Tag Archives: open source

Microsoft and GitHub, and will GitHub get worse?

Microsoft has announced an agreement to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion (in Microsoft stock). Nat Friedman, formerly CEO of Xamarin, will become GitHub’s CEO, and GitHub will continue to run somewhat independently. A few comments.

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Background: GitHub is a cloud-based source code repository based on Git, a distributed version control system created by Linus Torvalds. It is free to use for public, open source projects but charges a fee (from 7$ to $21 per user per month) for private repositories.

First, why? This one is easy. Microsoft is a big customer of GitHub. Microsoft used to have its own hosting service for open source software called CodePlex but abandoned it in favour of GitHub, formally closing CodePlex in March 2017:

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of amazing options come and go but at this point, GitHub is the de facto place for open source sharing and most open source projects have migrated there. We migrated too.

said Brian Harry.

Microsoft also uses GitHub for its documentation, and this has turned out to be a big improvement on its old documentation sites.

Note also that Microsoft has many important open source projects of its own, including much of its developer platform (.NET Core, ASP.NET Core and Entity Framework Core). Many of its projects are overseen by the .NET Foundation. Other notable open source, Github-hosted projects include Visual Studio Code, a programmer’s editor that has won many friends, and TypeScript, a typed superset of JavaScript that compiles to standard JavaScript code.

When big companies become highly dependent on the services of another company they may become anxious about it. What if the other company were taken over by a competitor? What if it were to run into trouble, or to change in ways that cause problems? Acquisition is an easy solution.

In the case of GitHub, there was reason to be anxious since it appears not to be profitable – unsurprising given the large number of free accounts.

Second, Microsoft is always pitching to developers, trying to attract them to its platform and especially Azure services. It has a difficult task because it is the Windows company and the Windows platform overall is in decline, versus Linux on servers and Android/iOS on mobile. Therefore it is striving to become a cross-platform company, and with considerable success. I discuss this at some length in this piece. Note that there is a huge amount of Linux on Azure, including “more than 40%” of the virtual machines. More than 50%? Maybe.

If Microsoft can keep GitHub working as well as before, or even improve it, it will do a lot to win the confidence of developers who are currently outside the Microsoft platform ecosystem.

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Will GitHub get worse?

The tricky question: under Microsoft, will GitHub get worse? The company’s track record with acquisitions is spotty, ranging from utter disasters (Nokia, Danger) to doubtful (Skype), to moderately successful so far (LinkedIn, Xamarin).

Under the current leadership, I doubt anything bad will happen to GitHub. I’d guess it will migrate some infrastructure to Azure (GitHub runs mainly from its own datacentres as I understand it) but there is no need to re-engineer the platform to run on Windows.

Some businesses will be uncomfortable hosting their valuable source code with Microsoft. That is understandable, in the same way that I hear of retailers reluctant to use Amazon Web Services (since it is a platform owned by a competitor), but it is a low risk. Others have long-standing mistrust of Microsoft and will want to migrate away from GitHub because of this.

Personally I think it is right to be wary of any giant global corporation, and dislike the huge and weakly regulated influence they have on our lives. I doubt that Microsoft is any worse than its peers in terms of trustworthiness but of course this is open to debate.

Another point: with this acquisition, free GitHub hosting for open source projects will be likely to continue. The press release says:

GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries. Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects — and will still be able to deploy their code to any operating system, any cloud and any device.

It is of course in Microsoft’s interests to make this work and the success of Visual Studio Code and TypeScript (which also come from the developer side of the company) shows that it can make cross-platform projects work. So I am optimistic that GitHub will be OK.

Update: I’ve noticed Sam Newman and Martin Fowler taking this view, a good sign from a people I respect and who are by no means from the usual Microsoft crowd.

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Official announcements

Press release: https://news.microsoft.com/?p=406917

Chris Wanstrath’s Blog Post: https://blog.github.com/2018-06-04-github-microsoft/

Satya Nadella’s Blog Post: https://blogs.microsoft.com/?p=52553832

PowerShell documentation stubs: frustrating for users

I’ve been writing a piece on PowerShell, Microsoft’s generally excellent scripting and automation platform. PowerShell is also largely open source, in its cross-platform, PowerShell Core guise.

