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2/13/2009
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Mozilla Labs Introduces Bespin For Collaborative Coding

Future iterations of the cloud-centered software will focus on allowing programmers to work on the same code from different locations at the same time.

Mozilla Labs on Thursday released a technology preview of a new browser-based collaborative code editor called Bespin.

Like the fictional gas giant of the same name featured in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Bespin is all about clouds. It was created by Ben Galbraith and Dion Almaer for Mozilla Labs' Developer Tools Lab to move code editing from the desktop to "the cloud," to use the trendy, pseudo-mystical term for the Internet.

"We wanted to see if we could develop a code editor for Web developers using the Web itself," explained Galbraith, co-founder of Ajaxian and open Internet advocate at Mozilla, in a demonstration video.

Mozilla's focus on the Web as a platform echoes Google's focus on data as the foundation of its business. Just as the creation of new content increases the need for Google's search service, the expansion of what can be done on the Web makes browsers like Mozilla's Firefox more essential.

Bespin is being released as a 0.1 project and is decidedly alpha code, with bugs aplenty. It's being released in a primitive state to get user feedback and to encourage community participation in the development process.

Like any good code editor, Bespin includes text-editing capabilities and productivity enhancements like syntax highlighting, importing and exporting, large file size support, undo and redo, and browser previews. Its main focus at the moment is performance, meaning that it can handle tens of thousands of lines of code without scrolling or typing slowdowns.

"Performance is very, very important for us," said Galbraith. "And in this first preview release of Bespin, that's been our primary focus."

Future iterations of the software will focus on collaboration, on allowing programmers to work on the same code from different locations at the same time. One possible feature will be the ability for one user to automatically replicate a collaborator's Bespin configuration settings and plug-ins.

According to Almaer, the aim is to unify Bespin and Ubiquity, Mozilla's nascent browser command-line environment. While such innovations may cement Mozilla's place in the hearts and minds of power users and developers, it remains to be seen whether they'll do much to increase adoption of Firefox or raise the profile of Mozilla among the less technically savvy.

Mozilla isn't the only organization looking to make coding more collaborative. A number of other code editors and code management systems have implemented some form of networked workflow, including SubEthaEdit and Coda, Heroku and Github, and Devunity.

Cloud computing is still in its infancy, and the tools and techniques for it are still under construction. InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).

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