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Keywords: Java IDE
Title: JCreator 3.5
Publisher: Xinox Software
Licence: Commercial (free version available)
Verdict: Fast Java IDE for Windows
We last looked at JCreator when it was at version 2.5, back then we were very impressed both with the look and feel of it and also with the very snappy performance. Now at version of 3.5, it's time to take another look to see how things stand and to figure out where JCreator sits in the landscape of Java development tools.
To start with the basics, JCreator is a Java development environment that runs on the Microsoft Windows platform. It's a commercial product from Xinox Software, with a variety of licences available, including a freeware version which is the basis of this review. Note also that unlike many other Java IDEs, this one is not coded in Java but is written in C++ and optimised for the Windows platform.
Installation is very straightforward: register your details on the JCreator web site, download the zip file, grab the setup.exe and off you go. The whole package takes only a small footprint - it eats up less than 8MB of disk space. Installation also prompts to associate .java files but that's pretty much it. Upgrading from previous releases is just as simple.
The heart of any development environment is the code editor. With JCreator this is a tabbed editor that packs a lot of functionality: code folding, syntax colouring, line numbering linked to compiler output, linked to JDK help, auto-indent etc. Add to this the package explorer pane that can navigate code to open in the editor and you have a very nice environment for coding in.
Unlike Eclipse there is no incremental compilation used in JCreator. The environment can be configured to use different compilers and run-times, making it relatively straightforward to do development that targets different versions of Java. Compilation is via a tool-bar icon or menu item and the output from the compiler can be captured and used within the environment, making it simple to double-click on the compiler errors and jump straight to the offending line of code. This makes for a fast edit-compile process.
JCreator can use projects to group files together, and these in turn can use project specific profiles for compiling and running the code. Batch builds are also available. Applets and applications can be run directly from within JCreator, with output captured and displayed in an output window. Again the run-time behaviour can be configured differently for different profiles and different projects.
In addition to the editor and package view, there are also file view and data views, both of which can be linked to the editor. The data view in particular is a nice way to navigate through a class, and makes good use of icons to show both fields and methods and to indicate whether they are public, private or protected. Imports are also displayed.
There is some automation in terms of wizards for new workspaces, projects, classes and interfaces. These are generally useful and easy to use but not a patch on what is available in a heavy-weight IDE like Eclipse or NetBeans.
The environment features a some level of configurability, with tool bars, key bindings and links to external tools all available. However compared to something like jEdit or Eclipse the lack of an effective macro or plug-in architecture means that extending with new functionality is not an option. And, being a closed-source product it also means that there is no community busy extending the product into new areas.
One thing that ought to be stressed is that the Pro version includes a level of functionality that is missing from the freeware version we're looking at here. Integration with Ant and CVS, support for JSP creation and a graphical interface on the debugger are all available with the licensed version.
The Java IDE landscape is a wide one, ranging from heavy-weight tools like Eclipse and NetBeans to powerful and flexible environments like jEdit to platform-specific tools like JCreator and Gel. JCreator clearly doesn't have the full range of functionality that the big platforms - Eclipse and NetBeans - have to offer. Neither is it platform independent and as extensible as jEdit. However, JCreator is very functional, looks good and offers outstanding performance. If you develop on Windows and are looking for something that's fast and light-weight then this is one tool that deserves serious consideration.