Eclipse versus IntelliJ Idea

The Java developer I hired to lead the Java side of our port from Perl to Java came from a background of using Idea rather than Eclipse. He liked it so much that we're going to be using Idea as our standard IDE, and what the hell, if Atlassian, Martin Fowler, and other respected folks are using it, it can't be that bad. Anyhow, this will be my first time using something other than Eclipse to develop Java and I'm looking forward to the change. So far the experience has been quite positive so I thought I'd report briefly on my initial impressions.

Eclipse's biggest strength aside from being a great IDE is plugins, plugins, and more plugins. Idea's greatest strength is more out of the box funtionality (e.g. J2EE app server support, XML editor, etc…) and more robust refactoring functionality. To address the out of the box functionality issue with Eclipse I used to install a bunch of plugins but eventually saw the light (the number of hours I was wasting) and ended up purchasing MyEclipse which does a good job of filling the gap and is amazingly inexpensive!

With Idea I feel that the 3rd party integration is ever so slightly more polished than in Eclipse. For example I like the CVS and JUnit sub windows more in Idea. There's a little more detail and the visual layout is slightly more intuitive. The refactoring functionality seems to offer more options in Idea and they offer a slightly more powerful window management paradigm (or at least one that took me less time to learn than Eclipse's). Lastly Idea has some really nice code analyzing features to look for common programming issues (e.g. too many constructors possibly indicating a need for refactoring into sub-classes).

I couldn't find anything in Idea that was of major importance to me that you can't also do in Eclipse with plugins installed (or by using MyEclipse). In other words, there were no glaring features missing from one or the other that make me say X is by far a better product. I also haven't found one to be vastly more productive than the other (although time may tell a different story).

To summarize my initial findings I don't think you can go wrong using either IDE, they're both extremely powerful. On the Eclipse front I would definitely recommend going the MyEclipse route, for $30 a year per person you'll save money over the time you'd spend keeping a plethora of plugins up-to-date. Overall I think Idea is an ever so slightly more polished IDE than Eclipse. Is it worth $500 per person? Too early for me to say. It took me about 5 hours of using it before I started to get over that initial feeling of “this is worse but only because I'm not used to it yet” to evolve to “I can do everything I did in Eclipse and there are some things that I like better”.

Have you used both Idea and Eclipse? If so what were your experiences?

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