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Why Eclipse Leaves Me Wanting

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Why Eclipse Leaves Me Wanting

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I think I've come to understand why Eclipse leaves me always feeling a bit frustrated. Yes, it is more stable than IDEA, uses less memory, has some documentation, and a lot of acceptance ... but even so, it just leaves me cold (and I was an early adopter, signed up for the beta way back in 2000!).

Keystrokes are not modal

The fact that I can type a common keystroke into an Eclipse window and not know what it will do is painful. How a keystroke is interpreted depends on what perspective is active, what view or editor has focus, and what kind of data is being edited in the editor. That's dead wrong; keystrokes are about muscle memory, and muscle memory remembers motion, not context. The end result is that I get frustrated hitting keystrokes and seeing nothing happening. It doesn't help that I cycle between Mac and a PC on most days.

You can't have it your way

A tool as powerful and extensible as Eclipse walks the tightrope of offering lots of features and customizations without overwhelming the user. Alas, Eclipse is lying in a broken heap fifty feet below that tightrope. Eclipse has an unending set of options and defaults for things I don't care about, but anything I do care about seems to never be presents. Here's a few ideas of the top of my head:

  • Stop running launches when I close the project (I often have to kill them from the command line)
  • Give me a quick way to stop all running launches
  • Why so many steps to implement an interface? It's the second most common thing I do!
  • How about a button to quickly relaunch the current running launch?
  • Why are the available refactorings so paltry and where are the 3rd party ones?

Who's eating their own dog food?

When I used IDEA, I was constantly struck by little details that showed that the IDE developers were also its prime users. For example, it has open-type and open-resource dialogs much like Eclipse ... but each recognizes the keystroke for the other, so that if you mistakenly activate the open-type dialog, you just hit the normal keystroke to switch over to open-resource. Eclipse makes you cancel the dialog first.

Another example: in IDEA if you rename a field, it notices the getter and setter and will offer to rename those as well.

IDEA also has lots of quick fixes everywhere, such as "implement this interface" and lots of other tiny, cool things I miss every single day I use Eclipse. It's been about a year since I gave up on IDEA and I still miss it.

Is it cultural or organizational? Eclipse gives me the impression that day-to-day developers either have no concept of how the IDE gets used (and what rough spots are causing some serious chafing) OR they are somehow prohibited from fixing things that are obviously wrong.

If you love IDEA so much why don't you marry it?

So why don't I use IDEA anymore? Two main reasons: first, it's become very bloated, to the point that unless you go in and shut off a ton of features, it's unusable on my hardware. Merlyn has the same problem doing GWT work on his MacBook Pro ... all the help it gives you comes at a cost in terms of CPU and memory utilization and some instability.

Secondly, I tried (even before IDEA went open source) to use IDEA in my training labs and I hit a stone wall of non-acceptance. Switching to Eclipse was a benefit to my students since, even running in Ubuntu instead of Windows, it was familiar and easy to navigate. It also out-performs IDEA inside my Ubuntu Virtual Machine. I simply lack the ability to switch between the two on a constant basis without getting completely confused and frustrated. I had to choose one, and I chose Eclipse: stable and accepted, even if it is brain dead.

Why call it Ugly?

One thing I don't get is how many people claim Eclipse is "ugly" and IDEA "beautiful". I found IDEA to be overly chock-full of modal dialogs and a number of improperly resized (or non-resizable) dialogs and windows. It's a real dog's breakfast in terms of UI, and has the classically ugly Swing look and feel.

I've always found Eclipse to look sharp and somewhat elegant. You can have a debate about the technical merits of SWT vs. AWT and Swing, or the ability to tune Swing to look like SWT ... but SWT out of the box is simply a better L&F visually.

On a Mac they both suck at keyboard navigation, though.

There, I've vented. See what going cold-turkey from Twitter can do?

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