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GitHub drops Atom bomb: Open-source text editor mothballed by end of year

Embrace, extend technology into other products ... and extinguish

On December 15, Microsoft's GitHub plans to turn out the lights on Atom, its open-source text editor that has inspired and influenced widely used commercial apps, such as Microsoft Visual Studio Code, Slack, and GitHub Desktop.

The social code biz said it's doing so to focus on cloud-based software.

"While that goal of growing the software creator community remains, we’ve decided to retire Atom in order to further our commitment to bringing fast and reliable software development to the cloud via Microsoft Visual Studio Code and GitHub Codespaces," GitHub explained on Wednesday.

GitHub Codespaces is a cloud-hosted development environment that integrates Visual Studio Code.

In June 2018, when Microsoft acquired Github, Nat Friedman, CEO at the time, reassured the GitHub community that Atom was alive and well.

"Atom is a fantastic editor with a healthy community, adoring fans, excellent design, and a promising foray into real-time collaboration," said Friedman in a Reddit ask-me-anything discussion. "At Microsoft, we already use every editor from Atom to VS Code to Sublime to Vim, and we want developers to use any editor they prefer with GitHub.

"So we will continue to develop and support both Atom and VS Code going forward."

After four years of going forward, Atom has come to a standstill. According to GitHub, the project hasn't had significant feature development for several years, apart from maintenance and security updates. During this period community involvement has declined and the business of locally installed software now looks less attractive than the potential recurring revenue, vendor lock-in, and information gathering enabled by cloud-based apps.

Atom dates back to 2011 at GitHub and by 2015 when the Atom shell – a separate component for integrating with Chromium, Node.js, and native APIs – was renamed Electron (a cross-platform app framework based on web tech), Microsoft began working with GitHub on Atom and Electron and what would become Visual Studio Code.

That relationship has now followed a paradigm Microsoft made famous: embrace, extend, extinguish, though the sunsetting of Atom looks more like pushing dead weight out of a cloud-bound balloon rather than a strategically advantageous hit.

"We want to invest in our core bets over the coming years, and that means focusing on enhancing the developer experience in the cloud," a GitHub spokesperson told The Register in an email. "There are also many strong alternatives to Atom that meet various needs, and VS Code has gained an enormous amount of market share such that we’re confident in this change.

"This should have little impact on GitHub’s developer ecosystem. GitHub’s APIs continue to be supported and enable developers to integrate with GitHub across thousands of other products. We also maintain our own suite of apps, including GitHub Desktop, GitHub Mobile, and GitHub CLI."

Atom's influence should continue to be felt via the Electron framework. Electron.js still serves as the basis for Discord, Skype, Slack, Trello, and Visual Studio Code, among other apps. But technology changes. Microsoft previously said it intends to move away from Electron in Teams. And other cross platform frameworks like Flutter, Tauri, or Microsoft's recently announced .NET Multi-platform App UI (.NET MAUI) may gain traction.

Still, Atom looks likely linger beyond its December 15, 2022 decommission date. Though GitHub intends to archive the Atom repository, the code is open source and remains available to anyone who wants to champion the project. ®

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