Thursday, January 18, 2007

VisualStudio vs Eclipse

I met up with a friend from Microsoft this last weekend and was challenged to explain why I prefer Eclipse over VisualStudio. The answer wasn't obvious. It isn't really that one has features that the other doesn't have. Both are slow memory hogs, and in fact, Eclipse is usually worse than VS on this front. Both provide good intellisense and refactoring.

So why do I prefer Eclipse?

In the course of talking about it, I came up with my answer. Eclipse if built by top developers for themselves. VisualStudio is built by top developers for some other developers. Both IDEs were built by teams of some very smart developers, but Eclipse developers seem more focused on building a product that they themselves would want to use. Microsoft has a strong internal culture that says that their primary target developer isn't as good a developer as most Microsoft developers. Which do you think will result in a 'better' product?

There are truths to Microsoft's delema. A huge majority of their target customers are not code gurus who think in boolean logic and can read hexadecimal upside-down. The majority of VS's customers are still VB developers who are more interested in drag'n'drop forms layout and easy database integration. I think Microsoft got it backwards though. They should be building a product that they love to use first, and then worry about 'dumbing it down'. Why? Because I think it will surprise them how similar these app-devs are to themselves. I think they would find that rather than 'dumbing it down', the would find that the app-devs have some excellent ideas for improving work-flow for common operations, that benefit everyone.

As an aside, this also explains why I liked Visual C++ 6 and put off 'upgrading' as long as possible. VisualStudio 7 was when they merged VB and VisualInterDev with VC++. Before that, VC++ was built targeting their own use-cases. With the grand union of all dev products, it was a compromise for everyone. I know as a VC++ user, I felt like I lost a lot, and I bet VB users felt similarly.



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