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Gitpod Announces Open Source OpenVSCode Server


Gitpod, a company co-founded by Sven Efftinge, specializes in automating development environments. Designed for applications running in the cloud, Gitpod frees engineering teams from the friction of manually setting up local dev environments, saving dozens of hours and enabling a new level of collaboration to create applications much more quickly than ever before. The company recently announced the open-source project OpenVSCode Server that runs the latest VS Code on a remote machine accessed through a modern web browser. In this episode of Let’s Talk, we sat down with Efftinge, who is also the CEO of the company, to learn more about this new project, the company and more. I hope you will enjoy the discussion as much as I did.

Here are some of the topics we covered in the show:

  • A quick intro to the company
  • How is Gitpod’s approach different from that of GitHub Codespaces?
  • Why should developers choose Gitpod over GitHub Codespaces? What are the benefits?
  • Intro to OpenVSCode and why the company created the project.
  • Will it remain a company-managed project or are there plans to move it to some foundation? How does Gitpod plan to attract more open source developers and who is the target audience?
  • Why does Gitpod do open source?
  • How to get involved with the project?

Guest: Sven Efftinge (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Company: Gitpod (Twitter)
Show: Let’s Talk


Swapnil Bhartiya: This is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya, and welcome TFiR Newsroom. Gitpod has introduced open-source project, OpenVSCode Server that runs the latest VS code on a remote machine that can be accessed through a modern web browser. To talk about of this project, we have with us once again, Sven Efftinge, CEO and co-founder of Gitpod. Sven, it’s great to have you back on the show.

Sven Efftinge: Thanks for having me again.

Swapnil Bhartiya: We have covered your folks earlier but I want to remind our viewers what is the company all about, so please quickly tell us about the company.

Sven Efftinge: Gitpod is automating development environments. We move them into the cloud and make them automated and ephemeral. Today, a development environment is something that developers have locally. So when you want to start on a project, what you typically have to do is go download your STKs, compilers, an IDE or editor you want to use, set up development database, application server, things like that.

And people use the initial days of their new job with this, but then there’s also ongoing pain with that because as a project evolves, configuration changes and so on. And then developers run into situations where they have issues, their so-called configuration drift. And Gitpod allows people, like teams, to describe what this dev environment should look like in code. And then you check that into your Git repository and you get dev environments in a few seconds for any kind of project, branch or situation you have.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If I may ask you, how is this approach of yours different from GitHub Codespaces?

Sven Efftinge: It is actually not really different. Gitpod and Codespaces are solving the same kind of problem. And yeah, we were super excited learning that Codespaces just do exactly the thing we want to do, helping us. Because what we saw is, there is this pain in the market, but it’s super hard to convince developers in their daily habits. Just moving from a local dev environment that you have full control over, is customized to your very personal taste, and moving that into something that is team-owned and is streamlined and so on. That’s a big change.

And we now have, with GitHub and Microsoft, is very strong believer and supporter of the same idea. And we are now working on convincing the world about the values this brings together.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Right. I would put you on a bit tighter spot, if I ask you, hey, why should a developer choose Gitpod over GitHub Codespaces? Can you point some advantages, benefits or edge that you have?

Sven Efftinge: Once developers have made the decision, “Hey, we want to do this modern software engineering. We want to streamline our DevOps pipeline with this.” And they look closer, then key benefits of Gitpod are Gitpod runs containers. So that is more efficient, more resource efficient. And with that, it’s generally faster and also of course, more affordable, more efficient.

The other thing is Gitpod is open-source. And then probably most important, you can run Gitpod on your own clusters, but also connect it to your existing pipelines. You can connect it with GitLab or with Bitbucket or whatnot, it integrates your existing pipeline, is not a GitHub only thing.

And then there is something, what we call, is ephemeral dev environments. That means dev environments are prepared all the time. When someone pushes to get, we asynchronously already prepare dev environments, so they are sitting ready there for developers. They don’t have the need to wait for them, which is a unique feature of Gitpod. But honestly, I think, and it makes sense and I hope that Codespaces is going into that same direction.

Swapnil Bhartiya: One thing, when you talked about getting things ready for developers, I do feel is sometime developers end up wasting too much of their available time in a lot of unnecessary thing, versus writing the actual code or polishing it, which adds you to the company. Can you talk about how do you also enhance or improve developer’s workflow, so they are much more efficient and their time is used to add value to the business, instead of wasting it.

Sven Efftinge: Yeah. I mean, that’s exactly the thing, streamlining the daily flow. And so what happens is, as an engineer, I go for instance to some Jira ticket or so, I want to start coding. And then what currently happens is, ah, I have to go to my local machine. And then I have to manually fetch the latest code, and make sure everything builds and probably run the test and so on. And then I run into all these kinds of issues. And every small issue is a potential side tracker. But then also, this is just from the experience, you just know, “Okay. I mean, it would be great to code on this now, but I know there’s so much struggle and friction until I get there,” oftentimes people just don’t do that.

