The IDE and the libraries

I followed a few discussions lately about Flex, Silverlight and JavaFX and also about the never ending war between the programming languages. Yes, we don't have a sufficient number of programming languages yet and therefore we need new ones - like D for instance. I am sure there will be born others in the future.

But aren't we missing the point? Aren't we trying to reinvent the wheel again and again?

I have seen people pushing languages and technologies one week and and another week something else without having real knowledge or without going deeper into the technologies to get aware of their real purpose. Same type of software is written again and again using different languages and technologies but where is the main additional benefit? Where is the improvement in efficiency while developing?

I have learned over 10 programming languages, really working for a longer time (on real-world projects making money) with about 3 languages. The experience shows it clearly to me, that the programming language itself is only plays a minor role in efficiency of software development. Much more important is the IDE and the libraries. In detail:

  1. The IDE
    • Code-completion
    • Quick tips
    • Debugger (Breakpoints, watches, step-by-step-debugging)
    • GUI-Designer
    • (Online-)Help (or JavaDoc for instance)
    • Editing tools like bookmarks or tasks in code, code folding etc.
    • Refactoring tools
    • build tools (for compiling and deploying)
  2. The Libaries
    • Standard libraries the language offers.
    • Available libraries on the Internet (opensource, free, commercial - the wider the field the better).
    • Your own libraries created while doing your work. The value of those is often underestimated although those include the code you usually do reuse most. And those are what I miss most when learning a new language - the stuff I already did and want to reuse and improve on the fly.
Both - the IDE and the Libraries have to be learned. So being familiar with the syntax of the langauge is one thing. Being familiar with an IDE and with the existing (standard) libraries is a second.

Fact is that one using a language he or she is not familiar with and then either using a simple text editor can never be as productive as a developer knowing the IDE and their features (and use them efficiently) as well as the existing (standard) libraries. When the latter also have a good overview about other free and commercial libraries or tools out there he or she can either efficiently decide where to write own stuff or use 3rd party components.

When I searched for an alternative to my Visual Basic I looked at several languages and the language itself was of minor priority. I liked Python for instance from the general language features and efficiency in coding I also imagine problems due to the indentation orientation when different developers use different editors with different indentation settings. But despite the language itself I tried several IDE's for python and there was none that I was really satisfied with.

Eclipse and NetBeans are IDE's that like to solve the IDE problem in general to be the one IDE for all languages. But from what I read and heard by now they work best for Java (and C++ - which I didn't try yet) so far (which is subject to change). But new languages usually lack of integration with good IDE's - logically.

So all this in a whole made me switch to Java (apart from the very good reason for platform independent development). - I do not urge anyone to use Java but I strongly recommend to not only look at the language itself when choosing a new one for future projects.

Related posts: IT investment, Utility libraries, Popular Java myths, Install NetBeans on Ubuntu 10.04, Choosing a programming language.

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