LearnEditing Code in the Cloud

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writes on March 2, 2011

I’ve thought for a long time about the possibility of being able to do all of my programming in my browser. It feels partly impractical but partly like a really neat idea. Imagine being able to hack together some code from anywhere, with or without your own computer. Here in the past couple of months, though, that idea has become a bit more of a reality. I’ve come across two projects lately that are implementing browser based editors, both based on Ajax.org’s Ace, formerly known as Mozilla Bespin.

SourceKit

SourceKit is a Chrome app that allows users to edit source code files from their DropBox account. The editor doesn’t have that many features but still, in a pinch, it’s a really great way to edit a file. I especially noticed missing setting soft tabs and setting my tab width. I like that it makes your DropBox files available for editing, because I keep my personal projects in my DropBox for a little extra backup.

Cloud9

Cloud9 IDE is a far more full featured editor. One thing that really impressed me with Cloud9 is that you can link it to your GitHub account and see all of your personal GitHub repositories. It also supports the features I felt like I was missing in SourceKit, like soft tabs and tab width settings. There’s even a whole set of collaboration features, like chat and collaborative editing. They seem to be especially promoting Cloud9 IDE for editing JavaScript, and it includes a feature to run JavaScript code from within the IDE. Unfortunately, no other languages can be run within the IDE, and because saves don’t happen on your computer or even to folder synced to your computer, like in SourceKit’s case, it’s pretty tough to run code that isn’t JavaScript after you edit it. A quick check also confirmed that I couldn’t preview html files within the editor either. Even with those shortcomings I’m really impressed with where Cloud9 IDE is headed, and I’m betting within a year or so they’ll have a pretty good development workflow hammered out in their tool.

What These Tools Need

I think from checking out these early tools it’s pretty obvious what they need, and that’s a great way to run code during development. It’s really hard to program or even work with markup without being able to quickly check your work by running your tests or making a few clicks in your app. Yes, Cloud9 supports running JavaScript, but in the case of one of the JavaScript projects that I work on, handlebars.js, we use Ruby to do some setup and run the tests. Most of the projects I’ve worked on don’t have a simple enough testing setup that any third party could easily run the tests using generic tools. Most web apps, for example, need a particular type of database running (and sometimes more than one type).

How do you think these tools will get around these issues? Can you see yourself editing code and markup in your browser?

12 Responses to “Editing Code in the Cloud”

  1. Neil Murphy on March 7, 2011 at 10:29 am said:

    What is the point of people creating tools that are many times worse than the best we have now and then saying -signup its the cloud!! Or whatever is the latest fashion? People are getting hysterical over the cloud, but its just a tool, which is currently overhyped and over priced.

    The problem with all cloud based activity (apart from price and hype) is that as soon as you are not connected to the net you can access nothing.

    Its also nothing brilliant, just a rehash of 1960s and 1970s bureau services. It also carries risk that cloud providers disappear, sometimes at no notice,so what happens to your data? Your tools?

    The cloud delivers very little of any value, is immature and over priced. I use external applications like Google Docs and one or two others, and can see a value to them, but internet access is not ubiquitous and until it is the cloud can at best be a side issue to the rest of our activities.

    For editing, when a cloud app provides all the development facilities I need, is stable and better than what I can download I will consider it.

  2. Try shiftEdit. Up to 3 projects for free. The paid for version includes extra features. I’m not a web professional but it seems ok to me.

  3. a little over 2 years ago http://ecoder.quintalinda.com/ was released – it’s open-source and free to use, but does not have many of the features of the other apps mentioned here.

  4. Hey – dev of SourceKit here. Thanks for the mention! I found that if you had the Dropbox sync software on, you can simply treat this as a normal editor and run your code in your local box pretty much immediately! I won’t be shocked though if you find that SourceKit will work on other storage mechanism / platforms 🙂

  5. We’re working on a web-based IDE at http://gnymb.us. It’s based on Eclipse and will include version control support.

  6. You might also check out Codeita, http://www.codeita.com/ (I think they’re a local startup in LA). I have only played around with it a bit, but it’s pretty slick. (free right now)

  7. Here is another interesting attempt http://kodingen.com/ So far I have not been able to get useful stuff done but it is ambitious..

  8. Are they both free?

    I can see someone creating a really well crafted tool like this that devs would pay monthly to use.

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