Eclipse Orion Online IDE Provides Effective Tools for Web Development

REVIEW: The Eclipse Orion IDE is a first online version of Eclipse. You can write code and develop software using an IDE that runs in your browser. But how does it work?

With so many tools moving to Web-based solutions, the Eclipse community has recognized the need for a browser-based version of their Eclipse integrated development environment. As such, they've been working on the Orion Online IDE, which includes many Eclipse-like features, but runs in the browser with the support of back-end server software. I spent some time with it, and here's what I found.

First, the editor is good. They've done a good job of including editor tools many programmers would probably find useful. For example, on the right side are little markers showing the locations of errors in the code.

These markers are positioned relative to the height of the window to give you a visual indicator of where in the document the errors are. You can click on a marker, and it will take you right to the error in the code. Hotkeys also work, such as Ctrl+S to save the current document you're working on, and of course, color syntax highlighting is there.

There's also a nice outlining feature. When you open a JavaScript file, the editor (which is itself written in JavaScript), displays an outline view of the file. On the left side, it will list the functions present in the file, and you can click on any function name to be taken there.

Behind the scenes, the editor uses JSLint to provide the function hierarchy and to find the errors and warnings. Remember, this editor is really a JavaScript application running inside your browser, and it includes various third-party libraries to provide functionality.

Code Search Is Built In

The editor also supports other languages such as HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) while similarly showing errors and hierarchies. Syntax highlighting is also available for Java, but no outlining is done. The "Getting Started Guide" in the documentation actually explains this. They hope to add more features for server-side languages, but they were using an early version of Orion to develop Orion itself and, as such, had to implement the features they needed first.

One feature I really liked was the text-search capability. I had loaded a JavaScript file that I wanted to edit. Out of sheer habit, I pressed Ctrl+F and immediately started typing. I was expecting to be in the usual browser search box, but in fact, Ctrl+F launched Orion's own code search box. I typed the word "target" (which was present in multiple places in the file) and I saw it highlighted in all places, just like in a nice desktop-based code editor. There's a drop-down with several options, such as Case Sensitive and even Regular Expression.

There were a couple things missing that I would have expected. For example, I wasn't able to edit multiple documents at once via tabs like you can in most text editors.

It also seemed to lack Ajax features in places I would have expected. When I opened a file, instead of using Ajax to refresh just the editor, the whole browser page refreshes with a different URL.