Eclipse Foundation Releases Open-Source Theia IDE

After approximately seven years in development, the Eclipse Foundation's Theia IDE project is now generally available, emerging from beta to challenge Microsoft’s similar Visual Studio Code (VS Code) editor.

The Eclipse Theia IDE is part of the Eclipse Cloud DevTools ecosystem. The Eclipse Foundation calls it "a true open-source alternative to VS Code," which was built on open source but includes proprietary elements, such as default telemetry, which collects usage data.

It's important to note that the Eclipse Theia IDE is a distinct component from the overall Theia project's related Eclipse Theia Platform, which is used to build IDEs and tools based on modern web technologies.

The Theia IDE and VS Code share several similarities due to their design and architecture, which aims to provide modern, extensible coding environments. Theia was built on the same Monaco editor that powers VS Code, and it supports the same Language Server Protocol (LSP) and Debug Adapter Protocol (DAP) that provide IntelliSense code completions, error checking and other features.

The Theia IDE also supports the same extensions as VS Code (via the Open VSX Registry instead of Microsoft's Visual Studio Code Marketplace), which are typically written in TypeScript and JavaScript. There are many, many more extensions available for VS Code in Microsoft's marketplace, while "Extensions for VS Code Compatible Editors" in the Open VSX Registry number 3,784 at the time of this writing.

Eclipse Foundation compared the two tools in 2019, when it said to make a good decision between using VS Code or Eclipse Theia as a platform for a tool, an organization will need to evaluate custom project requirements, noting that as a general direction:

  • If you want to provide some tooling, which is focused on code and want as many developers as possible to use it in their existing IDE, providing an extension for VS Code seems like a valid choice.
  • If you want to provide a white-labeled product for customers or your own developers, which is tailored to a specific use case and possibly contains more features than code editing, you might be better served with Eclipse Theia.

A somewhat more recent post from 2020 exploring the differences between the Eclipse Theia Platform (not IDE) and VS Code noted two primary ways in which the projects' architectures differ:

  • Eclipse Theia allows developers to create desktop and cloud IDEs using a single, open-source technology stack. Microsoft now offers VS Online for cloud development environments, but like VS Code, it cannot be used in open-source initiatives such as Gitpod.
  • Eclipse Theia allows developers to customize every aspect of the IDE without forking or patching the code. This means they can easily use Theia as a base to develop desktop and cloud IDEs that are fully tailored for the needs of internal company projects or for commercial resale as a branded product. VS Code is a developer IDE only. It was never intended to be used as the base for other IDEs, extended, or further distributed.

For developers just wanting to pick a tool to write apps with, an Eclipse Foundation blog post today said: "For developers in search of an IDE that combines flexibility, openness, and cutting-edge technology, the Theia IDE is a compelling choice. Distinctive features like an adaptable toolbar, detachable views, remote development support, and the forthcoming live collaboration mode set Theia apart from other open-source IDEs. Moreover, its commitment to privacy and its stance against incorporating telemetry by default reflect its respect for user preferences."

Eclipse Foundation today emphasized another difference between its Theia IDE and VS Code: the surrounding ecosystem/community.

"At the core of Theia IDE is its vibrant open source community hosted by the Eclipse Foundation," the organization said in a news release. "This ensures freedom for commercial use without proprietary constraints and fosters innovation and reliability through contributions from companies such as Ericsson, EclipseSource, STMicroelectronics, TypeFox, and more. The community-driven model encourages participation and adaptation according to user needs and feedback."

Indeed, the list of contributors to and adopters of the platform is extensive, also featuring Broadcom, Arm, IBM, Red Hat, SAP, Samsung, Google, Gitpod, Huawei and many others.

"The Theia IDE's open-source foundation, supported by a vibrant community and underpinned by a license that champions commercial use, sets the stage for a development environment that is not only powerful and flexible but also inclusive and forward-looking," Eclipse Foundation concluded in its announcement today. "By choosing the Theia IDE, developers and organizations are not just adopting an IDE; they are joining a movement that values collaboration, freedom, and the collective pursuit of excellence in software development."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.