SWT Designer has got to be one of the best visual composition editors for designing GUIs using Eclipse’s SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit). Due to the relative young age of SWT, there aren’t that many tools that have been developed for this as opposed to if you develop GUIs using the standard Java‘s AWT/Swing. Other tools which I’ve tried such as Eclipse’s Visual Editor project wasn’t that user friendly and pretty confusing to use (I probably will give it another shot again as I was hard pressed for time then :P) and didn’t support the new widgets our UI was going to have. Jigloo GUI Builder had the same issue of not having support for ‘ExpandBars’ and SWT GUI Builder doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2003.
IMHO SWT looks a lot better than Swing due to the way it retains the system’s look and feel instead of enforcing a standard (ugly) look over all platforms. It blends in nicely with other applications and doesn’t look out of place when being run with other applications.
However, it seems Microsoft is actually going away from that approach (or at least for some of their products for now). Their recent applications such as Windows Media Player 10/11, Windows Live Messenger have the option for the standard windowing to be hidden allowing the application to have menus, buttons, colour schemes that are totally disconnected from the underlying Windows’ theme.
So was Sun right after all in having a GUI which runs in its own shell without taking into consideration the native look and feel? Or is the reason because Sun’s Swing isn’t aesthetically pleasing? Although those applications by M$ looked fine on my Windows desktop, it probably would not have the same effect if it was run on a Mac OS X or Linux’s Gnome for example. Since Java applications are meant to be cross platform, I believe Eclipse’s SWT approach is the way to go.