Gitpod opens doors to in-browser VS Code with OpenVSCode Server project

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Teams looking to set up their own cloud-based development environment have a new option to check out: OpenVSCode Server. The project is a Visual Studio Code fork with enhancements to run Microsoft’s code editor on a remote machine that can be accessed through a web browser. 

The concept is similar to what is used by GitHub Codespaces and container-based development platform Gitpod, and in fact OpenVSCode Server was shared by the team behind the latter. According to Gitpod, the project was motivated by developers and organisations asking the company about their way of providing the latest VS Code version in the browser. OpenVSCode Server’s objective therefore is to offer just that without adding unnecessary complexity as well as a “straightforward upgrade path” from release to release. 

VS Code is a good candidate for browser-based endeavours, given that it was initially based on the Electron framework, which itself uses Node.js and the Chromium rendering engine.

Possible use cases for OpenVSCode Server span centralised infrastructure for development work that can be accessed from all sorts of devices, to alternative setups for software projects from the realms of data science and machine learning, where computational needs quickly exceed the capability of local hardware. Among the supporters of the project are GitLab, VMware, RStudio, Tabnine, and SUSE, which might hint at further integrations coming up.

OpenVSCode Server can be set up via the official Docker image. Organisations looking to utilise their cloud provider of choice for deployment can check the guides collection which currently contains instructions for AWS EC2, Azure VM, Google Compute Platform GCE, Digital Ocean, Railway, and Render.

Giving the secret sauce away doesn’t seem to stir any fear of losing customers in the Gitpod team, since providing a browser-based VS Code is just one element of the product, and users of the open source project still have to put in some work and resources to get similar results. In a blog post accompanying the release the team commented on the move, writing “an IDE is just one building block of a working cloud-based developer environment, in addition to the operating system, databases, compilers and all the other tools you need to be productive”.

The company also isn’t focused on the in-browser version of Microsoft’s IDE but allows users to access their workspaces via SSH, which Linux users will surely appreciate, and local VS Code installations as well. A way to use JetBrains IDEs such as IntelliJ IDEA and PyCharm to get to Gitpod workspaces is meant to follow soon.