NetBeans IDE for the Cloud and Beyond: A Conversation with Matt Thompson

March 2009

Matt ThompsonIn this interview, we speak with Matt Thompson, the Senior Director of Sun's Developer Cloud Tools, a group that includes NetBeans. Matt discusses the importance of the NetBeans IDE to Sun's emerging cloud space, and what the NetBeans community can expect as the IDE continues to evolve. And he has a message for developers who have yet to try NetBeans!

Matt, Welcome to the NetBeans Team! Please tell us about your background.

I have been at Sun for 18 years total. I started out as an engineer for developer tools, working on C/C++, LISP and COBOL. I left for a few years to work for other companies, then returned to run Partner engineering for the Java Tools space. This was followed by a seven-year tenure overseeing Sun's Developer Outreach Program—tapping into a network of millions of developers who use Sun technologies and helping them to build software. As of last Fall, my focus is now on Sun's Cloud Tools, which includes the all-mighty NetBeans!

From your outreach experience, what do you know that developers care most about?

Great technologies and an easy road to market. Sun has great technologies, but  admittedly our road to market has not always been smooth. Apple, for example, does a good job of this with its iPhone, which developers can create apps for and make money as a result. Sun wants to help developers take their JavaFX, Java and Cloud apps to market successfully, and we are learning about how to give developers more opportunities to market what they build.

NetBeans plays a prominent role in this goal—the IDE is an ideal launch pad for developers to start using Sun's technologies to easily create web services and web apps, as well as access cloud services. And when developers build applications that leverage Sun infrastructure then we know we're doing a good job.

Has the current financial downturn changed Sun's commitment to NetBeans?

“With its strong support for dynamic languages... NetBeans is the IDE for Sun's Cloud.”
Sun's commitment to NetBeans continues to be strong, if not stronger. Yes, there's an economic slowdown, but it has also created opportunities. There is no better time to launch a start-up than now. Startup risks remain high, but the investment costs when it comes to technology is lower than ever before. Why? Cloud technology helps start-ups launch at less cost.

Start-ups differentiate themselves by what they create and sell—services and software. When they do it better and faster than anyone else they make money. Therefore their success metrics depend on writing quality software fast, which is where good tooling software comes in.

Put together the need for access to cloud services and a great tool to create quality software—you've got NetBeans to the rescue. With its strong support for dynamic languages—the primary languages used in the cloud—NetBeans is the way for developers to build software for Sun's cloud. NetBeans is the IDE for Sun's cloud.

What's the short term roadmap for NetBeans?

We sent out a message to the NetBeans community in February that we want to deliver smaller pieces of innovation more quickly, to release chunks of NetBeans functionality on a rapid schedule. We'll have a release around JavaOne and another in the Fall/early Winter. We don't want the community to have to wait six or seven months for releases.

Give us your assessment of NetBeans: its strengths and where you see opportunities for growth.

"Expect to see Cloud and JavaFX support around JavaOne, and improved JavaEE support in the Fall."
An obvious strength that NetBeans has is its community. Ask developers about tooling and they're either neutral (“Oh, I use Eclipse”) or they get very animated—if they love the tool they are using. And NetBeans users are passionate about the IDE. It's fun to write software with NetBeans. It's a very agile tool, not bloated; you can get just the pieces you want and leave out the rest.

NetBeans supports a wide range of dynamic languages, mobile development tools, and the best cloud development environment the world has ever seen. It really is "the only IDE you ever need", which explains why developers are passionate about it.

Looking ahead, we want to grow in the areas where we do well. So expect to see Cloud and JavaFX support around JavaOne, and improved JavaEE support in the Fall.

What would you say to Eclipse users to give NetBeans a look?

"[NetBeans is] a much more enjoyable and streamlined experience."
To be fair, there is room for more than one IDE in the development space. We have programs at Sun that support Eclipse and offer Eclipse plugins. A number of Sun runtimes support tooling through Eclipse and NetBeans. GlassFish and OpenSolaris do as well. There's also an Early Access JavaFX plugin for Eclipse. Ultimately, the aim is to give as many developers as is possible access to Sun technology even if they're struggling with a cumbersome tool like Eclipse.

So to Eclipse users I would say: “Try NetBeans as well. It's a much more enjoyable and streamlined experience. But we understand why you may not have a choice [professionally] but to use Eclipse.”

So why is Sun sponsoring EclipseCon?

Sun's participation is about giving all developers access to our technologies—Java, JavaFX, GlassFish, Solaris and so on. We want Sun runtimes to be the dominant runtimes, not only for the NetBeans community, but also for the Eclipse crowd and others. We are not excluding developers who have to or want to use Eclipse.

Should we expect more partner relationships centered on support for features that NetBeans will no longer provide?

An adjunct to our new strategy around the NetBeans engineering process becoming more agile is that we also can't do everything ourselves. There are places in the NetBeans portfolio where it makes sense for us to partner with other companies who provide extensive support for certain features. We're not backtracking; we are expanding support for a richer development environment.

We miss the NetBeans WorldTour! How can users find out about what's new with NetBeans?

The NetBeans WorldTour stops were wonderful events. Through them we learned that NetBeans enthusiasts existed all over the world and really wanted to interact with us. But in keeping with NetBeans's evolution, the WorldTour has been folded into the larger Sun Tech Days agenda.

NetBeans is now a full-fledged and successful member of Sun's technology portfolio, and is probably the most featured technology at Sun Tech Days events. It would be difficult to find a Tech Day presentation that does not make use of the IDE. Instead of a single day devoted to what's new and cool about NetBeans you now have three days—NetBeans showcased and in action every day, in almost every session.

Going forward, how can the NetBeans community help the project?

"Let us know how we can build on our success..."
We need lots of help to continue to learn more about YOU. Help us identify and understand what are the key things that drive more adoption of NetBeans. We don't just want more users, we also want to know what works and doesn't for these users. Why has NetBeans been successful in your company? If there's a single NetBeans user in a large sea of Eclipse users, what is keeping us out of that space? How can NetBeans gain ground? Let us know how we can build on our success in areas like JavaEE, JavaFX, cloud, Java runtime, mobile, and so on.

In the coming months the NetBeans team will be implementing new community programs that will let us expand the number of conversations we can have with users. I look forward to my role as the lead evangelist for NetBeans and the opportunity to meet people who use NetBeans, understand why they like it and help make it the top development tool.

Matt, Thank you for the interview.

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