Cloud9 IDE Puts Cloud to Developers’ Advantage

Your typical developer, according to the cliché, is a creature of largely sedentary habits, never straying far from a tricked-out workstation with its multiple monitors and perhaps a small refrigerator loaded with enough caffeinated beverages to make a rhino’s heart explode. But as with most clichés, there’s a significant element of untruth in that image: many developers are constantly on the road, shuttling from meeting to meeting, doing some of their best work on airplanes and in coffee shops.

The developers and executives behind Cloud9 IDE, a cloud-based development environment for Javascript and Node.js applications (in addition to HTML, CSS, Ruby and other languages), know the true developer lifestyle. Hence the addition of several new features to the platform, including the ability to collaborate with other developers in real-time on the same chunk of code, and work offline—all things a busy developer needs on the move.

“We wanted a killer app, a way for people to solve some of their core problems,” Ruben Daniels, CEO and co-founder of Cloud9 IDE, said in an interview. That app began as a somewhat bare-bones user interface, which a small group of developers built into something progressively more advanced; today, the company has 120,000 customers relying on its core technology.

Daniels seems determined to keep Cloud9 IDE close to its open-source roots. “We’re free for open-source use, and the moment people start having commercial projects, they pay us a fee.” Open-source use, he added, “will always remain free.”

The aforementioned real-time collaboration lets distributed teams edit and debug in real time, with visual elements such as colored cursors allowing members to share a screen and work in sync. The platform allows teams to either chat in a group or one-on-one.

What about the ability to track which users are making changes—a log history of some sort? “It is there but it’s not exposed right now,” Daniels said. “It has that capability; in the future we will probably record it on disk.”

Leveraging Cloud9 IDE’s home in the cloud to its fullest extent, the platform’s premium accounts now give developers a terminal attached to their workspace, so they can run commands to compile apps. “If people have their own runtime environment in the cloud, it needs to feel like they’re working locally,” Daniels said, adding that the built-in terminal is a good way “to get professional developers into the cloud.”

The platform also supports auto-complete for code, pulling data from Javascript and Node.js APIs. “It knows the objects that are there, user-created objects in libraries that we’re supporting,” Daniels added. “For the first libraries we’ll have an extension store later on this year; we’ll also allow dictionaries to be added.”

The fourth new feature, and possibly the most useful to those developers constantly on the move is offline support. The local version of Cloud9 IDE allows users to sign into their account on a local computer that’s offline; reestablishing the Web connection syncs the local and online versions of a project.

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