Of course I went straight to the official documentation as part of my research. Looks good; but I was puzzled. I would find a promising topic like Object Pipeline, which says:

In this chapter, we will describe how the Windows PowerShell pipeline differs from the pipelines of most popular shells, and then demonstrate some basic tools that you can use to help control pipeline output and also to see how the pipeline operates.

Then I clicked around to read the chapter, and struggled to find the content.

Eventually I figured out the problem, by going to the GitHub repository for the documentation. This content is not yet written. Microsoft’s JuanPablo Jofre has written stubs, either with the intention of completing them later, or perhaps in the hope that the community will step up and help.

Open Source is great, but the user experience of finding stub documents in official documentation, that is not clearly marked as such, is frustrating.

I do not recall this kind of issue in Microsoft documentation written in the old closed-source world, which makes me wonder if the documentation team is under resourced – though the most important part of the documentation, the cmdlet reference, is pretty good in my experience.

My view of PowerShell is that it is now a critically important part of the Microsoft platform. It is not only a tool for managing Windows Server, but also for Microsoft’s online services such as Office 365, Azure Active Directory and other Azure services.

It is worth getting the documentation right.

Running ASP.NET 5.0 on Nano Server preview

I have been trying out Microsoft’s Nano Server Preview and wrote up initial experiences for the Register. One of the things I mentioned is that I could not get an ASP.NET app successfully deployed. After a bit more effort, and help from a member of the team, I am glad to say that I have been successful.

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What was the problem? First, a bit of background. Nano Server does not run the .NET Framework, presumably because it has too many dependencies on pieces of Windows which Microsoft wanted to omit from this cut-down deployment. Nano Server does support .NET Core, also known as Core CLR, which is the open source fork of the .NET Framework. This enables it to run PowerShell, although with a limited range of cmdlets, and my main two ways of interacting with Nano Server are with PowerShell remoting, and Windows file sharing for copying files across.

On your development machine, you need several pieces in order to code for ASP.NET 5.0. Just installing Visual Studio 2015 RC will do, except that there is currently an incompatibility between the version of the ASP.NET 5.0 .NET Core runtime shipped with Visual Studio, and what works on Nano Server. This meant that my first effort, which was to build an empty ASP.NET 5.0 template app and publish it to the file system, failed on Nano Server with a NativeCommandError.

This meant I had to dig a bit more deeply into ASP.NET 5.0 running on .NET Core. Note that when you deploy one of these apps, you can include all the dependencies in the app directory. In other words, apps are self-hosting. The binary that enables this bit of magic is called DNX (.NET Execution Environment); it was formerly known as the K runtime.

Developers need to install the DNX SDK on their machines (Windows, Mac or Linux). There is currently a getting started guide here, though note that many of the topics in this promising documentation are as yet unwritten.

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However, after installation you will be able to use several handy commands:

dnvm This is the .NET Version manager. You can have several versions of the DNX runtime installed and this utility lets you list them, set aliases to save typing full paths, and manage defaults.

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dnu This is the .NET Development Utility (formerly kpm) that builds and publishes .NET Core projects. The two commands I found myself using regularly are dnu restore which downloads Nuget (.NET repository) packages and dnu publish which packages an app for deployment. Once published, you will find .cmd files in the output which you use to start the app.

dnx This is the binary which you call to run an app. On the development machine, you can use dnx . run to run the console app in the current directory and dnx . web to run the web app in the current directory.

Now, back to my deployment issues. The Visual Studio templates are all hooked to DNX beta 4, and I was informed that I needed DNX beta 5 for Nano Server. I played around with trying to get Visual Studio to target the updated DNX but ran into problems so decided to ignore Visual Studio and do everything from the command line. This should mean that it would all work on Mac and Linux as well.

I had a bit of trouble persuading DNX to update itself to the latest unstable builds; the main issue I recall is targeting the correct repository. You NuGet sources must include (currently) https://www.myget.org/F/aspnetvnext/api/v2.

Since I was not using Visual Studio, I based my samples on these, Hello World Console, MVC and Web apps that you can use for testing that everything works. My technique was to test on the development machine using dnx . web, then to use dnu publish and copy the output to Nano Server where I could run ./web.cmd in a remote PowerShell session.

