Here's why programmers are going nuts over a text editor


There are a lot of things programmers care about - but the software in which they do their coding is espeically important.


That's why Atom, a free development tool made by popular code sharing site GitHub, is so popular with the programmer set. Atom has been downloaded 1.2 million times since its introduction into beta this time last year, and has 350,000 monthly active users.

Today, GitHub is announcing the release of Atom 1.0, the first full and stable version, with the promise that this completes the "foundation" of where the company wants it to go.

Atom is a text editor, almost like the Notepad app that came with your Windows computer. But where Notepad is designed to take notes, developer-focused text editors like Atom have a bunch of other tricks that make it friendlier for coding.

A lot of software development happens in what's called an integrated development environment, or IDE. A lot of times, those IDEs are designed to make it easier to write code in one specific programming language or another.


For instance, Java, the most popular programming language in the world, has three popular IDEs: IntelliJ, Eclipse and Netbeans. All of these IDEs come with formatting options and autocomplete options for common Java actions, plus other common Java tools like debuggers.

But for GitHub, the options that already exist out there just weren't flexible enough.

GitHub co-founder Chris Wanstrath

Flickr/by DaveFayram

GitHub co-founder, CEO Chris Wanstrath

"Your dream editor and my dream editor aren't the same," says GitHub Atom engineer Ben Ogle.

That's why Atom, a text editor that was designed to be totally customizable so that the developer could get the exact IDE they wanted, was created. They can even build custom IDEs themselves, too.

Developers who want to code in, say, Google's Go programming language, can either install a pre-built module with a bunch of the tools they want, or write it themselves.


"From the beginning, Atom has been about being as extensible as it can be for developers," Ogle says. After all, a happy developer is a productive developer, getting more code out faster.

Plus, GitHub made the core code to Atom available for free to anybody who wants to use it. Facebook is already incorporating Atom into its own products, as it's just released a text editor for developers called Nuclide that's based on Atom's original code. It comes with features that make it easier to write code using Facebook's own programming language called "Hack."

The game plan here is to eventually make Atom as social at GitHub itself, Ogle says. But for right now, it's all about getting developers on board with the idea of a modular development environment.

"The bigger goal is to build a community, like a movement, around a malleable core," Ogle says.

Atom isn't the only popular open text editor -programmers also love Sublime Text 3. But that doesn't come with the backing of major powerhouse like GitHub, which is rumored to be taking a $200 million funding round that would value the company at $2 billion.


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