Review: 4 killer cloud IDEs

Browser-based JSFiddle, Icenium, Cloud9, and Codenvy stretch from client-side JavaScript and HTML5 to server-side Java and Web stacks

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JSFiddle: Fiddle with JavaScript

Few programming chores are purer than writing JavaScript, HTML, and CSS in three rectangles in your browser, then watching it run in a fourth. The code is simple and the browser is already heavily optimized to compile the code quickly and efficiently. Setting up a fast loop of writing and testing is easy. The tool will color and tidy up the code for you.

JSFiddle is the latest in a long line of emerging Web tools. Many big Web properties, for instance, offer "sandboxes" for playing with their API directly in a Web page. I've debugged Google Maps code several times in a window that Google built for experimenting with it. The browser's included debugger is all that's necessary.

Like Python Fiddle, a similar tool that runs Python in a JavaScript emulator in your browser, JSFiddle is meant more for tweaking than creating a monstrous piece of code. The tool builds "fiddles," which are smaller blocks of code that might work best as embedded frames. JSFiddle will host your "public fiddles" and even let you fork and extend them much like a revision control system. There aren't elaborate histories, but something to keep in mind if you want to roll back.

Some developers will see JSFiddle as a tool for experimentation and toys because there's little available for working on the server side of the app. The code can easily call APIs, but you won't build any APIs with it. That would be missing the point. The developers clearly want to encourage more snippets and code that can form the building blocks for Web pages.

Icenium: Mobile dev in the browser

When I said above that developers of native code for mobile devices may be among the last to adopt Web-based tools, I left out a curious hybrid path now popular for apps that don't require squeezing every ounce of performance out of the hardware. Some developers are building their iPhone and Android apps in HTML, then wrapping them in a thin layer of native code. This is a fast way to create apps for different platforms, and it can work well if you're not building cycle-sucking apps such as games.

Telerik's Icenium Mist is a browser-based tool for building mobile apps around the Apache Cordova project, the latest version of a thin layer of device-specific code that was once known only as PhoneGap. Icenium Mist lets you create the apps in your browser and run them in a simulator for the different versions of the iPhone. It's a very quick way to spin up an iPhone app. Icenium Graphite, a companion tool that runs on Windows, handles the build, deployment to your device, and publishing the app to the App Store and Google Play.

The good news is that the tool has a solid code browser, a fine editor, and a sturdy connection with Git repositories for saving your revisions. Telerik has already folded in jQuery, jQuery Mobile, and Kendo for building the widgets, but you can replace them with your favorite code. Although the debugging isn't very robust -- the tool often produced inscrutable remarks like "Error: Script error. (URL: , LineNumber: 0)" -- I was able to work around it using the browsers' built-in debuggers. After all, the apps are just HTML and JavaScript, and the so-called simulator is another browser window.

Icenium is enough to build many basic apps for your mobile needs. It's not exactly native code, but that power is not necessary for most basic apps. It's a clever remix of the browser environment with the mobile.

Icenium is free through May and $19 per month afterward, with a discount for purchasing a full year in advance.

Review: 4 killer cloud IDEs
Icenium lets you build cross-platform, iPhone and Android apps in your browser, using JavaScript frameworks such as jQuery and Kendo.
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