Open source innovation on the cutting edge

Think open source doesn’t innovate? Here are seven projects exploring exciting new directions in computing -- for free

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Open source innovation: Bespin
Mozilla Labs' Bespin project may seem little more than a run-of-the-mill programmer's editor at first -- and more edlin than Visual Studio, at that. Its UI is spare, and its editor commands are entered from a text prompt. Even the fact that Bespin runs inside a Web browser window is not terribly impressive until you understand how it works.

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Under the hood, Bespin is an ambitious attempt to push the boundaries of what's possible for Web-based applications. Every element of the editor's UI, from the blinking cursor to the editor text itself, is rendered using HTML5's new <canvas> element. That makes Bespin virtually unique among modern Web applications in that it's not bound by the limitations of HTML markup and traditional Web rendering engines to display its UI.

Mind you, to say Bespin is a work in progress is an understatement -- for now. Its current feature set is extremely limited, and a recent reboot of its code base didn't help. Users can load, edit, and save files, as well as interact with source code version control systems, but not much else. The editor performs rudimentary syntax highlighting for HTML and JavaScript files and can execute some code-formatting operations, but it hardly competes with full-blown desktop editors at this stage.

Over the long term, however, Mozilla Labs' plans for Bespin are as intriguing as they are ambitious. Once it's mature, Bespin will offer a collaborative, online code authoring environment like no other. Because it lives in the cloud, Bespin will be uniquely suited to team-based agile development methodologies, Web application development, and even as an embedded editor for other software. And because it's based entirely on Web technologies, it won't require any firewall configuration or additional security -- which few of today's IDEs can match.

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