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Will Orion get developers to code in the cloud?

Neil McAllister | March 24, 2011
The Eclipse Foundation's Orion Web-based developer platform has a long way to go if it hopes to replace traditional tools

Beyond the editor itself, Orion offers basic integration with the Git source code version control system. Users can check out code, commit changes, and browse the version history, allowing for basic collaborative development, all from within the Orion desktop interface.

Orion -- like a dog riding a bicycle
As impressive as Orion may be, however, it's also distinctly underwhelming. A programmer's editor running inside a browser window might sound extraordinary, but so does a dog riding a bicycle. Neither is particularly useful.

An introductory video on the Orion website promises that Orion offers "numerous features to help make you a more productive developer," but frankly, this is marketing drivel. To list a few of these features, Orion allows you to comment a block of code with a single keypress; you can increase or reduce indentation on code blocks; you can navigate files by class or HTML element ID; and it has a fully functional undo/redo feature.

In other words, a developer who isn't already as "productive" as Orion allows should probably be looking for a new line of work. In fact, most traditional IDEs -- even Eclipse -- include many more productivity features than Orion offers now or could probably ever hope to offer. Code autocompletion is practically a must for verbose languages such as Java, for example, but I'd settle for the ability to expand and collapse blocks of code. And while Orion lets you search through files using either plain text or regular expressions, I couldn't find any way to replace text. (Frustratingly, half the control keys I pressed turned out to be valid Orion key commands, while the other half sent commands to my browser -- such as Ctrl+R.) When you pit Orion against an editor with very strong text manipulation capabilities, such as Emacs, there's really no comparison.

The cloud storage model isn't necessarily the best way to manage files for a programming project, either. Developers simply don't relate to their files the same way users of word processors or spreadsheet applications do. If you've ever performed a complex search-and-replace procedure on multiple source files using Unix command-line tools such as grep and sed, you'll see immediately how having your code locked away on OrionHub could be a huge time sink. Of course, you can always have Orion package your code into a Zip archive, download it, and perform your manipulations on your own workstation -- but if you have to do that, why wouldn't you use a desktop IDE to begin with?


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