Mozilla and Eclipse take programming into the cloud
Thursday, 20 January 2011

Cloud based program development seems to be lagging behind other application areas. Now its seems to be time to move to a cloud based IDE - but only if you write JavaScript.




It's about time we started to eat our own dog food. If the cloud is good enough a paradigm for end users what about us?

I've notice that over time, whether I planned it or not, more and more of the applications I use are hosted in the "cloud" and more-and-more of my data is stored somewhere else. A reasonable trend but I can always be sure where my development environment sits be it Eclipse, Visual Studio, Netbeans or something else - it is going to be running on my local desktop machine. Running an IDE is just too computationally intensive and generally difficult to do any other way than on the desktop.

Now Mozilla and Eclipse are challenging this old fashioned idea.




Mozilla's Bespin project started a while ago (2008)  to bring coding to the cloud and the most difficult thing has been keeping up with its change of name. First it mutated into Skywriter and now it has merged into's Ace project. Skywriter, or whatever its called, was more of an online code editor than a full IDE. In an interesting twist this takes us back to old technology because the Ace editor is based on using the DOM where Skywriter made use of the HTML5 canvas. The advantage is that Ace works with a wider range of browsers - the disadvantage is....

After noticing the "..." Mozilla's Kevin Dangoor responded to the "challenge" with:

There is no disadvantage to Ace's approach. When Bespin was initially created, it was not clear if there was an approach that would yield good performance using the DOM, especially on large (say 30000 lines) files. The canvas approach worked just fine, because the editor focused on just the visible part of the document. It turns out that you can use this same approach using DOM elements, which is exactly what Ace does.

Ace is the editor in Cloud9 which is more like a full IDE for JavaScript. Cloud9 is open source and uses Node-JS to implement its server side support.

The same sort of approach has been taken by Eclipse. Not wanting to be left behind in the move to the cloud (if any) Eclipse has started a new project called Orion. This is a browser based tool that acts as a JavaScript editor although support for HTML, PHP and even Java are contemplated. It is even suggested that Orion could run within the embedded browser within the usual Eclipse environment. What the advantage of this would be isn't exactly clear. You can download an early beta of Orion from the Eclipse site - and yes they too are looking for developers to help out.

You can't help but wonder if the development of the cloud based IDEs wouldn't be better done in cloud based IDEs ... now that would be eating your own dog food.

In response Kevin Dangoor said:

We have, at various points in time, dogfooded Bespin. We stopped when our focus completely shifted to the embedded editor use case instead of the "code in the cloud" case. does dogfood Cloud9 IDE.

and Boris Bokowski Eclipse Platform UI lead added:

The Orion team at IBM has been using Orion as their editor for a little while now (since November if I recall correctly). So yes, we are dogfooding. In fact, in some browsers, the Orion editor is faster than the Eclipse editor, which is the main one we were using before. The improved performance meant that it wasn't hard at all to switch from using Eclipse to using Orion itself, for JavaScript development.

Many of us even use a slightly dangerous set up where we are editing the live code while it is running. Implement a new feature, hit Reload, and start using the feature right away!

So the tradition of compilers written in the language they compile lives on.

More information

Mozilla labs announcement

Cloud9 download

Orion download



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Last Updated ( Friday, 21 January 2011 )