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Geertjan Wielenga on the NetBeans Platform

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Geertjan Wielenga, co-author of Rich Client Programming: Plugging into the NetBeans™ Platform, and Steve Haines discuss JavaOne and the current state of the NetBeans Platform.
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Geertjan Wielenga is a member of the JavaOne "Rock Star Wall of Fame" for his contributions to JavaOne and Java technology. He is also co-author (along with Tim Boudreau and Jaroslav Tulach) of Rich Client Programming: Plugging into the NetBeans™ Platform (also available in Safari Books Online and as a downloadable eBook). Steve Haines, host of InformIT's Java Reference Guide, caught up to him for a quick Q&A before this year's JavaOne.

InformIT: First, can you give us a little background on yourself?

Geertjan Wielenga: I'm a writer on the NetBeans team, specifically focused on documentation that relates to the NetBeans Platform. That's the Swing application framework underneath applications such as Java VisualVM, NetBeans IDE, iReport, applications at Boeing, and many other similar large applications.

My official task is to support developers of these kinds of applications by writing tutorials for them. At the same time, I also give trainings on these topics and occasionally meet with customers of the NetBeans Platform, to give advice, or to hear from them what problems they're encountering.

I do this in Prague, in the Czech Republic, which is where NetBeans was originally created and where the majority of its engineers are still found.

IT: You co-wrote a book entitled Rich Client Programming. Can you describe it? What did your readers find most valuable in this book?

GW: It's the first book on the NetBeans Platform that's appeared since the product's 5.0 release. That release saw many significant changes to support NetBeans Platform developers. In particular, a set of tools were created for NetBeans IDE to simplify the life of NetBeans Platform developers, such as templates of various kinds that create skeleton code for NetBeans API classes.

The book can really be divided into two parts. The first half describes the NetBeans Platform's core APIs: the runtime container APIs, the Window System API, the Nodes API, the Explorer & Property Sheet API, the FileSystem API, and the DataSystems API. The second half looks at a number of APIs relating to creating support for editors.

Quite a lot has changed in the interim, but the first half has stood up to the test of time so far! That part is still valuable and will continue being so. The main value readers have found in the book is that it presents the NetBeans Platform story from the point of view of the developers behind it. It has done so very successfully, to the point that other writers — i.e., writers who have nothing to do with the development of the NetBeans Platform — have been able to write their own books on the same topic, using the information in this book as a starting point. For example, since this book came out, others have been published by O'Reilly and Apress, neither of which would have been possible without ours first having seen the light of day.

IT: You have a presentation at this year's JavaOne about porting an application to the NetBeans Platform. What advancements have been made in recent versions of the NetBeans Platform that make it the framework of choice for Java developers?

GW: Many improvements have taken place in the past few years. For example, support for annotations are increasingly finding their way into the NetBeans Platform. So, instead of declaring application contributions in XML files, developers will instead increasingly be able to annotate their classes instead, as is done effectively in the JSR-296 Swing Application Framework. Another example is that many developers have requested support for reusing modules from other applications, a concept known as "suite chaining." That will be supported via user interface support from NetBeans Platform 6.7 onwards.

The best thing about the NetBeans Platform is that it is open sourced, meaning that anyone can contribute to it. Also, it is therefore not locked into a particular company at all; enhancements can thereby potentially be user-driven, rather than driven from within NetBeans itself.

IT: You also have a presentation on the VisualVM Tool. Can you describe for our readers what that is and, from your presentation, Getting More Out of the Java VisualVM Tool, what types of things you're going to show to get more out of it?

GW: Java VisualVM is a new tool that is a standard part of the JDK since JDK 6 Update 7. Look in the JDK's bin folder and there you'll find it. Start it up and then any Java applications running on the VM will automatically be registered in it, so that its threads and deadlocks and so on can be analyzed and fixed.

My presentation at JavaOne will be about extending this tool. Extension of this tool is as simple as extending NetBeans IDE, since they're both based on the NetBeans Platform. So several parts of the presentation will focus on the NetBeans Platform itself and what you can do with it. Its architecture will be described and then the audience will be shown the main VisualVM APIs, how to use them, and how to plug into VisualVM.

IT: What are you particularly excited to see at this year's JavaOne?

GW: Just being able to chat with a lot of people I've had the privilege to meet over the past years! JavaOne is really THE place where you can find out what everyone else is up to and catch up with old friends and acquaintances and even make a few new ones.

IT: We've all seen changes in the Java industry in the past year, most recently and notably the acquisition of Sun by Oracle. How do you feel that this will impact the Java community?

GW: Too soon to tell, I think! Not sure how much all the speculation helps, either, so I'm not going to contribute to it myself. On the other hand, I do hope Oracle sees the obvious value of the NetBeans Platform (one look here should be enough) and also understands that the NetBeans Platform is actually a completely different product to NetBeans IDE. For example, not supporting NetBeans IDE does not automatically mean the same as not supporting the NetBeans Platform. In fact, many Oracle applications could stand to gain a lot from being ported to the NetBeans Platform!

IT: What's next for you? What are you working on?

GW: Too many things. Mainly I'm looking forward to giving more NetBeans Platform Trainings, which is always very interesting, both for the students and the instructors as well!

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