Grab your code ASAP: Nitrous cloud IDE evaporates in two weeks

But cloud-based development still looks brighter in the business world

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Software may be moving to the cloud, but developers have been slow to follow. on Monday said it plans to shut down its cloud-based development platform in two weeks.

In a terse blog post, the company said it will close its Nitrous Development Platform and Cloud IDE on November 14, 2016, and will refund payments made after October 16, 2015.

The company plans to email a link to clients with active projects that will allow them to download a backup of their data. It also says it will release an open-source version of the Nitrous IDE called Nitrous Solo that can be hosted through other cloud service providers.

Cloud-based IDEs, once touted as the future of development, haven't become the norm. Outside of specific use-cases like collaborative coding and education, where the convenience of not dealing with local machine configuration outweighs other considerations, developers haven't shown excessive enthusiasm for hosted programming environments.

Commonly voiced objections include lack of responsiveness, lack of control, dependency on a network connection, and uncertainty about provider longevity.

In a phone interview with The Register, Tyler Jewell, CEO of Codenvy, a company that launched as a cloud-based IDE provider and has since evolved into a collaborative devops work platform, explained that companies focused primarily on cloud IDEs face stiff competition from traditional desktop development tools. A cloud IDE, he said, has to "appeal to individual developers and they immediately start comparing it with the dozens of other IDEs they've used and the comparisons often fall short."

Ivan Burazin, co-founder and CEO of Codeanywhere, in an email to The Register said the primary misconception about cloud IDEs is that they're for everyone. "Like every product, there are people who benefit from the advantages and those who don't," he said. "Among our paying customers, we have education institutions, freelancers, NGOs, and even whole software developer companies. These users not only use us (a cloud IDE) for their day-to day-work, but are also paying for it, so this proves that it is of great value to them. On the other hand, some developers we never move from their local IDE, and that is okay too."

Google is said to use a browser-based IDE internally. But it never commercialized the concept. In 2012, the ad giant had been working on Brightly, a cloud IDE, for several years. Development apparently ceased in the wake of an office closure, following which the company released Collide, an open-source cloud IDE project related to Brightly. A Google engineer said that the time that the company hoped the project would advance the state of web-based IDEs.

While there are still companies that offer free-standing cloud-based IDEs – Codeanywhere, HyperDev, ShiftEdit, and SourceLair among them – early entrants into the market have either been acquired or shifted focus toward playing a role in enterprise development pipelines.

Jewell said that Nitrous, like Codenvy, was part of a group of four companies that, around four years ago, all raised several million dollars to provide cloud-based IDEs. The others were Cloud9 (which got funded in 2011) and Koding.

In a post on Hacker News, Jewell suggested Nitrous misread the way development was evolving. "By all rights, my company, Codenvy should have been out of business because of Nitrous," he wrote. "They had a good two-year advantage on us with Docker workspace management. They had top tier investors with seemingly endless pockets and a native understanding of how to sell into the enterprise or with SaaS. Essentially, they had a stacked deck. If they had innovated or open sourced their IP it into the right community two years ago, we would have had no oxygen to pursue our Eclipse Che strategy."

Burazin acknowledges that the cloud IDE market is challenging, particularly when desktop IDEs and text editors come into play. Nitrous, he said, couldn't find a unique value proposition or attract enough users. At the same time, he believes Codeanywhere doesn't need to immediately shift toward courting enterprise development or supporting devops workflows.

"This is something we have thought about, and at one point we will have to court the enterprise, but currently Codeanywhere is doing very well 'just' being a cloud IDE," he said. "We have a very specific unique selling proposition and that is that we are the only cross-platform cloud IDE, providing not just a browser app but also native apps on both Android and iOS platforms. So our focus is on providing the best IDE across all platforms."

Jewell believes developers are shifting toward cloud-based development tools, even if the transition has been slower than expected. "It's definitely happening," he said, citing the way cloud-based development tools help large organizations onboard programmers and manage group projects. "It happens in organizations where you need to have a tighter form of collaboration between teams." ®

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