IntelliJ IDEA goes free and open source

Yesterday JetBrains announced that its core product, the IDEA IDE for Java, is becoming open source under the Apache 2.0 license. There will be a free Community Edition and a commercial edition with more features. This list of additional features not in the free edition is rather extensive, including UML class diagrams, code coverage, Android support, JSP debugging, JavaScript debugging, support for other languages such as Ruby, SQL, HTML, JavaScript, ActionScript, PHP, support for additional version control systems including Team Foundation Server, ClearCase and Perforce, and above all specific support for frameworks and technologies including Rails, Spring, EJB, Tomcat, JBoss and WebSphere, and even Adobe AIR.

In other words, the free part is the core IDE plus a few features; the commercial edition adds a lot of value for most users.

CEO Sergey Dimitriev remarks:

Open source has become the mainstream, and we continue to embrace it as an exciting challenge. In brief, we’re not changing direction — we’re moving forward.

IDEA is an excellent and popular IDE and last time I looked I found it more productive and enjoyable to use than its obvious alternative, Eclipse. I imagine that IntelliJ is hoping to strengthen the community and availability of add-ons for IDEA, as well as attracting new users.

Although this is welcome news – and I’d encourage any Java developer to try the product – it would be interesting to know more about why JebBrains is taking this step. Borland’s JBuilder was once highly successful, until the free Eclipse offering eroded its market share. Seeing how important the add-on community was in Eclipse, Borland belatedly issued a free JBuilder and sought to make it an alternative IDE platform for third parties, but by then it was too late. JBuilder was discontinued and a new product of the same name appeared in its place, built on Eclipse; it is still available but is now a niche product. I’ve not got any up-to-date figures but I’d expect JBuilder’s market share to be tiny now.

Unlike JBuilder, IDEA has remained popular despite Eclipse. Comments on stackoverflow, for example, show how well liked it is:

Eclipse was the first IDE to move me off of XEmacs. However, when my employer offered to buy me a Intellij IDEA license if I wanted one it only took 3 days with an evaluation copy to convince me to go for it.

It seems like so many small things are just nicer.

The problem is that the free Eclipse, or free NetBeans, or free Oracle JDeveloper, are good enough to get your work done, making it hard to compete; and I am not sure whether the addition of free IntelliJ IDEA to the list is a sign of strength or weakness.

My guess is that serious users will still want the commercial edition with its many additional features, so this may not be as radical a step as it first appears.

7 thoughts on “IntelliJ IDEA goes free and open source”

  1. Your JBuilder history about when free versions were offered is inaccurate.

    There have been free versions of JBuilder (and all could accept third-party addons) with every release of JBuilder since December 1999 (the date of the first all-Java version release). In fact, the first free version was even available a few months before the first commercial all-Java version.

    The more interesting question is why the EULA for the free version JBuilder changed so that it could no longer be used to build commercial applications. JBuilder developers were told that this was because of a high number of downloads from people on the domain.

  2. @Bill

    Thanks for the comment. No doubt you are right; though I don’t recall Borland promoting this idea of a free platform for add-ons until JBuilder X Foundation in 2003. Before that the free version was called “Personal” according to Wikipedia which conveys a different message.


  3. Kind of begs the question is a java ide a commerically viable product? Java never really delivered on its write once run anywhere, in fact it still doesn’t, working with large scale ERP systems that deliver functionality via applets still causes deployment issues even today.

    Personally I think its use is on the decline due to cloud based/SaaS offerings using LAMP and/or javascript frameworks delivering rich UI in a browser, who needs Java?


  4. @Tim

    Wikipedia is not always accurate and in this case is wrong.

    I still have a CD with JBuilder 3.5 Foundation. Neither that version nor that there were multiple SKUs of it are even in the list under “JBuilder Versions”. (Yet that release is mentioned in the text of the article so it should be an obvious lapse.)

    Free versions called Foundation also existed for JBuilder 4 and 5. There was a JBuilder 6 Personal which resulted from the EULA change.

  5. @Bill

    Ah yes, this 2001 article lays it out nicely:

    This is where Tony de Lama explains the change in EULA as you say:

    The features and functionality of JBuilder Foundation were so strong that the need to actually purchase Professional or Enterprise versions from Borland was lessened or simply not necessary for many users. This allowed customers to be able to standardize on Foundation for their Java development needs without purchasing licenses from Borland. While Foundation was intended as a seeding mechanism for JBuilder, the unintended side effect was a reduction in Professional and Enterprise sales. We have seen cases where large companies standardized on Foundation as their IDE and did not want to purchase JBuilder licenses from us. Foundation was available as a purchased product for $49.95 and as a free download from our web site.
    … So, starting in JBuilder 5, we renamed Foundation to the new name “Personal” and included a license that allows JBuilder to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes.

    As it turned out, that change was relatively short-lived – presuming it was reversed in 2003 with JBuilder X. It was probably a mistake; though considering the weight of support behind Eclipse perhaps it did not make a critical difference.


  6. @Tim

    Then we are now agreed it was not lack of a free version nor lack of support for third-party add-ons that helped Eclipse take JBuilder market share.

  7. @Bill it was a combination of factors – I am sure the “JBuilder personal” period did not help; and I don’t believe Borland had the vision for JBuilder as a platform until it was too late.


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