The Matisse project I was mentioning earlier, hoping it wasn't vaporware, is now available and is very good, though still obviously an early release. I've only played with it a few minutes, but at least on a 1.2 GHz G4 with a ton of RAM, it's running very quickly, and allowed me to mock up a form as quickly as anything I've made in Visual Basic 6.

Now there are still issues. The automatic resizing anchors that link fields to items near them is pretty poor -- or at least for me unintuitive. My very nice looking form (that really did take seconds to create; great job, Netbeans) looked pretty wonky once I tried to resize at runtime. I also had a hard time selecting a block of widgets and moving them all at once, which should be pretty easy to do. Maybe it's a one-button thing; I'm using my iBook to test.

But I haven't seen a good Java 2 GUI builder that could even do so little as compare to CodeWarrior's old null Layout RAD, and had become pretty good at laying out forms with Grid and BorderLayouts in code, with GridBagLayout pulled out in special cases to get a form just right. Matisse smashes this glass ceiling and makes creating good looking Java forms a possibility. Hopefully soon it'll make creating resizable, good-looking Java forms just as trivial a task.

Anyhow, if you feel like downloading...

-- Grab what's now the latest Q-build
-- If you want to make Matisse the default (I did; I do most of my hacking in Eclipse and Netbeans'll need Matisse working for me to switch, I believe), you need to hack your netbeans.conf, as described below.

For your convenience, you can manually make the switch permanent using the following approach:

* Go to the NetBeans installation directory and open etc/netbeans.conf file
* Add -J-Dnetbeans.form.new_layout=true switch to the netbeans_default_options property
* Save the file, now the IDE will run with the Matisse layout designer turned on by default

On OS X, here's how to get to your netbeans.conf:

If you want NetBeans to always start with specific options such as --userdir, --jdkhome, --fontsize, etc., so that you don't have to type them on the command line at every launch, the most convenient way is to add your custom options directly to the NetBeans configuration (netbeans.conf) file.

To do this, Control-click the NetBeans application icon and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. In the Finder window that appears, navigate to the Contents/Resources/NetBeans/etc/ directory, Control-click netbeans.conf, choose Open With from the contextual menu, and select your preferred text editor. Then add the custom parameters you wish to use and save your changes.