# Tuesday, 22 July 2008

I was reading an interesting post at Ted Leung’s blog called, “IDE’s and Dynamic Languages”.  It is interesting to me for a number of reasons.  One is how a Text Editor can be considered an IDE, even though Ted does say that automatic syntax verification and code completion is certainly beyond a Text Editor.  


One thing that did surprise me was no discussion on debuggers as part of an IDE.  How can people code using a text editor without a debugger?  I guess I have been (totally) spoiled back in the VB6 days (yes, I will admit it) that I could step though code and when I bumped into an error, I could back up the debugger a few statesments, make my correction and keep on stepping through.  I have never been as productive since!  Know what I mean?  Yes, I know this says nothing about design, but an IDE is a tool for using a programming language, yes?  So how come we (as in developers) have so few tools or is that choice of tools?


According to a recent analyst report, 97% of developers on the .NET framework use Visual Studio and over 70% use Eclipse or Eclipse based IDE’s for Java.  As much as I love Visual Studio, and being a .NET developer, I have no control as to what I want in an IDE.  Worse yet, with the emerging new dynamic languages, IronRuby, IronPython and Managed Jscript, have almost no tool support at all in Visual Studio.  While there have been some announcements, and articles and some tooling, its like bolt-ons to Visual Studio and still yet to come.


As a .NET developer, specifically a .NET web developer, I would like to use something other than Visual Studio to develop web applications using a dynamic language. My wish list is for something lightweight and web-based so that I can explore using, an interactive interpreter and a simple code editor just using a web browser.  Maybe something like this:




And this:



This was my first version of a web-based “very” lightweight IDE that used a JavaScript based interactive console and a JavaScript based code editor.  You can download the code from Codeplex


Several months have passed since I released this and I have been working on a new version that targets the IronPython 2 and the DLR.  In that time, other folks have started to develop similar web-based interactive consoles and code editors.  One example is Jim Hugunin’s DLR (interactive) Console which you can download from the Silverlight Dynamic Languages SDK.  I should point out that this is a modified version.  Also note that it uses Silverlight:



As an old ASP.NET/AJAX/JavaScript/HTML/CSS developer, I am quite excited about Silverlight for a number of reasons.  I am hoping the adoption rate and the tooling for this technology also increases over time.  Silverlight development also suffers from not being fully integrated in Visual Studio, but I should be fair as it is also Beta.  But trying to run a Silverlight “web” application on a web server and interacting with other lanaguages is tough at best.  But the rich UI experience is really quite nice compared to old school ASP.NET forms apps.  So even after 6 months of releasing my lightweight dynamic languages development environment, I am still torn between “tried and trued” JavaScript and the new Silvelight.


I thought about how I would implement intellisense in a JavaScript console and cringed at the thought of actually how to implement this.  I could see using a few of the controls from the AJAX Control Toolkit to implement this, but it would be quite the effort.  Not only does the DLR console support intellisense, but so does Daniel Eloff's interactive console called :



Wow, I am impressed!


Here is another web based shell (that you cannot download) from Oleg Tkachenko:



Also Michael Foord has a Silverlight based Python in the Browser:



Jimmy Schementi has an IronRuby console:




Of course there are other implementations, but they are not web-based.  Nonetheless, Joe Sox’s IronTextBox works very well:



And Stefan Dobrev's DLR Pad:



And Ben Hall has just released his IronEditor:



So what’s my point?  I think all of these projects are great and kudos to the people that built them.  It takes a lot of time and effort above and beyond just regular work hours. I have been there myself, my hats off to you folks!  But, there are 8 versions of the interactive console and a few versions of a basic code editor.  I know it may be a dream, but it would be great to collaborate with these people and write out a simple set of requirements for what a great DLR console and code editor would be.  And then as a virtual team, implement it.


After all, to a large degree, it will be how well supported the language is from a tools perspective that will really determine the rate of adoption.  And right now, the tools (or IDE) experience for Dynamic Languages on .NET is severely lacking to the point of having several people independently developing their own tooling.  In this post I only pointed out a handful of these tools and I know there are others, but I was really targeting web-based IDE’s.  Maybe that is an opportunity?  Or is it a pipe dream?


I am also wondering how, in a code editor, one could hook up a debugger to actually step through the code, regardless what Dynamic Language (or Static or JavaScript or Silverlight) is being used?  Hopefully I won’t have to wait until PDC 2008 to see what the next step is from MSFT.  Who knows maybe there is enough interest to develop a Web-based IDE for Dynamic Languages on .NET.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008 16:35:28 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Comments [2]
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