Note that I found it necessary to specify the CoreClr 64-bit runtime in order to get dnu to publish the correct files. I tried to make this the default but for some reason* it reverted itself to x86:

dnu publish –runtime "c:\users\[USERNAME]\.dnx\runtime\dnx-coreclr-win-x64.1.0.0-beta5-11701"

Of course the exact runtime version to use will change soon.

If you run this command and look in the /bin/output folder you will find web.cmd, and running this should start the app. The port on which the app listens is set in project.json in the top level directory of the project source. I set this to 5001, opened that port in the Windows Firewall on the Nano Server, and got a started message on the command line. However I still could not browse to the app running on Nano Server; I got a 400 error. Even on the development machine it did not work; the browser just timed out.

It turned out that there were several issues here. On the development machine, which is running Windows 10 build 10074, I discovered to my annoyance that the web app worked fine with Internet Explorer, but not in Project Spartan, sorry Edge. I do not know why.

Support also gave me some tips to get this working on Nano Server. In order for the app to work across the network, you have to edit project.json so that localhost is replaced either with the IP number of the server, or with a *. I was also advised to add dnx.exe to the allowed apps in the firewall, but I do not think this is necessary if the port is open (it is a nuisance, since the location of dnx.exe changes for every app).

Finally I was successful.

Final observations

It seems to me that ASP.NET vNext running on .NET Core has the characteristic of many open source projects, a few dedicated people who have little time for documentation and are so close to the project that their public communications assume a fair amount of pre-knowledge. The site I referenced above does have helpful documentation though, for the few topics that are complete. Some other posts I found helpful are this series by Steve Perkins, and the troubleshooting suggestions here especially David Fowler’s post.

I like The .NET Core initiative overall since I like C# and ASP.NET MVC and now it is becoming a true cross-platform framework. That said, the code does seem to be in rapid flux and I doubt it will really be ready when Visual Studio 2015 ships. The danger I suppose is that developers will try it in the first release, find lots of problems, and never go back.

I also like the idea of running apps in Nano Server, a low-maintenance environment where you can get the isolation of a dedicated server for your app at low cost in terms of resources.

No doubt though, the lack of pieces that you expect to find on Windows Server will be an issue and I am not sure that the mainstream Microsoft developer ecosystem will take to it. Aidan Finn is not convinced, for example:

Am I really expected to deploy a headless OS onto hardware where the HCL certification has the value of a bucket with a hole in it? If I was to deploy Nano, even in cloud-scale installations, then I would need a super-HCL that stress tests all of the hardware enhancements. And I would want ALL of those hardware offloads turned OFF by default so that I can verify functionality for myself, because clearly, neither Microsoft’s HCL testers nor the OEMs are capable of even the most basic test right now.

Finn’s point is that if your headless server is having networking issues it is hard to troubleshoot, since of course remote tools will not work reliably. That said, I have personally run Hyper-V Server (which is essentially Server Core with just the Hyper-V role) with great success for several years; I started keeping notes on how to troubleshoot from the command line and found solutions to common problems. If networking fails with Nano Server then yes, you have a problem, but there is always something you can do, even if it means mounting the Nano Server VHD or VHDX on another VM. Windows Server admins have become accustomed to a local GUI though and adjusting even to Server Core has not been easy.

*the reason was that I did not use the –p argument with dnvm use which would have made it persistent

What does Xamarin’s success say about open source versus proprietary? Miguel de Icaza says he has never been happier

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Yesterday Xamarin, which offers tools for targeting iOS, Android and Mac with C#, announced a partnership with Microsoft, an announcement which I wrote up on The Register. It drew a few comments, several complaining about the cost:

So it cost more then Visual Studio Pro.

And that is for 1 target platform?

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Not so useful for little indie developers at those prices.

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From open source to $999 per developer per year. Monetising Mono seems to have worked, so perhaps PCL being open sourced won’t be such a bargain either.

If you check Xamarin’s pricing you will see that the tools are not cheap for casual users; of course, if you are selling thousands of apps or developing corporate apps at normal rates the tools soon pay for themselves.

Xamarin is doing well as far as I am aware; CEO Nat Friedman told me of rapid growth in the number of customers and I have seen for myself the high interest in the tools at events like Microsoft BUILD earlier this year in San Francisco.

This gives me pause for reflection. What does the success of Xamarin, and the relative lack of success of Mono (the open source C# compiler and .NET Framework on which Xamarin is based) say about how well the open source business model works in the real world?

