JetBrains' IntelliJ IDEA 2.6

JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA


Price: $395 ($99 for students)

Rating: pr_01

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Java 2 SDK 1.3.1 or later (or a comparable Java development kit)

  • Pentium II 500, 128 Mb RAM, 20 Mb free disk space (minimum); Pentium III 800, 256+ Mb RAM, 30Mb free disk space (recommended)

  • Software also runs on Unix, Windows, and Mac OS X computers



  • Excellent support for creating and refactoring code

  • Helps find and fix errors before compilation

  • User interface zooms on Linux

  • Integrated support for popular programming tools, including CVS, Ant, and JUnit

  • Free fully-functional trial — try before you buy

  • An outstanding IDE for the Java student or expert


  • No visual user interface designer like IBuilder or Sun ONE

  • Debugger was sluggish

  • Some difficulties installing the package under Java 2 SDK 1.4.

  • Online support not nearly as extensive as Borland’s

JetBrains’ IntelliJ IDEA 2.6, a commercial integrated development environment (IDE) for Java programming, strikes an effective balance between ease of use and righteous programming muscle.The software, priced at $395 for one to four users, or $99 for one academic user, is available for download from the IDEA site at http://www.intellij.com/idea.

IDEA runs in conjunction with the Java 2 Software Development Kit (SDK) or a comparable product, using the SDK behind the scenes to compile and run programs. IDEA can be configured to work with different versions of the Java 2 SDK up to version 1.4.1, according to the developer.

IDEA is packed with small touches that make programming easier. IDEA’s features are packaged into a well-designed, single-window graphical user interface that zooms on Linux, with the exception of a noticeably slow debugger. The IDEA editor can create Java source code, Java Server Pages, HTML, XML, and text. It can even help spot (and sometimes fix) errors before compilation. For example, when a class name is typed for the first time without a package name, IDEA pops up a dialog asking if the package should be imported. Also, if a variable name is undefined in the current scope, the name is displayed in red to let you know that something’s amiss.

IDEA’s strongest feature is its support for refactoring, the process of restructuring a program internally without changing how it runs externally. IDEA’s “Refactor” menu can be used to rename variables and fields, turn statements into methods, create variables from expressions, encapsulate variables with accessor methods, and handle other tasks that are tedious and error-prone to accomplish by hand. Programmers who are unfamiliar with refactoring can master it quickly in IDEA because it is implemented so intuitively by the software.

Unlike development environments such as Borland JBuilder and Sun ONE Studio (formerly Forte for Java), IDEA does not offer a visual user interface designer or a JavaBeans editor, so Swing and the Abstract Windowing Toolkit are implemented by working directly with Java code.

The IDEA debugger makes it easy to set breakpoints, step through code, and view variable values and method calls. Though it is slow, a FAQ on the IDEA Web site offers a tip that may correct this on some systems: change the “Project Properties” for the debugger so the “Force Classic VM” option is enabled.

IDEA also offers integrated support for several popular programming tools, including CVS, Visual SourceSafe, Ant, and JUnit.

Two areas that could use some improvement are installation and project creation. The installation program utilized for this review did not recognize SDK 1.4.0 or 1.4.1.

Also, the process of creating a new project and populating it with classes is somewhat confusing — there does not appear to be a way to start a project from a template such as a non-graphical application, Web applet, or frame-based Swing application, a feature of Sun ONE Studio and other Java development environments.

All in all, IDEA is a strong choice for Java programmers who don’t need a graphical user interface designer, and especially for those who make use of refactoring during day-to-day coding.

At its price, IntelliJ IDEA ought to be compared against Borland JBuilder Personal (which sells for around $399) and other commercial IDEs that offer introductory editions for less than $500. IDEA has the right idea.

Rogers Cadenhead writes this magazine’s monthly Java Matters column.

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