Call it a back-to-basics movement or simply professionals seeking the best tools to get the job done well and on time. With enterprises putting a premium on productivity, a quiet revolution among programmers is eschewing the heavy, feature-filled IDE and turning instead to the venerable standby: the code editor.
The spark behind this growing trend comes down to control — enterprises tout IDEs as the development tool du jour, with supporters arguing that programmers will get more done if they can do all their work inside a single environment. But many programmers (especially experienced ones) prefer a markedly different approach, using code editors and pluggable modules, modes, or other extendibility features to pick and choose just the tools they need. They don’t enjoy being shoved into a single development environment, and contend that IDEs are resource-intensive, slow, and have many more features than are really needed to get the job done.
The answer lies in a flexible tool strategy: Developers get to use the tools and approaches that help them work best, and the company reaps the productivity benefits of both efficient tools and happy programmers.
The modular, code editor approach is appealing on several fronts. First, these tools are generally low cost — and frequently no-cost — items, so experimenting with a modular development strategy to increase programmer productivity in the enterprise does not require a large chunk of the budget.
Many modular code-editing solutions are derived from and maintained by open source developers. In fact, the involvement of the open-source community is one reason for code editors’ recent rise in visibility, as the vast majority of code editing solutions available today are open-source, multi-platform, and multi-language.
“My students don’t usually have a lot of money to throw around,” says Tom Sinclair, a computer programming instructor at Westwood College of Technology. “We typically use as many free and low-cost solutions as possible. Open source editing tools, in particular, provide an easy approach for both our Linux and Windows development.”
Open source roots provide yet another benefit: source code availability. Programmers using open source editors and modular plug-ins can easily customize their tools to meet corporate standards, such as a shared plug-in that all internal developers can use to perform automated check-ins to a specific source code repository.
Extending and adapting open source tools with additional modules also puts the collective knowledge of other developers — who have likely uncovered better, faster ways of doing various tasks and already updated the modules — directly into your hands, boosting productivity further.
But customization is just one piece of the code editor puzzle. Programmers have some lively answers when it comes to what sets code editors apart from other development tools.
“The editors in most IDEs don’t have nearly enough features and they make manipulating code difficult,” says Chris Rathman, a consultant and software developer. “For example, I need to be able to work with several hundred files in a single session and I must have the ability to do global search and replaces. Oh, and it has to be fast.”