I was reminded of a conversation I had with Miguel de Icaza, creator of Mono and co-founder of Xamarin, Friedman back in February of this year, when Xamarin 2.0 was launched. I asked de Icaza if the new company publishes the source code for all its products?

“No. Our company does proprietary tools for iOS and Android apps. The entire iOS and Android support is proprietary as well as our commercial Mac support. All those three pieces are proprietary while the IDE and the Mono runtime are open source. Whether the code is open source or not depends on whether it is part of core Mono or core MonoDevelop. Otherwise it tends to end up as proprietary.”

Friedman added: “Mono has a thriving open source community around it, and Xamarin has a thriving community of developers who are building commercial mobile apps. We have 12,000 customers, many of them have never heard of Mono. They came to us because they had a problem to solve, they were C# developers and they wanted to get an iOS or Android app built. We solved that problem and that was worth money to them. The reason we have a business is that Microsoft developers do pay for tools, unlike Web developers for example. It’s been a great market for us. It allows us to invest.”

I asked de Icaza if he gets any grief from the open source community for having proprietary code in his company.

“Actually no. We started doing the proprietary bit at Novell. In fact we’ve been doing proprietary for a long time, even before we were acquired by Novell, at Ximian. We didn’t get a lot of grief from people. I can tell you though that when I was working in the Linux world, they were very stressful days for me, because people constantly complain about a “secret conspiracy” and that thing just went out of control. There are some advocates in the Linux world that don’t like anything that has the label Microsoft on.

“Ever since we did Xamarin which meant we focused on Mac and Windows, all that stress is gone, I don’t think I have ever been happier. In the past I was enduring this constant barrage of senseless attacks, and now I never hear about this.

“One thing that happened in the Linux world is that I was very proud of the four or five big apps that were built with Mono. F-spot that we built, Banshee, and a couple of others. Now with Xamarin I can’t keep track of them any more because they are measured in the thousands. There are thousands of very large apps, over a millions lines of code, that people send us. It’s a very different world, it’s just so much larger than all the work we did in Linux days back then.”

Not just a four-horse race: three new mobile operating systems joining the fray

Some have declared the mobile OS battle over, won by Apple and Google Android between them. Microsoft and RIM Blackberry will fight it out for third and fourth place.

Maybe, but I doubt it will be so simple. There are not one, not two, but three further open source mobile operating systems which have significant backing.

Tizen is supported by companies including Intel, Samsung, Orange, Vodafone, Huawei, and NTT Docomo, and managed by the Linux Foundation.

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It is based on what used to be MeeGo (which itself came out of Intel Moblin, Nokia Maemo and so on). Tizen is intended to work on smartphones, tablets, and in embedded devices such as TVs and in-vehicle entertainment.

Firefox OS is a new project from Mozilla, whose Firefox browser is under threat from Webkit-based browsers such as Google Chrome.

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Mozilla promises that:

Using HTML5 and the new Mozilla-proposed standard APIs, developers everywhere will be able to create amazing experiences and apps. Developers will no longer need to learn and develop against platform-specific native APIs.

Ubuntu also offers a mobile OS, along with an interesting add-on that lets you run Ubuntu desktop from smartphone when docked (this can also be added to Android smartphones).

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All will be interesting to watch. Tizen is particularly interesting. Samsung is the largest Android vendor and the largest smartphone vendor. While this is currently a win for Android, it is possible that Samsung may want to steer its customers towards a non-Google operating system in future.

Equally, logic says that the open source world would be better getting behind a single Android alternative, rather than three.

LocationTech: a new Eclipse working group for location technologies

The Eclipse Foundation has announced a new working group, called LocationTech.

What is it? There is only one project currently, called LocationTech Technology.

Here is what it covers:

LTT projects provide artifacts such as libraries, user interfaces, and methodology logic that enable location aware applications and services. The nature of this work is scoped as follows:

  • Developing and delivering location aware services for web, mobile, and desktop based systems.
  • Storage, exchange, processing, and interpretation of massive data volumes with a component of spatial information
  • Apply Model based design in the context of geospatial information systems, building information modeling, and computer aided design
  • Aggregating and relating data from diverse sources including a spatial component. e.g. Analytics, Geospatial Business Intelligence, Geocoding, Routing
  • The implementation of generally applicable geospatial standards (e.g., Open Geospatial Consortium, ISO TC211, SQL MM, etc.)

