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What's the Difference between NetBeans Platform and Eclipse RCP?

When looking for a rich-client platform as the basis of your applications, you will find that there are only two to choose from—the NetBeans Platform and Eclipse RCP.

The NetBeans Platform and Eclipse RCP are more similar than they are different. Both provide a framework for desktop application developers. In both cases, a large number of features are provided out of the box, from a docking framework, to an action system, to update facilities, and much more besides. In both cases, a rich set of APIs are provided, accompanied by many tutorials, FAQs, and several books.

However, there are some very significant differences that you need to be aware of when choosing between them.

Comparison Chart

NetBeans Platform Eclipse RCP
UI Toolkit Standard Swing toolkit SWT
UI Design Free, award winning, Matisse GUI Builder Commercial alternatives
Module System Standard OSGi module system

or NetBeans-specific module system

Standard OSGi module system
Build System Out of the box, Maven or Ant Proprietary
JDK Support VisualVM, a NetBeans Platform application,
is in the JDK, so many JARs from the
NetBeans Platform are in the JDK too
No equivalent support
Training Free community-based trainings

for non-commercial organizations

No equivalent support

Details

Below follow more details on each of the points in the table above.

  • UI Toolkit. When you use the NetBeans Platform, you will be programming with the official standard UI toolkit, which is Swing. Eclipse RCP, on the other hand, makes use of SWT instead. There are many advantages in using Swing instead of SWT. For example, there are thousands of 3rd party libraries available in Swing, which means that they are very easy to integrate into NetBeans Platform applications. SWT does not have that kind of wideranging support and therefore you will have far less 3rd party libraries to choose from. An example is in the area of UI testing: while Swing has Jemmy and similar tools, there are no great equivalents for SWT. In addition, SWT requires that native libraries be included with the end product, for each platform to which you deploy.

    Thanks to Swing's look & feel support, you can completely customize the appearance of your application, so that it is totally unique and doesn't resemble any other application on the NetBeans Platform:

    Many other screenshots of NetBeans Platform applications can be found here.

  • UI Design. The award winning Matisse GUI Builder is a standard part of NetBeans IDE. You can use it when prototyping and designing your applications on top of the NetBeans Platform. Its drag-and-drop capabilities and point-and-click features make this an ideal environment for UI design. Many NetBeans Platform users have cited this feature, together with the support for Swing, as their main reasons for choosing the NetBeans Platform. Eclipse RCP has a similar tool, based on the Matisse GUI Builder, although it is not free.
  • Module System. Both NetBeans Platform and the Eclipse RCP makes use of the de facto standard module system, which is OSGi. In addition, the NetBeans Platform provides its own module system, based the standard Java approach to modularity, relying on an extension to the JDK 6 ServiceLoader class for intermodular communication.
  • Build System. A feature specific to the NetBeans Platform is the fact that its build system is based on Ant. Ant is a standard, non-vendor specific build tool. As a result, you are not locked into NetBeans IDE but can, instead, use the command line to build your NetBeans Platform applications. In fact, you can build NetBeans Platform applications out of the box with Ant, and also fairly easily with Maven.
  • NetBeans Platform in the JDK. Since JDK 6 Update 7, many of the JARs that make up the NetBeans Platform are part of the JDK. The JARs need to be there because Java VisualVM, the new JDK tool, is created on top of the NetBeans Platform. When building your application on top of the NetBeans Platform, this fact can be useful, both for development and delivery purposes.
  • Free Training. The NetBeans team offers free NetBeans Platform certification to universities, colleges, and schools, as well as non-commercial institutions in general. (Write to if you are interested.) A customized version of this course is available to companies, at a standard price. Eclipse RCP does not offer free trainings of this kind.

Further Reading

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