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Review: 4 killer cloud IDEs

Peter Wayner | April 18, 2013
Surprisingly beefy, browser-based JSFiddle, Icenium, Cloud9, and Codenvy stretch from client-side JavaScript to server-side Java and Web stacks

The older teams working on code in Ruby or Java will take a bit longer. The network latency may be the biggest hassle for them. When I tried to work through a build-debug-fix cycle, I spent too much time wishing for that old behemoth Eclipse and key clicks didn't take a roundtrip on the Internet.

Tools like Xcode, which build native apps that need to connect to hardware like an iPad, will be the last to go. This observation, though, doesn't hold for programmers building their mobile apps out of JavaScript and HTML. The browser is their native environment, and it's a great place to work.

The myriad complaints aren't inescapable road blocks that indicate long-term limits for the tools. The browser code will get smarter, and the foundation for local files, local data, and larger libraries is already baked into HTML5-compatible browsers. The creators of these tools will be moving more and more intelligence to the client, which will eliminate many of the headaches associated with waiting for the events to make a roundtrip on the Internet. This will happen rapidly. In a few years, not many desktop IDEs may be left.

JSFiddle: Fiddle with JavaScript Few programming chores are purer than writing JavaScript, HTML, and CSS in three rectangles in your browser, then watching it run in a fourth. The code is simple and the browser is already heavily optimized to compile the code quickly and efficiently. Setting up a fast loop of writing and testing is easy. The tool will color and tidy up the code for you.

JSFiddle is the latest in a long line of emerging Web tools. Many big Web properties, for instance, offer "sandboxes" for playing with their API directly in a Web page. I've debugged Google Maps code several times in a window that Google built for experimenting with it. The browser's included debugger is all that's necessary.

Like Python Fiddle, a similar tool that runs Python in a JavaScript emulator in your browser, JSFiddle is meant more for tweaking than creating a monstrous piece of code. The tool builds "fiddles," which are smaller blocks of code that might work best as embedded frames. JSFiddle will host your "public fiddles" and even let you fork and extend them much like a revision control system. There aren't elaborate histories, but something to keep in mind if you want to roll back.

Some developers will see JSFiddle as a tool for experimentation and toys because there's little available for working on the server side of the app. The code can easily call APIs, but you won't build any APIs with it. That would be missing the point. The developers clearly want to encourage more snippets and code that can form the building blocks for Web pages.


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