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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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Atom Text Editor Is there a future for the Atom editor?

When Atom first came out, it was novel in that it was built on web technologies and therefore pretty flexible and exciting for folks who worked in those technologies. It's called "A hackable text editor for the 21st Century".

But then VSCode came along and took a lot of similar ideas and executed them really well. It took off. Despite the occasional performance drawbacks of these kinds of editors, I was always a believer.

I wrote about my switch from Atom to VSCode about 18 months ago. The post has received almost 150,000 reads so it seems like a lot of people were curious about making the same switch.

A little competition is rarely enough to sew the demise of a software productivity tool, but Atom was created by GitHub, which has since been acquired by Microsoft, creators of VSCode. I'm just wondering if that would lead to the eventual slide into obscurity of their "other" code editor which is trying to fit the same niche.

I have not followed Atom very closely, so I don't know the answer to this question. I'm curious what is going on from those who still use Atom or have followed any discussions around the project.

And how does this whole saga make you feel? Has Atom been a success?

Top comments (73)

mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

I tried using Atom. It was bloated, hard to configure, and still didn't do what I want. Did lots, but all of it poorly.

I tried using VSCode. It didn't feel bloated, was easier to configure, and came closer to doing what I want.

That said, I use Kate on Linux, and Sublime on Mac. I like watching text editors come and go. My list of requirements is small, but surprising few products meet them.

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Strangely, my experience with Atom vs. VSCode was the same. Atom was cool in theory, but hard to configure, bloated, and slow. VSCode just hummed along.

So, unless Atom can be refactored to be as sleek and performant as VSCode, I think it's bound to lose the editor war indefinitely.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

So, unless Atom can be refactored to be as sleek and performant as VSCode, I think it's bound to lose the editor war indefinitely.

Definitely. And my thought is that of "is it even worth bothering to do?", speaking in terms of both being Microsoft projects. It just doesn't seem like they'll want to bother. I know there are some other IDEs built on top of Atom and maybe there is a purpose to the ecosystem.

Sublime still has a place in the ecosystem, so do VIM, Emacs, Jetbrain stuff, etc. I just don't know that Atom fits in anywhere that VSCode doesn't.

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anpos231 profile image

Strangely enough I had the exact opposite experience.
I find Atom very clear and simple, on the one hand I have this very powerful editor that I can extend almost indefinitely, but at the same time it does exactly what I need it to do and nothing more.

I personally found VSCode very bloated - lot's of icons everywhere, for a person who get's easily distracted, it was a horrible experience.

I have to say that if Atom ever goes away, then I am going back to vim.

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simonini profile image

Same experience. I prefer Atom.

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tterb profile image
Brett Stevenson

I think my experience is probably skewed since I had spent a fair amount of time customizing Atom to my liking before exploring VSCode, but I found VSCode and it's extensions fairly difficult to configure compared to Atom.

victorhqc profile image
Victor Quiroz

I've been in Atom since the first public beta. It's simple and has all the features I need, I'm not looking for an IDE with tons of features, so Atom has been good enough for me, just text highlight, linting and a feature here and there.

When VSCode was announced, I was curious and tried to switch but I didn't like the UI in general. In those times VSCode was clearly faster than Atom, but I was too used to my editor to switch.

Time went through and more and more people kept moving to VScode, to the point that I receive social pressure to move from Atom as a regular basis, "VSCode is faster, leave Atom". I then tried to switch again, just to see if I could do it this time, but the performance difference is not noticable anymore and I still prefer the simpler UI (in my opinion) from Atom.

Atom has future as long as there are users like me, and developers willing to maintain it or keep giving it love.

Now, let's remember that Electron was originally named "Atom Shell", and some of the people maintaing Electron, also maintain Atom.