The group is sponsored by IBM, Oracle, OpenGeo and Actuate.

Projects hosted at LocationTech benefit from a range of services, including git code repository, bugzilla bug tracking, hudson continuous integration, apache and drupal for a project dashboard, and “intellectual property services” covering licensing and related areas.

LocationTech is seeking involvement from OpenStreetMap (discussed here) and MapBox, among others.

Names not on the list of sponsors include Google and Nokia. Is this, perhaps, an effort to support location-based development in a manner that does not include a dependency on Google?

Google fights Android fragmentation with new SDK terms

Google has revised the terms of the Android SDK license agreement so that users must now agree not to fragment Android by deriving other SDKs from Google’s official offering. In fact, you now have to agree not to fragment Android in any way as a condition of using the Android SDK.

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The key clauses seem to be these (I write as a non-lawyer):

3.2 You agree that Google or third parties own all legal right, title and interest in and to the SDK, including any Intellectual Property Rights that subsist in the SDK. "Intellectual Property Rights" means any and all rights under patent law, copyright law, trade secret law, trademark law, and any and all other proprietary rights. Google reserves all rights not expressly granted to you.

3.3 You may not use the SDK for any purpose not expressly permitted by this License Agreement. Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not: (a) copy (except for backup purposes), modify, adapt, redistribute, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, or create derivative works of the SDK or any part of the SDK; or (b) load any part of the SDK onto a mobile handset or any other hardware device except a personal computer, combine any part of the SDK with other software, or distribute any software or device incorporating a part of the SDK.

3.4 You agree that you will not take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android, including but not limited to distributing, participating in the creation of, or promoting in any way a software development kit derived from the SDK.

How much of this is new? Here are the terms as stored on my hard drive:

3.2 You agree that Google or third parties own all legal right, title and interest in and to the SDK, including any Intellectual Property Rights that subsist in the SDK. "Intellectual Property Rights" means any and all rights under patent law, copyright law, trade secret law, trademark law, and any and all other proprietary rights. Google reserves all rights not expressly granted to you.

3.3 Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not copy (except for backup purposes), modify, adapt, redistribute, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, or create derivative works of the SDK or any part of the SDK. Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not load any part of the SDK onto a mobile handset or any other hardware device except a personal computer, combine any part of the SDK with other software, or distribute any software or device incorporating a part of the SDK.

The clause 3.4 specifically concerning fragmentation is new, but the clause 3.3 forbidding the creation of derivative works is not new. When this was first added is an interesting question and please comment if you know.

Note that the Android SDK depends on the Java Development Kit, and that Google’s use of Java in Android was the subject of unsuccessful litigation from Oracle.

Free software advocate Torsten Grote has posted about the move here and says:

This situation is far from perfect for software freedom. Developing Android Apps in freedom is only possible as soon as the Replicant developers catch up. Looks like Android stops being a Free Software friendly platform.

Replicant is a free version of the Android software stack including an SDK, though of course it will not be possible to include new parts of the SDK only available under the non-free license.

Adobe’s Roy Fielding patches Apache to ignore IE10 Do Not Track privacy request

Adobe’s Roy Fielding, who is also the original author of the W3C’s Tracking Preference Expression draft, has patched Apache, the open source web server, to ignore the Do Not Track header sent by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10, the browser in Windows 8:

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Under the heading “Apache does not tolerate deliberate abuse of open standards,” Fielding’s patch sets Apache to remove the Do Not Track request header if IE10 is the web browser.

Fielding’s argument, one presumes, is that IE10 breaches clause three in the Tracking Preference Expression draft:

Key to that notion of expression is that it must reflect the user’s preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user. In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed.

However the document goes on to say (highlighting is mine):

We do not specify how tracking preference choices are offered to the user or how the preference is enabled: each implementation is responsible for determining the user experience by which a tracking preference is enabled. For example, a user might select a check-box in their user agent’s configuration, install an extension or add-on that is specifically designed to add a tracking preference expression, or make a choice for privacy that then implicitly includes a tracking preference (e.g., Privacy settings: high). The user-agent might ask the user for their preference during startup, perhaps on first use or after an update adds the tracking protection feature. Likewise, a user might install or configure a proxy to add the expression to their own outgoing requests.

