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Atom as an Alternative Development Environment

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In years past the best development environment was almost always expensive, both to acquire and maintain. When these tools moved to a subscription model based on specific tech stacks and languages, cost and complexity for developers only increased. Even widely-adopted alternatives such as Eclipse, while open source, suffers from silo packaging around specific domains that make it difficult to run and operate a multi-stack environment. But now, new platforms have sprouted up that are completely extensible, and open source. Recently, I took a deep dive to replace my IntelliJ setup with Atom.

Atom is a “hackable text editor” that provides boundless extensibility with plugins from the community at large. Beyond its attractive cost, it is a stripped-down IDE at the start. That means you only add the features you want to use, and it is completely customizable to whatever your needs are. Suddenly your personalized multi-stack development environment can be at your fingertips.

In order to make the best use of the system you will want to customize the IDE to best suit your development needs, and for that, there are a healthy array of packages and themes. To get you started, here are some basic utility packages I recommend that will make your life easier across the board.

  1. Atom-beautify: Automatic formatting and spacing for your files
  2. Autoclose-html: Automatically generate closing tags where applicable as you develop your front-end pages
  3. File-icons: Add helpful visual information to your project navigation
  4. Git-plus: Use git without the terminal, especially helpful for those used to some of the drop-down UI features available in products like IntelliJ
  5. Git-time-machine: See a visual history of git commits for the file
  6. Linter: Simple and easy linter
  7. Mini-map: See a tiny view of your full file and where you are currently navigated
  8. Pigments: Show all color commands in CSS as the color they are, useful for front-end developers

There are still missing features in Atom that could be improved. For example, highlight-selected is not a perfect replacement for refactoring across a project, but it’s a workaround for now. If you’re looking for an out of the box IDE, Atom is not the right tool for you, but if a free and feature-rich tool that you can customize to your unique specifications meets your needs, Atom is a great option.

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