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Trying Out Cloud9 IDE

With the latest Haswell Chromebooks coming out, I’ve been staring at the new HP Chromebook 11 dreaming of having a cheap and light $300 laptop where I have everything I need for 90% of the things I do on a computer. Yes I already have a perfectly good 15” MacBook Pro, but an inexpensive laptop around the size of a Macbook Air sounds pretty cool for traveling around. So to see if I can do it, I switched to Cloud 9 IDE to see if I can completely replace my normal setup with just a web browser.

For reference, so far I’ve moved over two projects:

  • A node.js application I work on, using express.js and MongoDB
  • This blog, which is a jekyll static-generated site

Pros

  • You can completely work on your web application from within a web browser with no local setup. (duh)
  • The editing experience is very similar to Sublime Text, my editor of choice. So a fairly easy conversion.
  • Each project runs in a dedicated VM, meaning no collission between projects with setups, environment config, etc. I’ve become a fan of setting up my environments with Vagrant lately, so this gives you a similar effect.
  • Each VM comes pre-installed with MySQL, MongoDB, Ruby, redis, node.js, and git. There are instructions for installing custom software as well, but fortunately I haven’t had to do that yet.
  • Each VM can expose your application to a public URL. I think this is great if you want to show someone what you’re working on, without having to push up any commits.
  • You get full access to a web-based terminal emulator, meaning you can do just about anything, although slightly sandboxed.
  • It seems to have really good support for the languages I use the most - and the most support for javascript.

Cons

  • The editing is slightly slower than editing in Sublime Text locally. Not enough to be a show-stopper, but typing in the editor in in the terminal windows has a noticable lag.
  • Every once in a while I’ve had to refresh the page because something got stuck. A couple times that was a file I was trying to open that just wouldn’t open. Sometimes the terminal hung. It comes back online pretty quickly when I refresh, and I never lose any work, but it’s still annoying when it happens.
  • Since you completely rely on Cloud9 for the editor, and there is no plugin ecosystem, the editor is far less powerful than you could get with Sublime Text or others. It has good syntax highlighting, and some linting and code completion, but not as good as in a standalone editor.

Unfortunately, something about Cloud9 feels like it’s a project that’s on it’s way to the deadpool. I hope that’s not true - I think it’s a great idea and if it supports everything I need it to do it’s very reasonably priced. I went back and read through the last year or two of their blog posts to learn about the features of the system. While doing it, it appears they’re spending a lot of time on new features like Code Collaboration. Maybe that’ll bring in more users and give them a sustainable business model? Meanwhile, however, some developer-friendly features that have been requested like support for environment variables or jshintrc file support have gone unfixed for 2 years now. So I worry that their 5.5M in funding is going to run out before they figure out how to be sustainable.

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