GitHub officially announced to “scrap” the Atom editor, and the founding team was unwilling to say that it was rewriting it in Rust

Compilation | Nuka-Cola, Tina

GitHub has Atom; Microsoft has Visual Studio Code.

GitHub recently announced plans to officially shut down the Atom project on December 15 this year. As an open source text editor, Atom has inspired and influenced many commercial applications, including Microsoft Visual Studio Code, Slack, and GitHub Desktop, to name a few.

GitHub said it did this to focus on building cloud software products.

In Wednesday’s announcement, GitHub explained that “While our goal of growing the software developer community has never wavered, we have decided to retire Atom. In the future, we will continue to practice providing fast delivery for cloud environments through Microsoft Visual Studio Code and GitHub Codespaces. The promise of a solid software development experience.” GitHub Codespaces is a cloud-hosted development environment integrated with Visual Studio Code.

In June 2018, when Microsoft decided to acquire GitHub, then-CEO Nat Friedman assured the GitHub community that Atom was not only still alive, but alive and well. Nat Friedman said in a discussion thread on the Reddit forum, “Atom is a great editor with a healthy community, committed fans, great design, and a pretty impressive attempt at real-time collaboration. At Microsoft , we have also been using various editors such as Atom, VS Code, Sublime and even Vim, and hope that developers can also choose editor tools as they like on GitHub.”

“As a result, we will continue to develop and support Atom and VS Code.”

Why does Microsoft keep Atom alive with VS Code? It doesn’t make sense.

After just four years, Atom has stagnated. Other than maintenance and security updates, the Atom project hasn’t released any major new features in several years, according to GitHub. Community engagement has declined during this period, and the on-premise software business does look less attractive than cloud apps, which promise not only steady recurring revenue, but also vendor lock-in and user information collection.

Atom’s story

Atom originated in mid-2008 as a side project of GitHub creator Chris Wanstrath ( @defunkt ). At the time, Chris called it Atomicity, and its original intention was to use Web technology to design a software as customizable as Emacs, providing a new generation of developers with an editor with full control. But, like many other side projects, Chris stranded Atomicity after seeing the promise of GitHub’s success.

By August 2011, GitHub had added Ace to for file editing, rekindling Chris’s interest in Atomicity. Three days later, Chris used Ace to write an OS X application that ran in a native WebView space. As a result, the code writing work of the Atom project officially started. Over the next 3 months, Chris started working on Atomicity in his spare time. By November, Atomicity was officially renamed Atom and upgraded to an official GitHub project. In December, treetop author Nathan Sobo (@nathansobo) joined GitHub to work on Atom full-time.

In 2015, GitHub released version 1.0 of Atom. In the previous 18 months, the Atom preview had more than 1.3 million downloads and served more than 350,000 monthly active users. Atom allows users to install third-party packages and themes to customize the editor’s functionality and appearance. In version 1.0, its user community released more than 2090 Atom extensions and 660 themes, and users can easily set it according to their preferences. Version 1.0 of Atom fulfills Chris’s original intention of having full control over the editor for developers, and will be the basis for much of the future work.

Before Microsoft Visual Studio Code became popular, Atom’s development was normal. Stack Overflow’s 2016 Developer Survey reported that 12.5% ​​of software developers use Atom, based on feedback from more than 46,000 people. In 2017, Atom was used by 20% of web developers, 20.7% of system administrators, and 15.9% of data scientists.

Atom is an open source project, so there are also companies that customize their own editors based on Atom, and Facebook (Meta) is one of them.

Previously, Facebook used Apple’s Xcode software to build apps. But its codebase is nearly as large as Microsoft’s Windows operating system, so much so that Xcode can’t really handle it, and company-wide, Xcode crashes about 50 times a day.

“Xcode didn’t meet our needs,” said Facebook’s Mike Bolin. “It’s suitable for small development teams, even medium-sized ones.” So the company built its own integrated development environment (IDE) based on Atom. That’s where Nuclide and Atom IDEs came from, providing first-class development environments for React Native, Hack, and Flow projects.

Nuclide was then open sourced by Facebook: Using open source to build better products, and then using open source to reward the community is a very good virtuous circle.

Microsoft’s strategy

Launched in 2015, Visual Studio Code is more or less the official successor to Atom: developed by Microsoft, the owner of GitHub, and has many integrated GitHub features.

This year, GitHub rebranded Atom shell (a stand-alone component for integrating with Chromium, Node.js, and native APIs) to Electron (a cross-platform application framework based on web technologies), and Microsoft built on Atom and Electron Visual Studio Code was developed with GitHub.

Some commented: “This is Microsoft’s notorious classic routine: acceptance, technology diffusion, and then… there is no such thing. But this time, the attack on Atom is still too hard, and it is not like a regular project retirement at all, but a Elimination of dissidents by means of Thunder.”

Coincidentally, in December 2018, half a year after Microsoft acquired GitHub, Facebook decided to withdraw from the open source work of Nuclide and Atom-IDE, and archived the Nuclide project.

Regarding Atom’s decision to retire, a GitHub spokesperson said in an email interview, “We hope to invest in our core business over the next few years, which is to focus on enhancing the developer’s cloud experience. There are already many strong Atom alternatives. It can meet the various needs of users, and VS Code has also gained a considerable market share, so we are confident in this adjustment.”

“Atom’s retirement shouldn’t have much impact on the GitHub developer ecosystem. GitHub’s API will still be supported, allowing developers to seamlessly integrate GitHub across thousands of other products. We also maintain our own suite of applications, Includes GitHub Desktop, GitHub Mobile, and GitHub CLI.”

According to the Stack Overflow 2021 Developer Survey, 13% of developers use Atom as their primary environment and 71% use VS Code.

Although the deadline is set, the huge influence of Atom can be seen from the Electron framework. To this day, Electron.js is still the foundation of applications like Discord, Skype, Slack, Trello, and Visual Studio Code. But technological change always comes, and Microsoft has previously said it intends to get rid of Electron in Teams. In the future, cross-platform frameworks such as Flutter, Tauri, and Microsoft’s just-announced .NET Multi-platform App UI (.NET MAUI) may also completely replace Electron.

Also, the same team at GitHub Atom Editor is creating a new project called Zed, led by core contributor Max Brunsfeld and founding member Nathan Sobo.

Nathan Sobo said Zed, the successor to Atom, written in Rust, a custom native UI framework and designed as a “collaborative” product, will launch in Private Alpha this week.

In any case, after the “golden wash” on December 15, 2022, Atom should not quit the arena immediately. GitHub intends to archive the Atom repo, but this is an open source editor after all. As long as you are willing to continue to support it, you can still use it at will.

The text and pictures in this article are from InfoQ


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