Here is what happens in Windows 8 after startup. This is among the first screens you see when installing Windows 8, before you get full access to the operating system:

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One of the settings specified is “Turn on Do Not Track in Internet Explorer. If you click Learn more about express settings you get this:

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If you click Customize you get this:

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Does this respect the user’s preference? It seems to me a reasonable effort. The only objection I can see is if you consider that any user agent that defaults to setting Do Not Track on cannot be respecting the user’s preference. The draft specification does not state what the default should be.

It is also worth noting that clause 3 in the Tracking Preference Expression draft has changed; the wording about “not the choice of some vendor” was inserted in the 7th September draft, after Windows 8 was released to manufacturing. Here it is in the latest (March 2012) W3C Working draft:

Key to that notion of expression is that it must reflect the user’s preference, not the preference of some institutional or network-imposed mechanism…

Even if you agree with Fielding’s views on browser defaults, quietly patching the world’s most used web server to ignore the IE10 setting looks hard to defend, especially on a matter that is far from clear cut. Fielding is personally involved, not only as the author of the Tracking Preference Expression document, but also as an employee of Adobe, which specialises in digital marketing and may be more aligned with the vendors and their brands which may want to track user activity wherever their ads appear, rather than with end users.

Of course Apache is an open source project and Fielding’s patch has attracted the attention of the Apache community and may not survive.

It is also possible that a future draft of the Tracking Preference Expression document will state that Do Not Track must be off by default; but even if it does, patching the web server to ignore the browser’s header strikes me as a contentious solution.

Finally, it is worth noting that sending the Do Not Track header has little effect on whether or not your activity is tracked, since its meaning is unclear and respecting its value is a a choice made by third-parties, so this is a debate with little practical impact for the time being.

Adobe Brackets: a different type of HTML and JavaScript code editor. Interview with Adobe’s Adam Lehman.

On Adobe’s Tools and Services page there is an intriguing remark about the company’s plans for a code editor. “We think there’s a need for a different type of code editor – we’re working on something and will have more to share soon.”

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That something is Brackets, a code editor written in HTML and JavaScript (which means, as with all the best tools, that you can code Brackets in itself).

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Although Brackets is written in HTML and JavaScript, it is not yet a web application. Instead, it runs on the desktop using Google’s Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF), which lets you embed the Chrome (strictly, the Chromium) browser engine in a desktop application. In the case of Brackets, the wrapper is lightweight, the intention being that in future Brackets may be fully browser-hosted. The consequence though is that currently you need Google Chrome installed and it only runs on Windows and Mac.

The project is open source under the MIT license; anyone can grab the code from Github. Brackets also depends on another open source project, CodeMirror, which is a JavaScript editor component for browsers. I installed it on Windows and soon had it up and running. Note that you should pull brackets_app if you want to run it, as this brings down the Brackets code as well.

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I spoke to Brackets Product Manager Adam Lehman. “This might be the first project we started with the intent of being open source from day one,” he said.

“Our general intent is that we wanted to provide an editor that web developers felt that they could own. In the past we might have built something in Eclipse, and there would have been this giant gap between the person who knew HTML, JavaScript and CSS, and then having to write a Java-based Eclipse plug-in to extend the editor.

“When we start talking to developers, they’re going back to just text editors, things that don’t do much more than edit and manage a document, and as complex as HTML and JavaScript apps are getting these days, it seemed crazy that our tools weren’t keeping up with us. So the idea was to start this project, add a little bit of our own ideas, and have the community supply their own ideas.”

But how does Adobe intend to use Brackets in its own products, and what is the business model?

“We believe there are two spaces for the editor market. There is the larger IDE, but there’s also these lightweight text editors. We’re finding that the traditional JavaScript and HTML developer, CSS developer, was heading towards the lightweight text editor and not towards the larger IDE. We don’t see Dreamweaver and Brackets as direct competitors because they service two different tastes. It wasn’t a matter of could we add a feature here or there that was going to get people to use Dreamweaver. It was that difference between our larger tool and a much lighter weight tool. That’s where Brackets come in.”

How then will Brackets tie in with other Adobe products?

“That’s the key for Brackets. We wanted to see if we could innovate in the space and we also wanted to have a common language that we could start targeting. When you say, I want to open up an editor from Adobe Edge and start coding, we needed to define what that editor would be, so Brackets would come into that.