Having two good editors using Electron benefit all of us. It benefits people using only Electron, people that use Atom and people using VSCode because it keeps innovation and competition up!

austincondiff profile image
Austin Condiff • Edited

I had an almost identical experience. Tried switching several times. Couldn’t though because the UI isn’t nearly as polished. It also isn’t nearly as hackable and doesn’t support UI themes. Worst of all, you can’t change those AWEFUL icons in the activity bar. I was however able to hack it with an extension that basically modifies the app with custom CSS. When you use it, VS Code says “Unsupported” in the title bar. I finally got it looking halfway decent borrowing a lot of design queues from Framer X. I tried packaging this all up, but it’s an MS product and they said they don’t like people changing the UI. 🤦🏻‍♂️

anpos231 profile image

MS in a nutshell.

renegadecoder94 profile image
Jeremy Grifski • Edited

So, I’ve been using Atom for a long time, and I never considered switching because I’m lazy. However, it is unbearably slow, so I decided to download VSCode just now.

Let’s just say, I like it a lot. RIP Atom.

Side note: VSCode automatically offered to install an Atom shortcuts extension, so the transition has been incredibly smooth.

Request: Hit me up with your favorite themes.

keziahmoselle profile image
jamiekaren profile image
Jamie Ferrugiaro

Omg this theme is amazing. Definitely using!

garzo profile image
Dave MG

Well I wasn't planning on changing my theme any time soon, and then this. Thanks!

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keziahmoselle profile image

Haha enjoy !

analystbruh profile image
Chris Martin
kunal1620 profile image
Kunal Pawar
korbraan profile image
Cédric Rémond

One Dark Pro:

What I missed the most after switching from Atom to VS Code was the Atom really good default theme.

peterwitham profile image
Peter Witham

I tried so hard to get along with Atom. For me, the configuration difficulty was not the biggest issue but it certainly was one, for me the biggest problem was speed. It just never felt fast enough.

If I remember it correctly, Atom and VS Code are both built atop Electron?

jrop profile image
Jonathan Apodaca

Yes, both are built on Electron.

Every time somebody on Reddit brings up how "Electron apps are slow and bloated", I like to think about how well-implemented software (VSCode) can work despite its constrained environment.

peterwitham profile image
Peter Witham

I feel that Microsoft has done an outstanding job of showing how well an Electron-based app can run by way of VS Code when done right.

arandilopez profile image
Arandi López

I use and will use atom until the end of its days. When that happens, I'll buy and switch to sublime again. I don't like vscode and don't trust on its tracking and sniffing features

alphayama profile image
Ashish Pratap

You can try Code-OSS. It is a version of VS Code without Microsoft's telemetry.

arandilopez profile image
Arandi López

Sounds interesting. thanks!

numtostr profile image
Vikas Raj

When I was a student, I used atom for my projects and coding stuff. And it was 🔥. But frequently ran into performance issue, slow startup etc.

Now, I just use VS Code for every language I work with or wanna try. Its configuration and extensions are limitless. It just feels like that it belongs to you.

Honourable Mention: VIM
I also use vim for quick file edits as terminal always stays open so why don't just use it.

jsn1nj4 profile image
Elliot Derhay

Going to add my 2 cents and personal experience.

TL;DR, I did switch from Atom to VS Code, and GitHub has mentioned multiple times that Atom isn't going anywhere.

Long version

I started using Atom in alpha. I did quickly fall in love with it and was a user even after a lot of people jumped ship after MS bought GitHub. I still like a handful of things about it better than VS Code (the find and replace layout, being able to search installed packages instead of either listing installed or searching), and running it on Linux (which I use on my own machine now) is far faster and less resource-intensive than running it on Windows.

It does still lag in some areas a little bit though, like when you do ctrl-p to find a project file. Takes forever to index a project (or it did last time I used it).

My reasons for switching were ultimately performance, simple/clean UI, integrated terminal, personal performance/consistency (I was using it at work already), and (yes, sue me) the available themes were alright enough to satisfy my ridiculous need to switch color schemes occasionally.

