Mozilla Launches Very Slick Cloud-Based IDE

By Josh Catone
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With every other piece of software going the “as a service” route, it was only a matter of time that someone would write a browser-based IDE. Last night Mozilla’s Developer Tools Lab launched a public beta (dubbed an “experimental prototype” by Mozilla) of Bespin, which marries the slickness of a desktop IDE with the convenience of a web based app using JavasScript and the HTML5 Canvas element, with a Python backend.

Because the editor uses HTML5 elements, it only works with modern browsers that support Canvas. It has been tested with the latest Firefox 3 and Webkit nightlies — but I didn’t have any problems with it using Firefox 3.06.

Prior to development, Mozilla laid out a set of standards for Bespin. They set out to create an editor that was fast, as simple to use as Textmate, accessible from anywhere, had an integrated command line, supported real-time collaboration, and existed in a “self-hosted” environment. In other words, Mozilla’s ambitious plan was to take the best of popular editors like Textmate, vi, Emacs, SubEthaEdit, and recreate them in a web application.

Ultimately, Mozilla’s goal with Bespin is to create an “extensible framework for Open Web development.” To that end, the code of the editor has been released under the open source Mozilla Public License.

In the video below, developer Dion Almaer introduces Bespin.

In my limited testing of Bespin today, I came away very impressed. A couple of months ago I started researching a project aimed at creating something very similar with a friend. We didn’t get much farther than an textarea that did automatic line numbering. But as part of the initial research into the concept, I spent a good deal of time looking for web based IDEs. I found a couple of pretty solid ones, such as CodePress and 9ne, but nothing quite matches what Mozilla has just released to the world in terms of slickness of presentation.

For an “experimental prototype,” Bespin is quite solid. It features text highlighting, line numbering, copy/paste, and undo/redo. The collaboration features are not yet active, but there are some UI cues included in the tech demo for them. The Bespin site also hints at an upcoming feature that will allow people to automatically pull in code for open source projects from public repositories and have a project automagically set up. I did have a little trouble getting copy and paste to work with text copied from an outside source, but that’s essentially a minor issue given that this is a 0.1 version of Bespin.

Give it a try and then let us know what do you think of Bespin in the comments below.

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  • Frak

    Let the copyright infringement lawsuits begin!

  • How did you copy from an outside source and paste into Bespin? I tried it but had no success. I also noticed no ‘open’ function. And where exactly does it save the files? I know this is just a demo, but I really want to start using this effectively.

    Although this demo is very promising.

  • @Mesmer: I actually couldn’t get it to work, unfortunately. I probably should have used stronger text than “a little trouble.” ;)

    UI wise, I actually find everything around the text area part of the editor pretty clumsy. But I can chalk that up to being a super early tech demo. What’s there is very impressive, imho.

  • Jost86

    Reminds me of, which is an online Ruby on Rails IDE

  • alex ward

    Impressive, both in the technical accomplishments and in the new ideas and ambitions discussed. I look forward to seeing how this grows over time.

  • Well, I checked it out a little. I think I’ll stick with Netbeans or Notepad++ for now. It seemed slow to me, and the thought of not being able to work without an internet connection seems lame at best. Also, not being able to tab multiple lines is a show stopper for me.

  • Looks alright, might be of help when you are out of the office and you get a phone call saying some code is broken. You could jump on any old PC and have a good alternative to notepad.

  • philmcdonnell

    I also could not get the copy/paste function working from an outside source using Firefox3.

    The editor is very cool but lacking many features, I hope that as time goes on it will become more full featured as it would be nice to be able to develop anywhere…

    Keep up the good work, I will keep my eye on this project!

  • graphicmist

    Well….getting access to ur coding environment from everywhere is cool. !! i really liked it. will keep my eye on it.

  • What’s the point of an online text editor?? Seems daft to me. I use (and love) Zend Studio.

  • graphicmist

    What’s the point of an online text editor?? Seems daft to me. I use (and love) Zend Studio.

    your answer is already in the above comment by @NetNerd85

  • Raja Sekharan

    I can smell the non-conformism as far away as in India.

    Bespin developers – We don’t want a “BETTER” way to walk, we just want a uniform way to walk. We liked the tree file structure.

  • Thanks, graphicmist.

    I imagine most web developers would just simply jump on their laptop and use their existing, favoutite editor/IDE!

    I certainly wasn’t aware of any great demand from web developers for an online IDE.

  • littlejim84

    Im definitely keeping my eye on this. I want to go travelling next year, and thought of being able to code in any reasonable internet cafe around the world seems brilliant.

    Good work! Not quite there yet, but great innovation.

  • Notepad++ has a portable version. I guess you would have to remember your USB stick, but Notepad++ is WAY better than what I’ve seen with this IDE.

    Check it out at:

  • @littlejim84

    I’m just back from two weeks skiing in the Alps. I would highly recommend you get yourself a laptop.

    You can get free wifi all over the place. If you really must, you can pay for wifi in any internet cafe (I never needed to). You can then code with your favourite app on your own computer and have all your files etc to hand!

    Judging by the amount of people I saw using their laptops and taking advantage of the free wifi, it would surprise me if there was a great demand for an online IDE with its inherent limitations. I’m not aware of any such demand, and therefore don’t see this as an “innovation”.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure if I gave it some thought, I could think of an instance when such a thing *might* be of use but my point is, I don’t see any great demand for it and therefore not much point to it, or at least not much point in making a big deal about it.

    If you know that web developers have been crying out for such a thing for years, I’d be really interested to learn more.

    About mobility. I’ve got a data card in my laptop, I have used that all over the UK, no need even for wifi. Today in the UK you can get a new laptop complete with mobile broadband for £20 a month. This together with abundant wifi spots, means that your averge web developer should be able to develop on his/her own machine, any time, any place, and with no need for an online IDE!

  • picasso-trigger

    Client: “Hey Web Developer … I just hit a page on our blog and it’s giving me this weird error.”

    Web Developer: “OK Client, as soon as I get back in the office I will look into it. Give me 30 minutes, I’m almost done my lunch.”

    Client: “Great, thanks!”

  • picasso-trigger

    Don’t get me wrong, I think this is cool and all … but cloud computing to me really makes sense when you are dealing with data. Like … having your repository in a cloud, or your email.

    But your text-editor? I don’t really see a strong enough “why” being answered. I have e-texteditor installed on all machines I personally use. My office and home computers.

  • Cloud-based IDE?

    What’s so cloud about it?

  • Toby Skinner

    I think it’s a great idea and whilst i wont replace my Eclipse/Dreamweaver/Textpad IDEs yet, I will certainly look to having a service like this available on my dev servers in the near future.

    Performance and command api i think look great. Also the heatmap idea looks interesting although not sure that collab idea will work, can see all kinds of confliction resolution having to happen there (unless you request a lock on a function to edit it maybe).

    Would like to see support for php & sql syntax highlighting, svn integration and some kind of ftp/webdav.

  • cafesecurity

    is it a good idea to access your code on a shared computer? source code is a pretty sweet honeypot for a hacker.