Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"What do you think of Cloud9 IDE?"

I think it'll fail.

Cloud9 IDE is bills itself as "development-as-a-service", but it's really just a web-based editor with some built-in support for running Node.js applications. Don't get me wrong, it's a really good web-based editor, but alone isn't going to cut it.

I mean, sure, you can run Node.js... but what about Ruby? Python? PHP? Yeah, you can edit the files, but what good is that without being able to test those changes? Deploy them to a staging server? Production? Run your project's test suites?

Frankly, I think they're got the right idea but the wrong product.

I think they should be selling a "Cloud9 DE" -- a cloud-based development environment.

Let me tell you a story about an old, old Rails project I worked on. It was a popular site -- had millions of visitors a month -- but it was built using the 0.x series of Rails. Old as dirt. Development on it had started way before we got sweet things like Bundler, a more robust Rubygems, etc. And that was reflected in the codebase and some of the hand-written C libraries we had to use to hook into system libraries, etc.

In fact...

It was so damn old and brittle that we couldn't get a local copy running, for any of the developers. Instead, what Our Glorious Leader decided was that he would make copies of the actual production instance running on EC2, scrub the database, and then spin up an EC2 instance with these modified images for each developer.

We worked through SSH, mainly using Vim or Nano, but I actually got some "SSH filesystem" deal going on Ubuntu (can't remember, FUSE?) and could edit my files using Gedit and etc.

It was awful, fucking awful, let me tell you. A completely miserable experience. But if the code weren't such shit, and the concept had been fleshed out just a little more...

So, interlude over, and back to the topic at hand: Cloud9 IDE is the right idea, wrong product.

I think they should be selling remote development environments -- prepackaged Amazon EC2 images, spun up and down on demand, billed by the minute and ready to go for whenever you need to start hacking.

One click should get me a prepackaged EC2 instance ready for the latest Ruby on Rails development, and one more should get me a public (or private) Git repo checked out and ready for development on that EC2 instance.

You'll always get a clean system for every project. Don't run MySQL/etc in the background if this project doesn't need it.

You'll always have SSH access, so if you need to do some tooling around in that project's instance, no problem. Need to run tests, or some other custom shell command? No problem.

You'll always have access to your development machine, no matter where you are, via the Cloud9 IDE itself. Don't like the interface? Mount the filesystem using FUSE and hack the code with your favorite IDE.

Taking it one step further, let teams create their own prepackaged developer images so that getting a new developer set up is as simple as adding him to a team in the Cloud9 IDE. Now you're suddenly measuring developer set up time in minutes.

That's valuable. That's worth money.

A web-based editor for $14.99/mo? No.

Remote development environments like the one above ~$60/mo? Hell yes.


Anonymous said...

Hey good article. I'm a java programmer and usually I use sites like and What do you think about this compiling services that are coming out ?

Ruben Daniels said...

Hey, really good idea! You are spot on and that's actually what we are building. As you can imagine we won't have everything ready in one go. What good would the spinned up VM be without the editor and vice versa. So we first built the editor and are now working on the VM's. But guess what, we're aiming to provide these VM's for a lot less than $60/mo. I hope we'll impress you when we release that.

Ruben Daniels
CEO Cloud9 IDE

Zombie said...

Hey Ruben,

I use Cloud9 for Rails development in a daily basis and I love it.
The only low point of the tool is the Terminal. You have to put focus on that and make it responsive, fast and reliable. As you well know, Rails depends a lot in shell commands. The Terminal has to be excellent. Also, you have a lot work to do with Heroku Toolbelt integration. If you succeed in those tweaks, the tool will be flawless.