comprehensive support for developing IDE modules and rich client applications based on the NetBeans platform; an intuitive GUI builder (Matisse); new and redesigned CVS support; support for Sun ApplicationServer 8.2, Weblogic 9 and JBoss 4.
  • NetBeans 6 focused on improved developer productivity through a rewritten, smarter and faster editor, together with the integration of external NetBeans products into one IDE.
  • NetBeans 7 was released together with JDK 7, providing editor tools for working with new JDK 7 language constructs, together with support for JavaFX 2.0, in 7.1, a range of performance enhancements throughout the IDE in 7.2, and support for HTML5 applications in 7.3.

Subsequent releases continued to build on the success of previous releases and the demands of a changing industry. Press accolades, industry awards and favorable developer reviews followed.

Today, the NetBeans team couldn't be prouder of how far the NetBeans project and community has come. It is also worth noting that many of the original architects are still involved in the project, and can be found participating on the NetBeans mailing lists. There are more people using NetBeans software than ever before, in 2010 the 1,000,000 active user mark was reached. NetBeans IDE continues to improve, while the community grows at a fast clip. We invite you to be a part of it!

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