Cloud9 IDE Looks Polished, Feels Unfinished

Cloud9 IDE is a beautifully designed Web-based development environment that falls short on functionality and documentation.

JavaScript is one of the most common scripting languages in the world. In fact, you're almost certainly using it right now, even if you're unaware of the fact. Every modern desktop and mobile Web browser supports JavaScript, and it's used in just about every current website. Cloud9 IDE is a Web-based development environment aimed at making it easier to develop JavaScript-based Web applications. It lives in the cloud, so you need only a Web browser to use it.

Cloud9's code editor component has a long and illustrious history: It is a modern version of Mozilla's ambitious Bespin programmer's text editor (now called Mozilla Skywriter). Since both Cloud9 and Skywriter are open-source projects that focus on code editing in the cloud, integration seems like a natural choice.

For users, this means the code editor is one of the strongest parts in the Cloud9 experience. It features syntax highlighting for JavaScript, CoffeeScript (a JavaScript variant), HTML, XML, CSS, and many other Web-related scripting and markup languages. It also sports eleven different color themes, both light and dark.

But Cloud9 tries to be more than just a code editor: It bills itself as a complete Integrated Development Environment, and so offers JavaScript debugging facilities, project deployment options, GitHub integration, and more. One thing it doesn't offer at this early stage is any sort of documentation. For such a large product, that can quickly become a problem.

Creating a project from scratch with Cloud9 IDE takes quite a bit of work. If you've ever written code using helpful developer scratchpad jsFiddle, you may expect Cloud9 to provide a similar way to quickly integrate a JavaScript framework (Mootools, jQuery, etc.) into your code. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. I found no way to quickly add Mootools (my framework of choice) to my project, so I decided to test Cloud9 by forking an existing project from GitHub.

I forked a project called Pagify, by Chris Polis. It's a simple project, containing just a few files. Once I forked the project, I pointed Cloud9 to my GitHub page and allowed it access. It then quickly copied over the entire Pagify project, letting me edit the JavaScript, HTML, and Markdown files as I saw fit.

Cloud9 also tried to help me by pointing out several spots in the code where it felt there were errors. This was rather strange, as this very same JavaScript code runs in Google Chrome without throwing a single error in the JavaScript console.

When editing a file, Cloud9 offers a "run" button. Clicking this button while editing my perfectly-valid JavaScript file (written by a coder far better than myself) simply printed out a cryptic error into the output console, about a module that failed to load. This error message included no links to documentation or suggestions for resolution. The module was not explicitly referenced anywhere in the code. Queries to the developer went unanswered.

This little episode represents my entire Cloud9 experience. In a word: Frustrating. I felt like the tools I need may be within reach, but the complete lack of documentation made it impossible for me to get over the initial learning curve and become productive with the Cloud9. Hopefully, documentation will be added in due time, and Cloud9 will come to shine like I think it can.

This story, "Cloud9 IDE Looks Polished, Feels Unfinished" was originally published by PCWorld.

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