“We’re also saying we need to do better tooling around PhoneGap. A lot of people are fine with the command line, but we want to take a step beyond that and so Brackets is the obvious place where we’ll start to build an extension where we can tie into PhoneGap Build, or extensions around the PhoneGap APIs.

“We’ve got a lot of ideas around using Brackets to bring a lot of our HTML efforts together, not only our core HTML products but also a lot of the W3C and WebKit work that we’re doing. Brackets is a great place to put tooling, that isn’t quite ready for mass consumption yet, but we could actually build extensions for something like Shaders where those people who are interested in it can get in and start playing around with it.

“The beauty of building on the web platform is that we can go wherever the web platform goes.”

Initial prototypes of Brackets ran entirely in the browser, which would be interesting for future versions of Adobe’s Creative Cloud as well as other scenarios, but Lehman said this got mixed reactions.

“While we believe that the future of development is heading towards the cloud, and the general consensus from developers is the same, we also heard that it is not ready yet. We decided to focus on a desktop version first, with the idea that towards the end of this year or beginning of next year we’ll start to supplement with other targets, whether it be in the cloud or  a tablet, or embedded in a tool like Edge,”

says Lehman. He adds that a browser-hosted Brackets could end up integrated with the PhoneGap Build site. PhoneGap Build is a service for compiling cross-platform HTML and JavaScript into mobile apps for a variety of devices.

Since Brackets is built on Google’s Chrome/Chromium platform, what are the implications for cross-browser compatibility?

“There’s two pieces to it. There’s our container that Brackets runs in, and that is running on Chromium.

“The other part is that we have this live preview system which is tied directly to Chrome on the desktop. We happened to just start with Chrome, mostly because there is a remote debugging API that’s pretty fleshed out there.

“With Firefox and Internet Explorer, it’s a little bit different. We talked to Mozilla and they’re just now starting to work on that remote debugging API and trying to get it inline with where Chrome is, so we’re expecting to hear from them in August that they actually might have an API where we can start to build that same functionality, which is our intent.

“We’ve already started engaging with Microsoft about Internet Explorer. Right now their remote debugging API is somewhat private and in the form of a COM object which is not ideal coming from a JavaScript perspective, but we’ve showed them what we’re after, and we’ve started discussion of what a remote API from IE might look like that didn’t require COM. We’re exploring those options. Those are our priorities right now.

“If we build a cloud-based version then it’s going to be a question of what browsers this is going to run in. Our intent is to run in the modern major browsers. We aren’t building anything that’s Chrome-specific, we’re doing our best to stay as browser-agnostic as we can, but we are likely to require a more modern browser. We feel it would be OK to require the latest versions of Firefox, IE or Chrome.”

I asked Lehman whether Brackets might be useful for server-side as as client-side code. He said that Brackets is focused on the client, though a community extension is under way for node.js. He adds that since Brackets is fully extendable, others may do plug-ins for languages such as PHP.

Why is Brackets at Github and not Apache?

“We have a lot of people at Adobe who work for Apache now, and we talked to them before we released Brackets. Our sense is that Apache might be too much of a turn-off for the individual contributor, who just wants to hack and fix a bug and submit it back,”

Lehman told me. Although there are external contributors, all the committers are currently at Adobe, though there are plans for adding external committers by the end of the year. “We don’t want this to be 100% Adobe controlled.”

When will Brackets get to version 1.0?

“We’re being as agile as we can. Every bit we add, it comes closer to being a 1.0 for somebody. The things that I think are missing that you would expect out of a core editor are around code-completion for CSS and JavaScript, and solid and advanced search and replace. In the web world, that’s how we refactor code. We’re hoping to drive those in by November time. But we are on 2.5 week sprints and things change rapidly.”

I also asked about plans for a mobile app version of Brackets. Lehman says that is planned for next year, though the community is working on getting a Linux version working and support for ChromeOS.

Brackets is a fascinating project on several levels. What stands out is how far Adobe has moved from being the Flash company. A few years back Adobe came up with a system for having Flash applications run on the desktop and on mobile devices: Adobe AIR. It also invested in Eclipse and came up with the Flash Builder IDE.

Now here is Adobe with an open source project for a desktop application built from HTML, JavaScript, and a third-party open source browser engine; and in place of mobile AIR it has PhoneGap.

