Coding in the Cloud – Part 4

As part of the on-going series of posts looking at online code development platforms, today we will consider Compilr.

Compilr

Compilr differs from the previous web based tools we have looked at.  Unlike them, Compilr is an online compiler, so it will not actually run the source code, but will only build it and confirm that the code successfully compiles.  Compilr aims to become a fully fledged IDE to develop desktop applications, unlike the other IDEs we have considered that focus on developing web applications.

Compilr-CreateProjectTo start using Compilr, you need to create an account.  On accessing your account, you can then create a project.  To create a project, you assign it a name, a category, a programming language (Compilr supports C#, VB.Net, Java, PHP, Ruby and C++), a platform (for C#, this is 2.0. 3.5 and 4.0, and XNA 4.0 Windows), and a project template (for C#, this is Windows Forms, Console and 3D game application templates).

By default, the basic account allows you to create a maximum of 3 projects, all of which are public.  To create a private project, you need to upgrade your account to a paid monthly subscription.

The other main features of Compilr are:

  • Develop desktop applications and games (using the Microsoft XNA framework).
  • Code editor supports syntax highlighting for all of the above languages.
  • Compiles C#, VB.net and Java projects.
  • Allows custom libraries to be uploaded and referenced from your own projects.
  • Generates and displays compilation errors on building a project.
  • You can view other public projects (with read-only access)

Currently, Compilr boosts of 32,000 users. Like the other online development tools we have looked at, Compilr aims to become a social network for developers, in addition to being a development tool.  However, the features associated with the free account offered by Compilr are pretty miserable compared to some of the other tools on offer.    The paid accounts range from $9 to $49 per month, and offer more projects, as well as the option to keep projects private.  Also, there appears to be no integration with source control, though the Compilr team has said they plan to add this feature soon.

What is it like to use?

The Compilr code editor is again reminiscent of Visual Studio, with a similar layout.  The editor is fast to use, and the syntax highlighting is particularly clear and useful.  The main menu is along the top of the browser and is quite small, and is not prominent enough.  There is a small Google Ad displayed in the bottom right-hand corner that is annoying, but it is a minor inconvenience.

Compilr-Editor

When I first attempted to use the application, I was unable to get it to build a basic Hello World project.  Thinking it was an issue with my code, I attempted to use one of Compilr’s default project types.  This still wouldn’t build, despite trying across three major browsers (IE9, Chrome and Firefox). When I tried to resolve the issue, I found that there was no FAQ or tutorials.  There is a forum, but this suffers the same issue that all forums – a complete lack of structure.

The error I experienced appears to have been an issue with the corporate proxy server Compilr-Errorsblocking some content; however, a more useful error message would have been helpful.  Compilr may want to look again at its interface.  When I tried Compilr again the next day, I was able to successfully compile my applications, and they compiled quickly.  Other users have reported of delays when your project has to wait in a queue before being processed.   The error console at the bottom of the code editor gives useful feedback for a developer on the reasons for a failed compilation, allowing them to debug their code.

Overall, Compilr is the least impressive code editor I have looked at so far.  Its basic features are OK, but there are several other applications that offer similar functionality with much greater freedom for developers (i.e. database support).  The fact that it is concentrating on desktop applications seems very strange to me- why?  If I was developing a desktop application, I want to be able to test it directly from my IDE, which is just not possible with a browser based tool like Compilr.  Instead, you must download the built executable to your desktop before you can run it.  In many corporate environments, the firewall would prevent you directly downloading an executable file.

There is some support for web development in the support for Ruby and PHP, but these options do not even include compilation support.  The only features that stand out for me are the support for third party libraries, allowing you to re-use already developed components, and the fact that Compilr is the only editor so far to support Java.

For the enterprise, Compilr looks to be worthless.  There is no support for databases, source control, and there appears to be minimal support for team working.  You can export projects you create in Compilr, but you are not able to upload existing projects.  Compilr may be useful for organisations that occasionally need to create desktop tools, but I don’t see it being useful for anyone doing serious desktop development work.

About Andrew Parkhill

I'm a software developer with over 5 years experience, primarily working with the Microsoft .NET framework and SharePoint.
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