IDEs of the Future

I suspect that by now everyone has seen Bret Victor’s “Inventing on Principle” talk. If you haven’t, here it is:

Bret Victor – Inventing on Principle from CUSEC on Vimeo.

I found it great and inspiring not only for the interactive features, but also for the moral parts. I’ve seen some previous inventions by Bret in the past around WorryDream.com. I wish I had been taught science like this. I try to teach like this, and this definitely is the way I am going to try to teach my children with.

Back to the point, though. Cool as they were, Bret’s interactive examples made me ask myself whether it could work with something more complicated (or less contrived?). I was not quite sure.

Today Prismatic served me Chris Ganger’s Light Table – similar concept, even inspired by Bret, applied to an IDE. Take a look at this video:

The video tells a lot, but if you prefer text you can read more at Chris’ blog.

Now, this is something that probably could work. Maybe not exactly like showed here, maybe not that minimalistic, but it has some ideas that I would really like to see in my IDE today.

  • Showing and searching documentation this way seems absolutely possible. Eclipse does not do it for me yet, though.
  • I would really love to see this kind of view where you focus on a single chunk of code (class, method or function) and can automatically see all the referenced bits (and only them) and navigate back and forth. I imagine a navigable graph that takes me between places, but it shows contents of more than one file at a time, and is not really based on files but “chunks” like functions or classes. Does not seem very far either, and could be as life-changing as multiple desktops or monitors (if not more).
  • Finally, the interactive debugging. Looks great and could work on functional language like Clojure and I can see how it would work there. It would be one hell of an effort to get it working for Java though, with all the encapsulation and baroque ceremony.

All in all, very inspiring ideas. I really hope my IDE does some of those things one day. Keep up the good work, guys!

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