We corp-rat developers typically do most real work in some big honkin’ desktop IDE, yet dream of popping into a browser or lightweight shell to get things done. For example, with much of my PHP and Ruby code, I can ssh and vim from anywhere, but my Java work is hopelessly tied to a single laptop. If only we could combine the rich features of an IDE with the shareability and convenience of a cloud environment.

That’s what projects like OrionHub and Codenvy seek to accomplish. Orion seems to have stalled a bit, but since Codenvy is quickly moving forward (and ambitiously taking on Java EE development), I gave it a try.

Codenvy supports a variety of languages, frameworks and cloud platforms, but I only needed Java: for a standalone JAR, and some web code with Spring and Tomcat.

Codenvy works hard to re-create an IDE-style environment in the browser, and does a good job of it. It has an Eclipse-like layout and features, and even many of the same keyboard shortcuts. There were plenty of gaps and differences to remind me that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, yet I could adjust to those. Even required periodic browser refreshes were OK; they always took me back to some reasonable point.

But it was just too sluggish and buggy for anything but small projects. Granted, Eclipse desktop itself is infamous for stalls, crashes, and sudden disappearances, but this is another level. I suspect some of that can be addressed with faster servers and networks. Indeed, to use this for real work, I’d need the on-premise version where I could control that along with back-end interfaces.

I’ll keep an eye on Codenvy and use it where it fits. It’s great for sharing and collaborating on small bits of code, like a jsFiddle for Java. And maybe soon it’ll be the envy of every developer tied to a desktop IDE.

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