GitHub Unleashes Atom Into Open Source Realm

After launching its Atom text editor into beta back in February, GitHub on Tuesday announced that the software is now fully open source under the MIT License.

“Much of Atom’s functionality is provided by packages, and every Atom package has been open source since the day we launched the beta,” explained GitHub developer Nathan Sobo. “Today, we’re open sourcing the rest of Atom, which includes the core application, Atom’s package manager, and Atom’s Chromium-based desktop application framework, Atom Shell.”

Atom currently runs only on OS X 10.8 or later. The software has not yet reached version 1.0, however, so “in the next few months, we’ll be focusing on improving performance, releasing on Linux and Windows, and stabilizing APIs,” Sobo said. “We think being open source will help us get there faster.”

Windows and Linux releases “are certainly high-priority for the Atom team,” GitHub spokesperson Kate Guarente told LinuxInsider.

Until they’re ready, instructions for manually building on Linux are available on the Atom site, she pointed out.

Broader Appeal

“It’s interesting, because earlier statements indicated that Atom would not in fact be open-sourced,” Stephen O’Grady, cofounder and principal analyst with RedMonk, told LinuxInsider.

Atom typically appeals to developers focused on JavaScript and Node.js, O’Grady noted, “but it is also relevant to anyone using editors like Sublime Text, BBEdit or, to a lesser extent, Emacs or Vim.

“The fact that it’s now open source will undoubtedly widen its appeal,” he added.

A Boon for Collaboration

Given that Atom packages always have been open source, “this isn’t that big of a move,” Jay Lyman, senior analyst for enterprise software with 451 Research, told LinuxInsider.

“However, it’s good to have the actual software application or core code as open source to further feed and grow the community,” he said.

Overall, “I see this as largely a housekeeping matter, but one that nonetheless should help to encourage more collaboration and perhaps a more active, responsive community that is using and building Atom,” Lyman added.

‘A More User-Friendly Tool’

Atom is really “an upgrade to other text editors that have been around for many years,” Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst with Tirias Research, told LinuxInsider. “It is built modular to allow for easier add-ons and intended to be a more user-friendly environment.”

That said, “there are a number of options available from the existing text editors and integrated development environments, and Atom is currently only available on OS X 10.8 and later, so this is not necessarily earth-shattering,” McGregor opined.

Existing developers are “unlikely to switch overnight, but new developers will likely find this a more user-friendly development tool,” he added.

In the big picture, though, the move “represents the development of more robust and flexible applications through an open-source/community development model,” McGregor concluded.

‘A Back-to-Basics Movement’

Simple text editors for coding currently are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, Al Hilwa, program director for software development research with IDC, told LinuxInsider.

“Emacs and Vim never really lost their popularity, but in the last few years there has been a back-to-basics movement in coding,” he explained, whereby developers — especially in the Web ecosystem — are shifting to lightweight integrated development environments or editors.

“We have actually seen IDEs themselves adapt by simplifying the interfaces, such as happened with Visual Studio, but we are also seeing solutions like Atom, which bridge the gap further by adding extensibility and a rich ecosystem of packages,” he added.

“I think GitHub is in a great position to drive this kind of technology,” Hilwa concluded, “and it is great to see it become fully open-sourced.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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