It is a big change, most of which has become publicly known in less than a year, signalled by the repositioning of Flash and AIR versus HTML in September 2011, and the abandonment of Flash for Mobile in November 2011.

As for Brackets itself, it is well worth a look though probably not a tool you want to use for real work just yet. In a few months though, that may well change.

Postscript: Brackets reminds me of another Adobe, or rather Macromedia, HTML code editor. That was HomeSite, an excellent text-based tool that Adobe discontinued in 2009; active development ceased years before that.

How to brew better software: The Monki Gras in London

I attended The Monki Gras in London yesterday, a distinctive developer event arranged by the analyst firm RedMonk.

This was not only a developer event, with the likes of Andre Charland and Dave Johnson from the PhoneGap team at Adobe, Mike Milinkovich the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, and Jason Hoffman with Bryan Cantrill from cloud services (and Node.js sponsors) Joyent. It was also a serious beer event, complete with a range of craft beers, a beer tasting competition with nine brews to try, and a talk plus a free book from  beer expert Melissa Cole. An unusual blend of flavours.

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In charge of the proceedings was RedMonk co-founder and all round impressario James Governor. I am a big fan of RedMonk and its developer-focused approach; it has been a fresh and heady brew in the dry world of IT analysts.

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The Monki Gras did seem like an attempt by a regular IT conference sufferer to fix problems often encountered. The Wi-Fi worked, the food was fresh, unusual and delicious, the coffee was superb; though brewing good coffee takes time so the queues were long. Not everything scales. Fortunately this was a small event, and a rare treat for the couple of hundred or so who attended.

That said, there were frustrations. The sessions were short, which in general is a good thing, but left me wanting more depth and more details in some cases; we did not learn much about PhoneGap other than a brief overview, for example.

Nevertheless there was serious content. Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady made the point succinctly: IT decision makers are ignorant about what developers actually use and what they want to use, which is one reason why there is so much dysfunction in this industry. Part of the answer is to pay more attention, and several sessions covered different aspects of analytics: Matt LeMay from bitly on what users click on the Web; Matt Biddulph (ex BBC, Dopplr, Nokia) gave a mind-stretching talk on social network analysis which, contrary to what some think, was not invented by Facebook but predates the Internet; and O’Grady shared some insights from developer analytics at RedMonk.

I had not noticed before that github now gets nearly double the number of commits than does Google Code. That is partly because developers like git, but may also say something about Google’s loss of kudos in the open source developer community.

Kohsuke Kawaguchi, lead for Jenkins Continuous Integration and an architect at CloudBees, spoke on building a developer community. His context was how Jenkins attracted developers, but his main point has almost limitless application:  “Make everything easy, relentlessly.”

Something I see frequently is how big companies (the bigger the worse) place obstacles in front of developers or users who have an interest in their products or services. Examples are enforced registration, multiple clicks through several complex pages to get to the download you want, complex installs, and confusing information. It all adds friction. If the target is sufficiently compelling, like apps on Apple’s app store, developers will get there anyway; but it all adds friction, and if you are not Apple that can be fatal.

The Joyent guys did not speak about Node.js, sadly, but rather on the distinction between a VP of engineering and a Chief Technology Officer. Sounds dry and abstruse? I thought so too, but the delivery was so energetic that they were soon forgiven. Hoffman and Cantrill moved on to talk about management antipatterns in the software industry, prompting many wry nods of recognition from the audience. “It is very hard for middle management to add value,” said Cantrill.

Milinkovich made the point that the most valued open source projects generally make their way to a software foundation; PhoneGap to Apache is a recent example. He then gave the talk he really wanted to give, noting that as new software stacks emerge they have a tendency to re-implement CORBA, a middleware specification from the Nineties that tackled problems including remote objects, language independence, and transactions across the Internet. CORBA is remembered for drowning in complexity, but Milinkovich’s point is that the creators of exciting new stacks like Node.js should at least research and learn from past experience.

Milinkovich also found time to proclaim that “Flash is dead, Silverlight is dead, browser plugins are dead.” Perhaps premature; but I did not hear many dissenting voices.

I tweeted the conference extensively yesterday (losing at least one follower but gaining several more). Look out also for a couple of follow-up posts on topics of particular importance.