As for whether it's going anywhere, Lee Dohm has said multiple times that Atom is sticking around. And there are a number of users who settled on Atom even after messing around with Code, Sublime and other alternatives. They like that they can get Atom to do what they need it to do, especially when Code's API restricts them.

The discussion does come up occasionally though still with the users. I joined Atom's Slack group a while ago and haven't left yet despite the switch to Code. Heck I may yet give Atom a try now and again just to see what's changed.

steveblue profile image
Stephen Belovarich • Edited

After coding in XCode for a couple days, I’ll take a native app any day over hybrid. I’d rather have fewer node processes running. There is a huge hole in the market for affordable native IDE. WebStorm should be super performant but seems slow and clunky. There is a new Coda coming out. At least that’s something but will it live up to today’s standards?

jaakidup profile image

I really loved Atom. It was my favourite editor for a while, beautiful and fast. But it didn't stay that way. It became a bloated mess, which made me switch over to VSCode as it was light and fast.
I'm seeing the same pattern developing with VSCode now. New features are being crammed in every other day.
The first signs of that bloated feeling has emerged in VSCode, much like those signs I saw in Atom just before the switch.

So has the time come to start looking for a new again?...

jrop profile image
Jonathan Apodaca

The thing is, even as more features are added, it is still zippier than, say, WebStorm (at least for me).

jaakidup profile image

Oh yes, definitely.

Personally I don't really like full blown IDEs, I prefer middle weight editors with "just enough" features and super snappy responsiveness.

kryptoniangl profile image
Kryptonian GL

VS Code definitely feels less bloated and seems easier to navigate. That's the main reason I switched. However, (and this may sound peculiar) I love the name Atom for an editor as well as the Atom logo and much prefer both over VS Code. Let's face it, the name "VS Code" along with its logo are kinda lame.

So, what if MS ditched the Atom editor but migrated its name and logo over to VS Code? Huh? Huh?

I'm sure it will never happen, but man, the Atom name and logo are sooo much cooler IMHO!

prahladyeri profile image
Prahlad Yeri • Edited

Forget atom, the electron's future itself is in a pretty much flux state right now. In the early 2000s, no one would have thought even in their wildest dreams that an interpreted toy language like JavaScript will be used to write Desktop GUI apps.

And yet, they are being written today but is their performance acceptable? Atom is a cool editor but try opening a very long file or have multiple extensions for code completion in multiple languages, and it will start crawling even with 8 GB RAM!

Whether or not electron will succeed going further will depend on two factors:

  1. State of competing GUI components: Both Java and C# are light years ahead in performance than electron but they have two problems. Java is suffering from Oracle's neglect and apathy, whereas C# is platform dependent (WinForms/WPF don't run on Ubuntu or Fedora). However, Microsoft is working hard on bringing a WinForms/WPF equivalent in .NET Core and when that happens, electron's empire will stumble! But Microsoft may not do that after all because ironically, they are also invested in electron (VSCode and some other apps).

  2. State of hardware costs: Moore's law seems to have come to a standstill since a decade or so. In fact, the cost of processors and RAM seems to be going up instead of coming down! If this trend continues, people will make that effort to learn Java or C# or even Python (PySide/gobject) to go cross-platform instead of relying on electron.

kenbellows profile image
Ken Bellows

I mean, VS Code is also an Electron app, and for the most part it flies. I have very few performance complaints, and I've used it as my full-time editor for like a year now.

As for comparing with editors built in other languages, two thoughts:

  • First, the fact that Electron is built on web technology means that writing plugins and language extensions and such is super accessible to anyone who already knows web tech, without needing to learn specific GUI packages or anything. And seeing that web tech is sort of slowly taking over everything, that's a big win for Electron.

  • Second, don't dismiss the performance gains of Web Assembly. The more WASM stabilized and popularizes, the less need there will be to move away from Node-based tech once you hit performance limits. You can even cross-compile existing libraries for processing-heavy tasks.

