Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Microsoft Rebrands Editor as Codespaces 

The low-code development movement is getting another boost with the recent introduction on the Microsoft-owned GitHub repository of a new code editor dubbed Codespaces billed as running entirely on a web browser.

Codespaces is built on the same code as Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code (VS Code) editor that has been gaining traction among data science programmers working with popular languages like Python. The rebranded VS Codespaces runs on Linux and Mac OS as well as Windows.

The new code editor draws on containers services to provide server, database and other resources. Proponents said that feature would allow users to specify resource requirements, then move from one development platform to another without having to reconfigure it for difference devices.

“Sometimes the environment of two projects you are working on conflict with one another,” said Shanku Niyogi, GitHub’s product chief.

Codespaces provides a “cloud-hosted [development] environment that spins up in seconds, directly within GitHub, so you can start contributing to a project right away.”

Developers also point to a “remote” feature that taps into a desktop installation of Microsoft VS via a cloud-based web editor. They also emphasize that Codespace, unlike other recent development platforms, is tied directly to GitHub. Hence, accessing a GitHub repository also brings up runtimes and extensions as well as source code.

The browser-based version of the VS Code editor can be configured to load code and dependencies along with developer tools and extensions, GitHub said. Users also have the option of launching Codespace in GitHub, then connecting to it from a desktop.

Along with Python, Microsoft said VS Codespaces also supports Node.js, .NET Core and other programming languages and frameworks.

Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) aggressive shift to open source code development goes back to its 2016 decision to support Linux on Windows. In 2018, it doubled down on open source development with its blockbuster $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub. This past March, it acquired JavaScript code distributor npm Inc.

The code repository said it is initially releasing Codespaces to a small group of GitHub users and expects to make it more widely available in beta form to other users based on availability and sign-up date. The development tool is free during the beta phase, but GitHub said it would eventually adopt a “pay-as-you-go” pricing model for cloud access to VS Codespaces.

According to an industry survey, more than 50 percent of developers polled said they are using VS Code. “Presumably Microsoft hopes to monetize all of these products by winning over developers, who are likely to eventually host their projects on its cloud-hosting platform, Azure,” said developer blogger Owen Williams.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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