In the Java market we have a plethora of ide’s to choose from. The one I am most familiar with and also see used most often is Eclipse. Everyone knows Eclipse of course. Eclipse is not without its faults. So its natural to look around every so often. Eclipse is my baseline. At this point we arrive at IntelliJ. IntelliJ is another well known ide. I have heard IntelliJ described as the only ide for java developers, the ide that wil increase productivity 10-100 times. Its a commercial product which means you can have a reasonable expectation of stability, customer support and all the nifty tooling you would expect in Eclipse or any other ide. Naturally you expect it to be better than Eclipse or you would’t pay for it. I proceeded to download, install and put IntelliJ to use.
A few words on environment. I run Debian Lenny on a Dell Precision T-3400.
IntelliJ is an easy install. Download, unpack, run (,????, profit!). Its only 100MB compressed which is less than 150MB for Eclipse classic (and a lot less than 650MB for MyEclipse). You may need to check JDK_HOME variables but I’m guessing most people wil have this set up already. Otherwise what are you doing with a Java specific IDE. You may be confronted with a dialog or two. To begin with you should be safe with the defaults. Odds are you only need a subset of the defaults to begin with anyway.
My first impression after the install is that IntelliJ is very pretty. Especially after I changed the theme. This all went really well. Everything was fast and seemed well thought out. Of course IntelliJ has its own key mapping, menu ordering and things of that nature. If you like you can enable Eclipse key mappings but if you want to get to know a program rather than get to work quickly I recommend going with what’s totally unfamiliar. Although I am of the opinion that ctrl-s means save in any language.
The Subversion plugin works like a charm. I am even convinced it’s faster than Subversive…at least in our local environment where Subversion has, at times, been a pain to work with. If for no other reason, this plugin makes me want to use IntelliJ. If my work confined itself to talking to the repository I would be done. Forever.
So here we have a fresh working copy of our project, complete with Eclipse project files. IntelliJ understands Eclipse project files or at least so it claims. An import or two later and I have an official IntelliJ project. As far as I’m concerned I just need to point this puppy to Tomcat and we’re good to go.
Now IntelliJ has a lot of spiffy UI thingies. You got screens for configuring everything. You’ve got modules and facets. You’ve got raindrops on roses and warm woolen mittens. Confidently I configured the project to deploy to tomcat. Of course it wouldn’t work at once, that would be too much to ask. I was convinced any problems I was sure to encounter would be easy to solve.
My first problem comes in the form of compiler errors. “But wait,” you say, “did you not do a fresh checkout? Are your colleagues so daft that they enter broken code?” That would be yes and not usually. IntelliJ seems less permisive than eclipse in allowing certain constructs. Mind you Eclipse has no compile errors on the same code…so it can’t really be a compiler error since they use the same one. Ok, so its a precompile syntax validation check error or whatever. It’s not really a big deal.
Unfortunately I have no clue what IntelliJ is really doing. Somewhere there exists a tomcat. Somewhere there exists at least one copy of this tomcat. Somewhere you may or may not be deploying your project. Ok, I can actually find where IntelliJ hides its tomcat copy. Why can’t it just use my tomcat? I don’t know. Oh you can, sort of, but then you all of a sudden have to start and stop tomcat yourself. Not that I really care that IntelliJ uses a copy of tomcat, except that this copy still uses the originals directories. Sort of. I think. I’m not really sure.
A word on IntelliJ support. If you happen to write them they answer quickly. Really quickly. Actually the reply is there almost before you press compose mail. I was seriously impressed. Unfortunately they couldn’t help me and I dind’t want to rely heavily on support which is mostly meant for paying customers anyway. I also don’t like using support lines in general. It feels like a flaw in the product. Which it is.
You may be asking why I didn’t simply look up the answers in the documentation. IntelliJ documentation is one of the worst I have ever seen. It’s not worse than factually wrong information but it’s not better than a blank piece of paper. Basically if you have something labeled “Perform action” the documentation wil read “Performs the action Action”. The documentation will never actually explain what is happening or go into the details of anything.
So now I have a project which may or may not be deploying somewhere. After some looking around I do figure out I have lots of classpath problems. Also, my ant builds aren’t being run. Ok, add library here, ant build before deploy…Some progress made but not enough. My project still won’t work.
To make a long story short for about a week I’ve been playing with IntelliJ. I’ve installed, reinstalled, checked out, imported, etc, etc. I can’t get our project to work. This is a project which does work under Eclipse. So I blame IntelliJ. Where Eclipse always seems to have the thing you are looking for where you are looking for it, IntelliJ will make you search for it. Where Eclipse forces you to know what you’re doing and setup this and do that, IntelliJ has done it for you (mostly) and otherwise you can pretty much forget it.
To me IntelliJ is like a beautiful woman with a really anoying personality and a deaf ear. I really wanted to like it. Ask my colleagues, I am ready and willing to say that I hate something. I do it regularly and with passion. I do it to Eclipse all the time. Yet, despite all this, I really can’t hate IntelliJ. I would still really like to work with it. I’m convinced it could be really good. I can’t hate it and yet I can’t love it. For now it wil remain the IDE I wanted to love.