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Posted by Richy George on 29 January, 2024This post was originally published on this site
In August 2023, a small group of Google development and UX leads bewailed the difficulty of setting up a development environment for multiplatform and full-stack apps, and offered their take on an experimental prototype intended to solve the issues. Difficulty setting up technology stacks for development is not a new problem. It has been an issue since at least the early 1980s, when personal computers became available.
Project IDX is a browser-based development environment built on Code OSS and powered by Codey, a generative AI foundation model trained on code and built on PaLM 2. Project IDX is designed to make it easier to build, manage, and deploy full-stack web and multiplatform applications, using popular frameworks and languages.
Code OSS is the fully open-source version of Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code. The latter has a few proprietary additions, despite being free software.
At the time of its announcement in August, Project IDX was only available through a waitlist sign-up; my application was finally approved in December. Project IDX is still very much a rough-edged preview, but has an interesting design and some utility, even if it’s not yet intended for use in a production environment.
There are several products that compete with Project IDX at some level. These include AWS Cloud9, Gitpod, Online IDE, Replit, StackBlitz, Eclipse Che, Codeanywhere, and GitHub Codespaces.
There are a number of features that make Project IDX look promising despite its rough edges and its feel of being under construction. For starters, it’s actually a familiar environment for anyone who uses Visual Studio Code. As I understand it, the portions of VS Code that aren’t included in Code OSS are the Microsoft-specific customizations, which don’t matter too much in this context.
Some of those customizations are replaced by the IDX AI powered by Codey. The IDX AI provides code suggestions as you type and offers an AI-powered code chat you can ask for help with your code, to generate new code, to translate code to another language, to explain code, and to write unit tests. Supposedly, IDX AI also highlights possible license requirements based on AI-generated code, although I haven’t seen that pop up.
The IDX Code OSS editor runs in a Google Cloud VM, called a Cloud Workstation. Normally, Cloud Workstation time is billed per hour at a rate that varies with the size of the machine type, from $0.16/hour to $9.36/hour. Project IDX is currently free.
Normally, Cloud Workstations support a variety of popular IDEs and Duet AI. Project IDX supports only Code OSS, and Codey instead of Duet. (I can’t tell you the difference between Duet AI and Codey in practice, although it might be an interesting comparison to investigate.) Cloud Workstations can normally run inside your private network and in your staging environment. Project IDX is currently restricted to its own environment.
npm install in your IDX terminal window after your import completes. You can also turn your project into a Git repository from within IDX and sync that with GitHub.
In addition to a web preview, Project IDX presents previews in Android emulators and iOS simulators, where supported by the underlying template. All three work for a Flutter app. Only two, web preview and iOS simulator, work for an Angular app, since a stock Angular app isn’t native unless you add something like Ionic or NativeScript.
You can deploy directly from your workspace to Firebase hosting. On an experimental basis, you can share your workspace with complete shared access.
Project IDX comes with pre-installed extensions for the languages and frameworks it supports. It is supposed to support additional extensions that are available from OpenVSX, although I can’t confirm whether all of those work at this point—there are just too many (over 3,000) to check.
One current major limitation of Project IDX is that only two projects are allowed at once. You can get around this by saving projects to GitHub and juggling which you have open in IDX.
Project IDX shows a lot of promise. It’s visually similar to Visual Studio Code for the Web (which, sadly, lacks a terminal and debugger). It’s both visually and functionally similar to GitHub Codespaces and Gitpod, and it’s functionally similar to Eclipse Che.
One reason you might prefer Project IDX to any of those would be its hosting in a Google Cloud Workspace, which is a big advantage if you want to integrate with any Google Cloud services, or with other programs you have running in the Google Cloud. On the other hand, if your existing code runs on AWS, you might want to consider using AWS Cloud9.
My biggest concern about making a commitment to Project IDX would be Google’s long history of killing its projects and services. Remember Google+? Freebase? The Google Search Appliance? Polymer? Google Domains? All ex-parrots, they’ve rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.
Nevertheless, Project IDX has its attractions. As long as you create a GitHub repository from your workspace and keep it current, it’s certainly worth a try.
Cost: Free preview
Platform: Browser-based, hosted on Google Cloud
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