The USS Quad Damage

Moving away from Cloud9

I want to like cloud9 IDE, so I decided to give it a realistic test for a few weeks. However, for various reasons have decided to leave it.

Having a hundred firefox windows open is just too weird for me right now.

In some ways it makes a lot of sense to do what cloud9 is doing, being an entirely cloud based IDE for making cloud based applications. In some ways I was even more impressed with it when I started using it. It really is as minimalist as it appears in the screenshots. It also contains a zen mode an a vi mode. Finally, it also gives you a tiny virtual machine instance to do with as you wish. As a lover of freedom software I love that c9 have open sourced their editor, so you can run it on your own machine, if you like.

The big sell of c9 on the cloud, as opposed to on your machine, is that you really leave the PC behind. You set yourself up on Heroku or some other stack, and use the small machine c9 gives you for development, and it links up seamlessly with github, and it all just works. You can work from pretty much anything with an internet connection and a keyboard. You can be a full developer on a chromebook, an internet cafe, maybe even an Ipad or other tablet.

And it really works, mostly. For some reasons there’s no git commands integrated into the file browser, even though the service itself is git integrated, but this more just puzzling and a minor inconvenience. The editor itself is... fine. The terminal just works. It can launch node.js at the touch of a button. But it feels constrained. Maybe I’m just an old fogey but I find it difficult to deal with when I can’t manipulate my files using my non-cloud-programs.

By the way, when I say the editor is “fine”, don’t mistake this for average. This may be the best editor I’ve ever used. I’ve hopped editors for a long time, from using Emacs at uni to Eclipse at work. I found myself liking vim a lot, but also had my fair share of annoyances, too. First, sometimes you want vim and you get vi, and the way you do things in vim aren’t scalable to vi, so you end up feeling like a leper in your own editor of choice. Second, while I love the modal behaviour, there are too many inconsistent commands. ‘i’ for “insert at this character”, and ‘a’ for “insert after this character”, but ‘p’ for “paste after” and ‘P’ for “paste before”. Third, I dislike how, despite being in the 21st century, the editor still isn’t oriented around a GUI. No other editor came close to vim though. Except this one.

In any case, I couldn’t look at local files on my machine, edit them with an image editor or look at them in various views — looking at it in firefox, or just editing it and hitting “refresh”. c9 has a “preview” button, but it all seemed too far away, too specific. I wanted power and immediacy, and I know that makes me an old fogey because I’m using non-specific big words to hide the fact that I was out of my depth. I just couldn’t find my man cave zen space.

In the end, I wanted to edit a HTML file, and for some reason the file browser just wouldn’t expand, and I was trying to find a way to do a refresh or check my internet connection and finally started asking the question: Why am I even doing this? I can easily pull the git repo onto my drive and just get to work. Having a hundred firefox windows open is just too weird for me right now.

I think c9 comes into its own when used in teams, and especially when used in a workplace. Having your entire workplace in the cloud is pretty killer. Being able to work from home without having a crazy VPN connection or a virus scanner is a boon. The thing cloud apps for workplaces really free you from is the IT department. You could have a workplace full of Chromebooks and an internet connection and pretty much nothing else, and get stuff done, and cloud9 is central to that idea, and the final piece of that puzzle.

I think if you haven’t used cloud9 it’s definitely worth a look. It may not be for you, but it does point the way to the future. Hopefully, it will eventually be able to use dropbox or GDrive or something, and other web apps will also do the same, and you really can just run apps over the web. As it is, maybe the world isn’t quite ready for c9, but it’s not far. I wish them the best of success. Maybe I’ll join again soon.