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Keywords: Java IDE

Title: JCreator Pro 2.5

Publisher: Xinox Software

Media: Download

Licence: Commercial (free version available)

Platform: Windows

Verdict: Superb standalone IDE

You don't really need an IDE for Java development, in contrast to Visual Basic or Delphi, which are hard to do outside of their respective development environments. With Java, at its simplest, coding can be performed using nothing more than a simple text editor and a compiler. There are many programmers who get by with little more than this, though the text editor is generally something fancier than Windows Notepad. It is also true that there are a number of fully-featured Java development IDEs, from Borland's JBuilder through to NetBeans, Eclipse and Sun's ONE Studio (the IDE previously known as Forte) and others. While there are many benefits to working within an IDE there are also some downsides. Many IDEs - and this is as true of non-Java development environments - can suffer from feature-bloat, large-footprints and sluggish performance. JCreator, in contrast, seems to offer many of the benefits of the editor and compiler approach with some of the plusses that heavy-weight tools such as JBuilder offers.

The first thing to note about JCreator is the relatively small footprint, the download from Xinox Software comes in at a very relaxed 2MB. Installation is a breeze, and you should find that you lose less than 5MB of disk-space in the process. There isn't much to configure on first install: you are prompted to change file associations for .java files, to confirm the location of whatever JDK you are using and that's about it apart from okaying the default installation directory.

The core of JCreator is the program editor. Files are opened in a tabbed edit pane, which can be moved and resized to take as much or as little of the screen real-estate as you require. Program code is colour-coded, both for Java and for HTML, and the colours are easily re-configured via the options menu. Code indentation is automatic, opening and closing braces are matched, bookmarks can be inserted and so on. In short, it functions very well as a programmers editor. A neat touch is a toggle for full-screen mode, which is very handy when scrolling back and forth through a large block of code.

While the editor is at the heart of JCreator it includes much more. Files can be grouped together to form projects, and these in turn can be related to a workspace. Tying these together means that opening the workspace opens the groups of files in your project. Furthermore projects can be configured with common-settings for the JDK, shared tools and libraries. Different profiles can also be set up for different versions of the JDK, for example, and these in turn can be set as the defaults for a project. It certainly simplifies working with different configurations - it also beats fiddling with classpath environment variables and command-lines to the compiler.

Access to the compiler is from within the JCreator environment, and the output from the compiler is captured and displayed. Clicking on a compile error takes you to the offending line of code. The effect is seamless and is a great advantage compared to the purist editor and compiler method of working. Working with multiple code files is no problem either and a batch compile option means you can even control the order of compilation of files in a project. Integration with a debugger is also possible in the Pro Version (see below), with debug output captured within the IDE.

Running compiled code is also straightforward. JCreator can be used for running applets as well as applications and the appropriate run-time environments and settings are configurable. For applications it is straightforward to set default command-line arguments or to get a prompt for them. Output can be via a console or captured in the output pane, again this a feature worth having, particularly when using program output to debug code.

Aside from the edit and output panes, there are a couple of other views available. The Class-view pane is the most immediately useful as it can be used to quickly read off information about a project's different classes and their methods and variables - all displayed in a colour-coded tree. Double-clicking on an entry in the tree takes you to the high-lighted definition in the source code. The fact that the class-view display also lists the arguments for each method in a class makes this view a useful reference while coding.

While all these aspects of JCreator are positive, it does lack some key areas of functionality that the larger IDEs provide. There are no groupware features, no versioning and formal change management functions and indeed in an enterprise context support for the full J2EE platform is lacking. There are precious few wizards, though the ones that exist (such as a new class wizard), work well enough. There is no API so automation or macro recording is not possible. Finally the package does not provide any form designers, though there are many programmers who create client-side GUIs purely through code.

However the lack of these features should not obscure the very real strengths on offer. JCreator is clearly much more than a simple editor, however in terms of performance it certainly feels like one. In comparison to some of the key Java IDEs, this is a blindingly fast environment to work in, even on relatively lowly-specced machines. It also scores highly on one other front. A single-user licence of the Pro version is only $69, while the 5-user version comes in at $320. There is also a freeware version which includes much of the functionality of the Pro version, so it's easy to carry out an extended evaluation.

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