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I'm your standard Java/Oracle developer at a large software firm and Eclipse 3.6 is what I spend most of day in. Java is incredibly verbose and that can be painful (but we don't need another blog post explaining this), but Eclipse eases a lot of that pain with one-click renaming, auto-completion, dynamically adjusting your classpath, etc.

I cannot imagine trying to do my job without a tool like Eclipse at my disposal. So for those of you who were around before my time, what was it like? The disadvantages are obvious, but were there any advantages?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Kilian Foth, GlenH7, Yusubov, Dan Pichelman Aug 29 '13 at 16:29

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Better?​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ –  Josh K Jun 15 '11 at 18:41
Eclipse didn't always have all of those nice fancy features. Early versions were a lot slimmer than it is today. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 15 '11 at 18:48
Erm, we used javac, and a text editor. That would have been around 1999. It was easier than the then nascent IDEs were, and some might argue it still is. –  nbt Jun 15 '11 at 19:41
@Michael, still trying to figure out that google thing? –  AttackingHobo Jun 15 '11 at 20:26
Vim vs. Emacs FTW! –  Ethel Evans Jun 15 '11 at 20:59

7 Answers 7

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Back in 1995 when I started programming in Java, there was a lot of manual work that is now done automatically. Updating classpaths, remembering what order to compile large projects in (remember, ant and maven hadn't been invented either, and make isn't easy to use).

The class libraries were a smaller set of things to know. Instead of auto-complete, I had a large poster with Every Single Class And Method on the wall of my office at Javasoft; and unless it was one of the fiddly utilities in java.io, I pretty much knew them all. The advantage was that I used the class I meant, rather than finding something that looked good by name and then finding out it didn't have the right functionality. But mostly I prefer auto-complete and richer libraries.

Refactoring tools are the other enormous change. Changing a variable name was an ten minute project, rather than ten seconds; and changing class structure took you all day. Extracting an important superclass? Better budget a few days!

There was a lot of "Compiling!" And then coming back to find out you forgot to include some class in an obscure directory somewhere.

Producing a release was also a pain in the neck. Remembering the syntax for the MANIFEST file, or for jar at all. Where did my resources go?

Finally, integration with version control (CVS or SCCS) was non-existent, so you had to be a SCM expert as well as a Java expert.

Summary: Lots of tasks that are now automated had to be done by hand, and you had to master a bunch of auxiliary skills that nowadays you can mostly ignore.

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+1 You can ignore the auxilary skills, but it's not wise to. You still have classpath and other random "low-level" errors in IDEs. –  Michael K Jun 15 '11 at 19:46
I totally agree. Hence, "mostly". If you're on a larger team, you may also be able to specialize--one guy knows the SCM stuff, one guy knows the classpath stuff, etc. –  Alex Feinman Jun 15 '11 at 19:57
@Michael: The worst is when RAD tries to "correct" classpath problems but instead bungles it up even worse. Then you try to manually fix the file and it only makes things worse to the point where RAD starts doubting if your project even exists, and crashes while trying to figure out what to do... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 15 '11 at 21:03
Great answer, thanks for the writeup. I agree that the auxiliary skills are mostly unnecessary but I still seek after them because when you don't know...pain ensues. –  daveslab Jun 16 '11 at 2:08
+1 for not using the phrase "back in the days" –  Hannes Jun 16 '11 at 16:48

Back then, the tools were simpler (yes, there were Java-IDEs around relatively early), but back then, Java didn't come with all those enterprisey frameworks like today. It was just like any other programming language. You had a problem, you wrote a program. Dead simple.

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Don't forget the books! We had books to look up documentation instead of turning to Yahoo. (Cause Google wasn't around yet) –  Christopher Bibbs Jun 15 '11 at 19:15
Good point. I wonder how much of the verbosity of Java these days is because of how easy IDEs make it to be... –  daveslab Jun 16 '11 at 2:09
Christopher: or Alta Vista –  user281377 Jun 16 '11 at 5:43

Ah yes, because, way back in 1995, we hewed our Java into stone tablets. And then we used the tablets to grind holes in our punch cards. And we liked it!

Damn kids. Java had IDEs from day one; Sun had a proprietary one (Sun Studio, though it was called something different originally...I can't remember what it was called. (I have the disks somewhere, and by "disks" I mean CDs because it was 1995. Jesus.)) that was pretty nice...I used it until JBuilder came out. Then I switched to NetBeans, which was what Sun Studio became when they open sourced it. Then Eclipse.

IDEs have been around for a long time. I've used greenscreen IDEs on mainframes. Hell, vi has had code completion for 20 years or more.

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Do you mean NetBeans / Xelfi? I didn't use it, word was it sucked rocks through a straw. –  Alex Feinman Jun 15 '11 at 19:59
@Alex Feinman: I recall earlier versions of Netbeans sucked rocks through straws, I'm thinking maybe around 2002? Last time I tried it (2009) I was pleasantly surprised! –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 15 '11 at 21:05
Yeah... I remember those early java-based IDEs... You could time the window re-paints with an hourglass. –  red-dirt Jun 16 '11 at 1:29
lol since the release of netbeans 5, i think in 06, it was a fairly decent ide. –  Nickz Jun 16 '11 at 1:53
@el fuser: Yea, I used emacs, mostly. But we're talking about 1995 here. Computers were slower. –  Satanicpuppy Jun 16 '11 at 13:24

You used other IDEs/tools. I used Forte for Java and also Borland JBuilder before I used Eclipse.

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i first used jbuilder in 1999, i thought it was superior to the visual studio version of the time. –  Nickz Jun 16 '11 at 1:49

I used J++, which was technically Microsoft's implementation of Java. Still though, the IDE was excellent.

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It was pretty terrible, especially after Java EE was invented. IDEA and Eclipse were far from the first IDEs for Java, but IMO they were the first that were designed for helping you as a programmer write code. Before them, IDEs focused only on managing the project files, providing integrated debugging, some navigation aids, GUI tools and, if you were lucky, code completion. I was quite happy when I found out that IDEA didn't have a GUI design tool, a feature that many people considered the reason to use an IDE back in the days.

Automatic import suggestions, refactoring, getter/setter/constructor/toString generators may seem obvious today, but back then they were novel concepts.

In short: Yes, it was worse. And only worse.

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I knew of one person that wrote an awt app with about a dozen screens, database access and dynamic SQL and csv import/export using only cmd and notepad. With source code in cvs.

I used vim and shell scripts (the old mks toolkit version of ksh) for Java development in 1999. Some people used Visual Cafe and others used JBuilder.

Actually, I used vim for everything until I started using IntelliJ. And I still use vim for a lot.

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