It’s déjà vu all over again, as the Eclipse Foundation released version 1.0 of a new IDE originally created by IBM. But this time, the IDE lives on a server and in your browser. The Orion Project hit version 1.0 on Oct. 29, heralding a new era of browser-based development.
While Orion isn’t yet in a place where developers can toss out their existing IDEs, it’s still maturing at an accelerated rate, and, as with all open-source software, the community will be the deciding factor in its success. But from the perspective of existing Eclipse users, the potential for a Web-based tool platform is definitely enticing.
Harish Grama, vice president of product development at IBM Rational, hoped that Orion will be popular with the RIA crowd. He’s in charge of the team that developed Orion, and he said that in five years, he would like to see this as the main way of doing rich Internet applications. “I’d like to see it adopted by a lot of the companies in that space, and for this to be open source and open standards-based, and with a thriving community contributing to it,” he said.
The road map for Orion is fairly steep now that version 1.0 has arrived. The team is planning for a February 2013 release of version 2.0, and has similarly rapid plans for future point releases.
Orion is a completely standalone attempt to build an Eclipse-like tool platform on the Web, without any of the existing Eclipse baggage. “We came to the conclusion that just taking Eclipse and making that ‘webified’ was not the right design decision,” said Grama. “People who live on the Web expect certain behaviors and aren’t tied to one server. This version deals more with all the Web principles, and stays away from the SWT and Eclipse way of doing things.”
While Orion has gathered a following, and has even spawned IDE-as-a-Service startup Cloudifier, it’s still too focused on experts, according to Freddy May, founder and CEO of Application Craft, a provider of a mobile desktop in the cloud. He said that Orion is for very knowledgeable coders, and not yet ready for the front-line novice and intermediate developers. Specifically, he said his company aims to build a tool that is usable by developers who may be longing for the days of Visual Basic.
May also said that Web-based IDEs tend to be lacking in one extremely important area: “One of the things very few people do is make sure you can do UI design. Most of the IDEs are effectively glorified code editors. What we put a lot of effort into is drag-and-drop UI design, including support for responsive design and pages that resize for phones and tablets.”
Benjamin Mestrallet, founder and CEO of eXo, is also interested in Web-based IDEs. His company offers a content-management system as its primary line of business, but on the side, it has built Cloud-IDE.com.
“That was the first cloud service we launched,” he said. “It’s been a good experiment. We added stuff for our customers that wanted to build applications for the eXo platform we sell, but we wanted to attract a larger scope of developers. So, we opened the IDE so it would work outside of our platform. It will remain a free service. We’re not going to monetize. Its goal is to give developers the best tools possible to deploy applications to the cloud, and part of those developers will be interested in building eXo applications at some point and use our platform.”
The alternative business model is that of Cloud9, which offers a premium version of its Web-based IDE for around US$12 per month. With all these competing platforms maturing together, 2013 should be a watershed year for the Web-based IDE.