Friday, March 18, 2005

Sun readies scripting for NetBeans IDE

Sun readies scripting for NetBeans IDE
Sun Microsystems Inc. has released the first, early fruits of a project to let developers use scripting languages from inside its NetBeans IDE (integrated development environment), a move that could improve productivity for NetBeans users and, Sun hopes, draw additional developers to the tools platform.

Under a project called Coyote, Sun released early versions of software modules this week that let developers write code in the Groovy and Jython scripting languages from within NetBeans. It is still debugging and testing the modules, but developers can now download and them. It hopes to add support for other scripting languages in the future. The modules currently require NetBeans 4.0.

Scripting, or dynamic, languages, tend to be easier to use than Java, which is quite complex. They lack some functionality in areas such as compile-time checking, but they can also let developers get more work done with less lines of code.

Developers could use the scripting function in NetBeans to build prototypes and try out new ideas, write scripts to automate the building and deployment of applications, and even write some of the application code itself, said Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist, who started Coyote with Tim Bray at around the time of the JavaOne show last June. Bray is one of the creators of XML and joined Sun's software group last year.

In his weblog, Bray said Coyote is an appropriate name for the project because, like coyotes, many scripting languages "live a lean, mean life on the fringes without much in the way of financial support or organizational infrastructure."

"If we at Sun wanted to get behind [a scripting language] and, you know, actually pay developers ... we could really give it some momentum and a chance of becoming dominant on the [Java virtual machine]," Bray wrote. "I think this might be a good idea. On the other hand, some other really smart people at Sun argue that we should keep our hands off the market and let the winning languages emerge from the ecosystem. I can see both sides of this question."

He stressed that the modules are still "early alpha" code and that he found a couple of bugs after poking around with them for only a couple of minutes. But with Sun's backing the project may have legs, he said.

NetBeans could use the lift. Sun's project has struggled to keep pace with the rival Eclipse open-source tools project, which has drawn wider support from developers and is also backed by IBM and, more recently, BEA Systems Inc.

While community developers have made scripting plug-ins available for Eclipse, the project itself has not written its own scripting extensions, said IBM official John Wiegand, the Eclipse Platform Project Management Committee lead. "We aren't doing anything in the platform project at this point," he said via e-mail.

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