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Atom, GitHub's code editor based on web tech, goes open source

Still OS X–exclusive so far ... but now you can fix that

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Code-sharing site GitHub has announced that Atom, its highly customizable code editor, has left beta and its full source code is now available to world+dog under the MIT open source license.

Why another text editor? In an interview, GitHub developer Nathan Sobo told The Reg that he and the other developers wanted a powerful editor that was fully customizable using JavaScript, which Sobo argued is now the most popular scripting language in the world.

"There's no one thing in Atom that's brand new," Sobo said. "The real sell of Atom is the synthesis of a lot of different things that no one editor does well."

In addition to JavaScript, Atom is built using web technologies that include HTML, CSS, and Node.js, but it is designed to be heavily extensible via add-on packages so that it can be used for more than just web development.

Previously, many of the configurable packages that provided Atom's functionality were open source, but the editor core itself was not. With Tuesday's release, the Atom Core, Package Manager, and Shell are all available under the same license as the other packages.

"As Emacs and Vim have demonstrated over the past three decades, if you want to build a thriving, long-lasting community around a text editor, it has to be open source," Atom's development team explained in a blog post.

Sobo told The Reg that the MIT License was chosen for this release because it is "maximally permissive" and doesn't rule out even commercial use of the Atom code.

"We wanted to send the message to everybody that this is all about the community, and we want to maximize the participation," Sobo said.

Although Atom is now out of beta, it is still considered a pre-1.0 release, Sobo said. There are a variety of project goals on which GitHub would like development help and input from the community, including improving the editor's performance and stabilizing its APIs.

The developers are also working toward launching the editor on other platforms. Although Atom is built using cross-platform technologies, it began life running inside a Cocoa WebView component, so the early versions have all been OS X–only. Sobo said that with the editor now running in Atom Shell, rather than WebView, he hopes to launch Linux and Windows versions within a few months.

Atom is available as a free download for OS X 10.8 and later, along with the source code for it and over 800 different add-on packages, from the project's homepage. ®

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