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Is the future of coding in the Cloud?

By | May 13, 2011

I’ll never forget being blown away by what could be achieved in the browser the first time I saw Gmail, way back in 2005. Since then we’ve seen an ever increasing push towards building applications in “The Cloud”. Document editing can now be done online, and communications tools, calendaring, project management, billing and invoicing tools are now available in a web-browser!

But, the one tool that has been denied passage to the cloud in all this time has been the code-editor. That is, perhaps, until now…

It’s called Cloud9 and it is rocking my HyperText-wrangling world. This browser-based IDE is available as a hosted service or as an opensource standalone product that you install on your workstation. I have even seen some developers put this on a web-server, under lock and key, allowing them to work on projects wherever there is a browser and an internet connection.

Of course, like all other IDEs, Cloud9 has just walked into a crowded room of developers taken by and hotly debating the real question to the meaning of life: Vim vs. Emacs. So, can Cloud9 compete? How does it hold up as a development environment?

I’m not going to have space for a full review here, but let’s do a whirlwind tour of what coding in the cloud looks like today.

I decided to try the roll-your-own version on my Mac and after a git checkout here, a compilation there and a little Apache configuration, I was surprised to find that Cloud9 is really fast. In fact, the time between launching the server in the terminal to the interface loading in the browser was quicker than launching TextMate!

One of the PHP files I opened has around 5000 lines of code and Cloud9 didn’t seem to have much trouble flying back and forth through it, though it could be argued that this is as much Google Chrome’s victory as it is Cloud9’s.

The interface has most of the features you’d anticipate an early version of an IDE to have and includes an impressive web-based terminal at the bottom of the window. If you do happen to sign up for the hosted version, you’ll also find some handy tools for managing your projects and chatting with the team as you work. The only major caveat I found was that some of the usual shortcut keys aren’t always reliable. Sometimes Command-W closed the open file and sometimes it closed the whole browser tab and I lost confidence in it quickly.

Where Cloud9 really shines though, is when you’re working with Node.JS. I’ve only dabbled in it myself, but Cloud9’s interface includes a number of great debugging tools to help you set breakpoints and trace through your server-side JavaScript code. One can only hope they’ll bring some of this whiz-bang to other languages in the future.

But, whether you’re exploring Node.JS, hacking together some serious Python or finessing your CSS I’d encourage you, at the very least, to keep an eye on this space. Because, it’s not Cloud9 in and of itself that has this geek so giddy with excitement. It’s knowing that we’ve finally made it – it’s now theoretically possible to build websites using JUST the web-browser!

Will we all abandon our Vim’s and TextMate’s? Is the future of coding really in The Cloud? Do you think we’ll see a web-based Dreamweaver any time soon? Why not sound off in the comments!?


About the author

Brisbane based Web Developer James Angus has spent the past 10 years helping people solve problems using the Internet. Currently, he helps not-for-profit SU QLD better engage with supporters, volunteers and the general public. On any given day, you’ll find him behind the lens of a camera, up to his eye-balls in Photoshop layers, deep in the bowels of Ruby on Rails and occasionally pumping out a blog post on


  1. Nathan says:

    Great post James! Good to see SU has someone with such knowledge behind the web wheel :) Not many Christian org’s have this benefit!

  2. ejangi says:

    Thanks Nathan, much appreciated!

  3. Thanks for this post James. Its an interesting space. I wonder how integrated will development and hosting become over the next few years?

  4. ejangi says:

    Thanks Steven. That’s a good point. I’m currently exploring what putting Cloud9 on my own hosting looks like. But, I have to imagine this would be a great 1-click or Fantastico application.

  5. Rhys Elsmore says:

    Thanks for the post James.

    I will be rolling out a environment featuring Cloud9 to put it through its paces and see how it handles some of my tasks :)

  6. Ben May says:

    I’ll have to give that one a go one day, looks OK.

    Some of the early web IDE’s I tried were so sluggish, buggy and put me right off.

    What I don’t like about cloud base IDE’s is that if for example it’s based in USA, the round trip now goes from me in QLD, to USA, back to AussieHQ at Canberra, and then all the way back, for. every. little. modification.

    When I have either a local dev server, or an awesome internet connection between my office and production server, doesn’t make sense to introduce a slower link to the equation. (let alone people who do local dev)

    I still reckon it’s a cool idea, just doesn’t really fit into my processes though.

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