Atom v Visual Studio Code - The Unexpected Consequence Of Consolidation
Written by Mike James   
Thursday, 14 June 2018

OK, so you got upset about Microsoft taking over GitHub, but after a lot of reassurance you can see that commercial interests mean that Microsoft isn't going to trash GitHub - well not at first. But what about Atom? Can MS really afford to have two products in the same area?



I guess the answer to this question is yes, but commercial logic suggests that it isn't a good idea.

What is really strange is that the two code editors - Atom and Visual Studio Code (Code from here on) are both based on Electron, which was created by GitHub. Electron is a desktop app that acts as a container for an essentially web-based application - JavaScript for the code and HTML/CSS for the UI.

Of course, Microsoft already has Visual Studio, which is a huge IDE that does just about everything. Code was designed to be a platform-independent IDE and it looks set to take over from Visual Studio eventually, despite Microsoft's repeated pledges that both will continue to be developed.

Yes, of course, Microsoft will continue to fund two development teams for two pieces of software that do the same job.

At the moment there is no sign that Visual Studio will be upgraded to 64 bits and there seems to be no attempt to market the paid-for version and, of course, Code runs on Azure. Then there is the small matter that many of the facilities of Visual Studio are provided by Language Service, which can be used by Code.




So things are looking crowded in the Microsoft IDE department and then along comes GitHub with Atom. Atom isn't quite in the same area as Code has ambitions to become an IDE and Atom is more of a code editor - but still they are overlapping. Of course, Microsoft didn't acquire GitHub to get its hands on Atom, but it comes with the deal as a job lot.

If Microsoft doesn't really want two code editors in the long term, it certainly doesn't want three!

However, the incoming GitHub CEO, Nat Friedman, took part in a Reddit AMA and tried to be reassuring:

"Atom is a fantastic editor with a healthy community, adoring fans, excellent design, and a promising foray into real-time collaboration. 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."

Never forget the "embrace, extend, extinguish" motto.

VS Code and Atom actually share a ton of history and code, and Microsoft and GitHub have collaborated on the foundational technologies for years:

  • Most obviously, we work together on Electron, the common foundation for both editors. Microsoft began working with GitHub on Electron when it was announced in 2015 – when it was still called AtomShell and before VS Code was announced. We joined their Slack channels and participated in hackathons, and Microsoft has been a major contributor to Electron ever since. We also use Electron in many other products...
  • Atom-ide adopted the  Language Server protocol  that we developed as part of VS Code. This allows sharing advanced language support between VS Code and Atom. The language packs that Atom-ide supports all share the language servers with VS Code.
  • The Atom-ide community is also talking about adopting the  Debug Adapter protocol  which will enable common debugger support between Atom and VS Code.
  • We’re excited about the recent developments in real-time collaboration, and I expect Atom Teletype and VS Code Live Share to coordinate on protocols so that eventually developers using either editor can edit the same files together in real-time.

Which more or less means that Atom is probably going in the same direction as Code. This makes it even less likely that it will survive as a separate product. 

Of course, the big confusion is that both Code and Atom are open source, but without Microsoft's support they are unlikely to make rapid progress.

Once again, despite protests of devotion forever to Atom, the commercial sense in having three code editors isn't obvious.

Watch this space as Atom becomes Code.



More Information

I’m Nat Friedman, future CEO of GitHub. AMA

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 June 2018 )