Eclipse Releases Open Source Alternative to Visual Studio Code

The Eclipse Foundation has released Eclipse Theia 1.0, which it is promoting as "a true open source alternative" to Microsoft's lightweight Visual Studio Code (VS Code) source code editor.

An extensible platform for building multi-language desktop and Web-based IDEs from the same codebase, Theia was started in 2016 as a project by Ericsson and TypeFox, and it became an Eclipse project in 2019. It's now one of the projects in the Eclipse Cloud Development Tools Working Group (ECD WG), an industry collaboration focused on delivering development tools for and in the cloud.

The list of early contributors and adopters includes IBM, Red Hat, SAP, Gitpod, ARM, Arduino and Google Cloud.

One of the key differences between Eclipse Theia and VS Code is architectural: Theia is more modular and allows for more customizations. But it was also designed from the ground to run both as a native desktop application and in the cloud, and it was developed under the vendor-neutral and community-governed Eclipse Foundation.

"We believe VS Code is an outstanding solution in terms of functionality," said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, in a statement, "but despite claims to the contrary, it is not truly an open source solution, as it is controlled solely by Microsoft and doesn't make allowances for custom 'white label' solutions development. This significantly restricts its applicability, particularly for large organizations. Eclipse Theia provides the same functionality and extensibility as VS Code without the significant costs and with true vendor-neutral governance."

To support both the desktop and cloud with a single source, Theia runs in two separate processes, front end and back end, respectively, and they communicate through JSON-RPC messages over WebSockets or REST APIs over HTTP. Both the front-end and back-end processes have their dependency injection (DI) container, to which extensions can contribute. Similar to VS Code's online marketplace for code extensions, Eclipse Theia 1.0 also has a marketplace that is available today, and which allows for even non-VS Code applications to use these extensions.

The Eclipse Cloud Development Tools Working Group drives the evolution and broad adoption of de facto standards for cloud development tools, including language support, extensions and developer workspace definition. The group also explores the impacts and optimizations for running developer tools in a cloud environment, including scale-out/scale-to-zero execution of compute-intensive tasks like CI and testing.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].