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AWS Cloud9 IDE threatens Microsoft developer base

With its Cloud9 IDE, AWS challenges Microsoft where it matters most -- with the developer community, where Microsoft has long-held sway.

As cloud platform providers battle for supremacy, they've trained their sights on developers to expand adoption of their services.

A top issue now for leading cloud platforms is to make them as developer-friendly as possible to attract new developers, as both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services have done. For instance, at its re:Invent 2017 conference last month, the company launched AWS Cloud9 IDE, a cloud-based integrated development environment that can be accessed through any web browser. That fills in a key missing piece for AWS as it competes with other cloud providers -- an integrated environment to write, run and debug code.

"AWS finally has provided a 'living room' for developers with its Cloud9 IDE," said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in San Francisco. That fills a void for AWS as it competes with other cloud providers -- especially Microsoft, which continues to extend its longtime strengths of developer tools and relationships with the developer community into the cloud era.

Indeed, for developers that have grown up in the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE ecosystem, Microsoft Azure is a logical choice as the two have been optimized for one another. However, not all developers use Visual Studio, so cloud providers must deliver an open set of services to attract developers. Now, having integrated the Cloud9 technology it acquired last year as the Cloud9 IDE, AWS has an optimized developer platform of its own.

AWS Cloud9 IDE adoption 

"There is no doubt we will use it," said Chris Wegmann, managing director of the Accenture AWS Business Group at Accenture. "We've used lots of native tooling. There have been gaps in the app dev tooling for a while, but some third parties, like Cloud9, have filled those gaps in the past. Now it is part of the mothership."

Forrester analyst Michael FacemireMichael Facemire

With the Cloud9 IDE, AWS offers developers an IDE experience focused on their cloud versus having them use their top competitor's IDE with an AWS-focused toolkit, said Rhett Dillingham, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy in Austin, Texas.

"[They] are now providing an IDE with strong AWS service integration, for example, for building serverless apps with Lambda, as they build out its feature set with real-time paired-programming and direct terminal access for AWS CLI [command-line interface] use," he said.

That integration is key to lure developers away from their familiar development environments.

"When I saw the news about the Cloud9 IDE I said that's great, there's another competitor in this market," said Justin Rupp, systems and cloud architect at GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding organization in Washington, D.C. Rupp uses Microsoft's popular Visual Studio Code tool, also known as VS Code, a lightweight code editor for Windows, Linux and macOS.

The challenge for AWS is to attract developers that already like the tool they're using, and that'll be a tall order, said Michael Facemire, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "I'm a developer myself and I'm not giving up VS Code," he said.

That's been the knock against AWS, that they provide lots of cool functionality, but no tooling. This starts to address that big knock.
Michael Facemireanalyst, Forrester Research

For now, Cloud9 IDE is a "beachhead" for AWS to present something for developers today, and build it up over time, Facemire said. For example, to tweak a Lambda function, a developer could just pull up the cloud editor that Amazon provides right there live, he said.

"That's been the knock against AWS, that they provide lots of cool functionality, but no tooling," Facemire said. "This starts to address that big knock."

Who is more developer-friendly?

AWS' reputation is that it's not the most developer-friendly cloud platform from a tooling perspective, which hardcore, professional developers don't require. But as AWS has grown and expanded, it's become friendlier to the rest of the developer community because of its sheer volume and consumability. And the AWS Cloud9 IDE appeals to developers that fit in between the low-code set and the hardcore pros, said Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud research at Dallas-based Trend Micro.

"The Cloud9 tool set is firmly in the middle, where you've got some great visualization, you've got some great collaboration features, and it's really going to open it up for more people to be able to build on the AWS cloud platform," he said.

Despite providing a new IDE to its developer base, AWS must do more to win their complete loyalty.

AWS Cloud9 IDE supports JavaScript, Python, PHP and more, but does not have first-class Java support, which is surprising given how many developers use Java. Secondly, Amazon chose to not use the open source Language Server Protocol (LSP), said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, which has provided the Eclipse Che web-based development environment since 2014. Eclipse Che supports Java and has provided containerized developer workspaces for almost two years.

AWS will eventually implement Java support, but it will have to do it themselves from scratch, he said. Instead, if they had participated in the LSP ecosystem, they could have had Java support today based on the Eclipse LSP4J project, the same codebase with which Microsoft provides Java support for VS Code, he said.

This proprietary approach to developer tools is out of touch with industry best practices, Milinkovich said. "Cloud9 may provide a productivity boost for AWS developers, but it will not be the open source solution that the industry is looking for," he said.

Constellation Research's Mueller agreed, and noted that in some ways AWS is trying to out-Microsoft Microsoft.

"It's very early days for AWS Cloud9 IDE, and AWS has to work on the value proposition," he said. "But, like you have to use Visual Studio for Azure to be fully productive, the same story will repeat for Cloud9 in a few years."

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