Mozilla launches web-based code editor effort

Open standards and better developer productivity are aims

Mozilla Labs has launched a preview of Bespin, a web-based code editor intended to boost developer productivity, enable compelling user experiences and promote open standards.

Launched as a project within Mozilla's Developer Tools Lab, Bespin features an extensible framework for "Open Web" development, a concept in which applications are compatible with browsers based on open standards and do not require single-vendor plug-ins, according to Mozilla Labs developers Ben Galbraith and Dion Almaer.

Goals of Bespin include ease of use; real-time collaboration, including sharing live coding sessions; an integrated command line; extensibility in the interface; speed; and accessibility.

Based on JavaScript, Bespin is a code editing client based in a browser. It is intended to "to create an experience on the web that is as rich as a desktop editor," says Galbraith, co-director of developer tools at Mozilla Labs.

"The idea for Bespin is to sort of use later, newer web technologies to try create a much better experience for code editing on the web than we've seen before," Galbraith says. A lot of efforts to create web-based code editors have resulted in editors with poor performance or poor user experiences, he says.

"We haven't seen anything yet on the web that anyone would consider using for their day job," he says.

The focus of the preview release is speed along with support for large files.

"To do this, we've used new HTML 5 technologies, specifically the Canvas tag," says Galbraith.

Bespin developers have envisioned cloud-based scenarios for the Bespin editor in which it would be easy to go to a website, type the name of an open source project, and then quickly be in that project. Developers could make changes and submit changes to the website.

"We don't enable the above scenario today, but it's an example of what is possible once we have a foundation of a great, high-quality web-based code editor. So that is one of the things we're hoping to facilitate with the Bespin project," Galbraith says.

Although currently a preview, Bespin could turn into something more, he says. "Right now, we're just experimenting," Galbraith says. Mozilla is looking for developer feedback on Bespin.

An early prototype features such basic editing capabilities as syntax highlighting, large file sizes, undo/redo, previewing of files in the browser, and importing and exporting of projects.

Source code for Bespin is being released as open source under the Mozilla Public Licence.

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