So I don't think VS Code (or Electron) is going anywhere anytime soon.

joehobot profile image
Joe Hobot

To be honest I've been using Sublime over Atom and once I found out about VSC I rarely even open Sublime. The only time I do open it is if I need to modify one file on a fly vs using vi.

Future for any of editors? I think it comes to user preference. Some use git, some use bitbucket and some still use SVN :)

ajarzebowski profile image
Andrzej Jarzebowski

I just want to point out that Bitbucket is no VCS. You can host your code on Bitbucket from Git and Mercurial.

anaganisk profile image
Sai Kiran • Edited

Bitbucket is git/mercurial

cecilelebleu profile image
Cécile Lebleu

I switched from Atom to VSCode just about a month ago. I mainly use them for taking notes from courses and processes in markdown files.

Pros: really easy to use for me. Everything is logical and in the right place. I like having so many extensions, and how easy they are to find and install.
Cons: in markdown and preview, php snippets don’t really work. Not a huge deal at all, but I was going through a php course, and snippet after snippet the markdown files didn’t make sense anymore. The fact that nobody from Atom seemed to care frustrated me, so I downloaded VSCode. The only performance issue I ever got (and I promise I did work with more than just markdown) was scrolling at the same time in the markdown files and it’s preview.
First of all, the confusion: why are there like 3 different versions, some paid, some free, and there’s also visual studio, why is it so complicated? Search for Atom and you get one simple page with one download button. Why, Microsoft??
When I finally downloaded the right one (after wrongfully downloading and going through the pain of installing visual studio on a Mac a week before) I had to, you guessed it, wait for updates and packages and stuff. Why is the install file not ready and complete? I want to download a piece of software, ready to go, not an installer to download 5 more GB of... stuff. Gosh. It reminds me of the “Get a Mac” ads from like 2009.
Rant out, let’s move on. Usability in VSCode was close to zero in the beginning. Where are the settings? Where do I get packages? What’s these bars here and there that I don’t need and why is the sidebar so big! It wasn’t easy. I’m slowly getting there, but the curve was a LOT easier with Atom.
I’m still fighting with VSCode, but slowly understanding how it works. I still have no idea how to install a package or get Git going on, and from what I read it’s possible to delete all your files without warning with a single click, which, what??... I’m still giving it a chance because everybody talks wonders about it, but definitely do not feel at home (or even remotely welcome) with it. It’s a process, and I hope one day I may get to even miss VSCode if I don’t have it.

filipe_mdsr profile image
Filipe Ramalho • Edited

There is only one version of VSCode

When I enter Visual Studio Code into the search engine the right site is shown right in the first result.
I never encountered the possibility to delete all files.

If you mean this VS code Delete my Unity project (OS X)(git clean all),it does ask for confirmation.

Visual Studio Code doesn't install another 5GB. If you want it to work right away, install the .zip file, unpack it, ready to use.

To use Git, I recommend using the Gitlens extension.

To install extensions. Managing Extensions in Visual Studio Code

nanythery profile image
Nadine M. Thêry

I am still so newbie in this world I cannot give a very reasoned answer. However, I went through the same change as you did.
I first started with Atom because the course I was doing recommended it. Af first it looked cool. But of course, I didn't have anything to compare with.
In the meantime I also started learning C#, so I had to used Visual Studio. I was so happy about the performance of Visual Studio (the contextual help, the way the things display on screen, etc.) that I decided it to change to Visual Studio Code.
I am not able to put it down into words, but for me Visual Studio Code feels more "solid" than Atom.

icewreck profile image
Anchit Bajaj • Edited

VSCode(or VSCodium, the actual free and open source version) is leagues ahead in terms of speed. While MS promised not to discontinue Atom, development has slowed down. I expect it'll be kicked soon enough in a couple of years.

On the other hand atom-shell or electron is the biggest thing that came out of Atom and it'll still be used in the foreseeable future.