IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition is Uninspiring

by Krishna on October 18, 2009

A friend sent over the news that IntelliJ IDEA is going open source with a commercial option. My first reaction was that while it would be helpful to Java developers to play with it, there was a distinct possibility that IDEA is already out on its way out. I have always been an Eclipse person, so I don’t have any strong views on IDEA either way, but from what I have heard, it is a very good IDE. The point, though, is that if it was successfully competing with Eclipse, why did JetBrains decide to give it away for free?

I have written about this before:

if you are a producer, how do you profit by giving away your product for free? At the moment you stop charging, you lose the revenue from product sales. So you only benefit by making more money via other means than you have lost by forgoing direct sales.

JetBrains may be betting on the scenario that there will be a greater adoption of the free product over Eclipse, which, in turn, drives the sales of the commercial product upwards. This may have been more likely if only the Community Edition had come without many features disabled.

It gets mind-boggling as you go down the comparison list. Almost all the features that would entice someone to ditch Eclipse for IDEA have been removed. Remember people, the biggest problem in Eclipse is not the editor, it is the senseless ability  to configure anything and everything that makes it so difficult to do something simple. So why in the world would you remove (from IDEA) debugging, language support for HTML and environment support for Spring and Hibernate, not to mention any application server? (The blog post mentions debugging, but the feature list has it as missing.)

It almost seems that there was an internal argument inside the company with some people arguing for open source and the other side worrying about cannibalization of sales. Finally, they struck a compromise by releasing a barebones version as open source, which doesn’t help either side of the argument.

The other possibility for JetBrains is that IDEA will attract developers working on Eclipse. Once again, with many important features removed, why should anyone bother? Re-invent the wheels that both Eclipse and IDEA (in the proprietary version) have already invented? I just cannot see it.

Cedric has similar thoughts:

I still see the move from commercial to open source as a sign that the business is struggling. A lot of companies have gone down that path in the past and all of them have tried to make it pass as a selfless action meant to help the community, but the truth is that they were just having a harder time selling their software, so making it open source is usually a last ditch effort to regain mindshare while trying to make money somewhere else.

I can’t think of a single example where a struggling commercial software suddenly started regaining market share when they went open source. Can you? […]

Whatever side of the fence you stand on, one thing is clear about this move: it means less revenue for JetBrains for the foreseeable future. And what this means is that they will have less means to compete against Eclipse and less power to add features to either of the editions (the Community one or the Ultimate one).

And this is where a lot of companies make a fatal mistake: they think that making their software open source will automatically generate a ground swell of patches and additions from the community that will float them back to the top.

And in my experience, this never happens.

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