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Microsoft previews free Visual Studio Code for the Web

Browser-based editor will open files on GitHub, Azure repositories or from the local device

Microsoft is previewing Visual Studio Code for the Web, a code editor that runs entirely in the browser.

The post introducing the new service was put up yesterday but is returning "page not found" at the time of writing, so possibly was published prematurely. But it is expected to return soon, since the technology looks the same as that already introduced by Microsoft-owned GitHub as the web-based editor.

The difference is that GitHub's version only works in a GitHub repository, where it is opened by pressing the dot key. By contrast, Microsoft stated: "Everyone can use VS Code for the Web for free at to quickly open and browse source code hosted on GitHub and on your local machine (and soon on Azure Repos), and make and commit lightweight changes."

VS Code for the desktop is also free and much more capable, so what is the point of VS Code for the Web? The answer is mainly convenience. A zero-install solution is handy when working from different devices and avoids a download-edit-upload cycle (even though a download to browser storage is still happening under the covers).

These web variants are relatively easy to implement since VS Code is built using web technology. Microsoft's distinguished engineer Erich Gamma described earlier this year how VS Code originated from a failing web editor project called Visual Studio Online or "Monaco". Remote development is now more sophisticated, with environments like GitHub Codespaces and Gitpod offering browser-based editing and debugging of code that is running remotely.

In its new announcement, Microsoft said that "VS Code for the Web can be 'upgraded' to a GitHub Codespaces instance" for cases where a full remote environment is required, with build, debug, full use of extensions and access to a terminal.

Judging by the similar GitHub preview though, the in-browser experience is also effective for cases where those things are not required, though it occasionally presents misleading messages regarding features that do not work in this configuration. ®

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