Cloud IDEs Are Coming!

We shop in the cloud, bank in the cloud, communicate in the cloud, but for the most part, we still develop on the desktop. Aren’t cloud capabilities useful to us as developers as well?

  • Universal accessibility
  • Instantaneous collaboration
  • Elimination/minimization of installation and setup
  • Familiar web actions and usability

Interestingly, the same developers who create cutting-edge innovative applications can be very conservative about their tools. If it works, why change it? For example, key bindings become almost subconscious. The fingers know them, but the brain can’t say what they are.

Desktop IDEs have become increasingly powerful, providing a wealth of features to the expert programmer.  The flip side of this much power is complexity. While the power/complexity trade-off is acceptable for some types of developers, it is not for many others.

Until the recent past, the cost/benefit trade-off has deterred the advent of more nimble, usable IDEs. Cheap or free enterprise-driven IDEs have been “good enough”. Developers reluctantly use a bloated IDE. Others just give up on IDEs and resort to simple editors and the command line.

The emergence of HTML5, along with a wealth of open source, is changing the dynamics. HTML5 now enables the creation of applications (including IDEs) that have been traditionally developed on a desktop operating system. Eco-systems like jQuery and node.js have a rich set of easily pluggable open source components that can be used to construct powerful applications, in a fraction of the time that it would take on a desktop operating system. Integrated web services create new opportunities for IDE capabilities and monetization.

Cloud9 is the best example of a company riding the Cloud IDE wave. Cloud9 received $5.5 million in venture funding in June. Its run control, debugging, git integration, and console make it the best node.js development environment available.  It is well on its way to becoming a multi-purpose IDE. The bundled ACE editor, a Bespin descendent, supports 26 different languages.

Several other cloud IDEs have recently emerged:
  • akshell – web app creation
  • erbix JS App Editor – ringo.js, an alternative server-side JavaScript framework to node.js
  • shiftEdit – JavaScript/HTML/css with php including a WYSIWYG/Design mode
  • Orion – Eclipse-driven Web IDE that brings the Eclipse plug-in philosophy to the web
  • Neutron IDE – open source personal IDE
  • jsfiddle – JavaScript snippet execution
  • ideone – multiple (>40) language snippet execution
Tools for web developers to create native mobile apps is a particular niche where web IDEs are moving rapidly. Web developers no longer have a self-contained environment with their workstation and browser.  For mobile development, there are several additional complexities that an IDE can aid, including:
  • Deployment
  • Mobile UI frameworks
  • On-device debugging
  • Emulation in desktop browsers
  • Conversion from JavaScript/HTML/CSS to native
  • Packaging for market readiness
  • Web Service APIs
Some of the emerging solutions focused on mobile apps include:

Barriers to entry are lowering thanks to open source and clean API’s typical of web applications. For example, thanks to Ripple and weinre, it took just a few days to add emulation and debugging capabilities to AppLaud Cloud.  The jQuery UI Layout Plug-in made it easy to layout an IDE and jsTree provided a nice framework for a project view. node.js and its rich eco-system provide the building blocks for a powerful server.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter whether an IDE runs on the desktop or HTML5. IDEs need to meet developers’ needs. Because of the rapid pace of innovation in the HTML5 world, its inherent collaboration capabilities, and its enablement of new classes of apps, cloud-based IDEs are moving fast. If you’re not yet developing with a cloud IDE, you soon will be.
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About Paul Beusterien
Tools, Mobile and Web Technologist

2 Responses to Cloud IDEs Are Coming!

  1. Dan1971 says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for this great write-up!

    Dan1971

  2. Great article, Paul! Another one you could add to your list would be Koding (https://koding.com). Worth checking out. 🙂

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