And with Gitpod, this is automated. You think you want to work on something, you just press a button and then you have ready setup the environment that just works. And it works the same way for all the team members. And then even when you’ve done your work, you don’t leave a state that you have to maintain over the next year or something like that. You would just do this one task and then you forget about your dev environment, because next time you get a fresh one. You always get fresh ones, all the time, with Gitpod.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Earlier you talked about open source, so that, Sven, I want to talk about. The big announcement, which is introduction of open-source project, OpenVSCode server. Tell me, what is it, what problem are you trying to solve with it?

Sven Efftinge: Yeah. OpenVSCode server is just the one small bit that is the web IDE interface that you get by default with Gitpod or also GitHub Codespaces. The VS Code team has done a really great job building a very popular editor and they have changed the architecture so that it also runs in a browser server context.

Unfortunately, they haven’t released the secret source you need in order to run this in that way. And since so many people ask how we do that, we just thought, “Hey, let’s build a vanilla thing, make it a blueprint so everyone understands how to run Gitpod in …” Not Gitpod, the VS Code in such a context.

And so, yeah, we released that. And that said, by default, when you access Gitpod you get VS Code in the browser, but you can access your workspaces also with a desktop version of VS Code. You can access it through SSH, you can use VI or so. And then also we are working with JetBrains on a integration with their JetBrains IDE. So for Gitpod it’s super important that people understand this is just your very professional dev environment, all the tools you need running in the cloud to be automated. And you can access that with your favorite IDE.

Swapnil Bhartiya: It’s an open-source project. Can you talk about whether it’s going to remain company project? What kind of plans do you have to also attract a wider community around it? Who are you targeting with this project?

Sven Efftinge: Sure. We are targeting with OpenVSCcode server individual developers, who just want to use an IDE in the browser with whatever machines they have running somewhere. But also adopters, we’ve been working with our studio, who have an interest of running it in their context, but also with the likes of Uber or Shopify, who have internally something similar to Gitpod or Codespaces already, and building this and also need an interface for that.

So these are the groups who are using that. But actually long-term, I think we would love to see Microsoft or the VS Code team taking this over. And we are happy to help them maintaining that, it’s not a lot of code. But I think ideally it would belong into the main VS Code project.

Swapnil Bhartiya: All right. I mean, my question was that, what is the intention behind releasing it as an open-source, which could have been … I mean, not proprietary, but you know. What I want to know from you is that, what were the driver behind making it open-source?

Sven Efftinge: Why would we do that business wise?

Swapnil Bhartiya: No. Yeah. With the OpenVSCode server, why you released as an open-source. As you mentioned, you would like it to be part of that. So I just want to understand the whole strategy behind releasing it as an open-source project.

Sven Efftinge: Okay. Yeah. So for us, for one, it is important that everyone understands that Gitpod is not about the web IDE, we got a lot of confusion about that. People think, “Oh, Gitpod is VS Code in the browser.” And it just, by extracting this and making clear to everyone, “No, running VS Code in a browser is a commodity, that’s not an interesting USP or something like that. Everyone can do this, and this is how you do it.” We get that message across.

But then also, lots of people who are looking into this space, they can start adopting this small project and then they might grow out of this eventually and see, “Okay, now I need more security and orchestration and scalability and user management and so on.” And then, they grow naturally into Gitpod. And also for adopters, if Uber at some point thinks, “Okay, it doesn’t make sense to build this ourselves,” they might have seen Gitpod or also Codespaces and adopt one of those.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Right. And most of what you folks do is open-source. And I also feel that when you release something as an open-source, it breeds confidence in the users because they do know that they can always work on the code and there’s a school for wider community around that.

They can also, if they see features, they can go in there. It depends on what kind of community you have built around it, so it does breed a lot of confidence. I mean, users, they do know it’s not getting logged in there, so that is also a very good factor to just increase adoption of a certain project or product. Yeah.

Sven Efftinge: Yeah, exactly. Also, the transparency. Developers really want to see the code they are running and they’re relying on. Yeah, it just makes a lot of sense. And then we also get contributions already, so we don’t have to maintain this alone. This is also in a sense … Open-source makes a lot of sense when you have stuff that is something like a commodity, you join forces there.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Right. And the best thing is that, as you mentioned, a lot of companies, their engineers might have better ideas. This is the whole point of open-source, that you don’t have to have everybody on your payroll to improve your code base and you benefit from each other. It’s amazing.

Sven, I think from this announcement’s perspective and just to understand Gitpod and the comparison with Codespaces, I think I have everything that I was looking for. Is there anything else that you would want to feel, “Hey, from this announcement’s perspective, this is also important that we should talk about it,” or do you think that we have covered everything?

Sven Efftinge: I think we have covered everything. It’s just, it’s so important to me that everyone understands web IDEs are not the problem anymore. The VS Code team has solved that very well. And there is an open-source solution, everyone can use that and build on top.

I think that’s also important with open-source, the industry at large can share this common ground and build interesting stuff on top of that. We don’t have to all work individually basically more or less on the same stuff.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Of course. As you’re talking, there are a lot of consumer of these projects, but there may be also a lot of folks who may want to get involved. So what is the best way to get involved with OpenVSCode server?

Sven Efftinge: Go to the GitHub repository, on the Read Me we already help you how to get started. And there is of course an easy to start dev environment using get Gitpod, so running it on the development is one click away for everyone. And I think that’s the best start to contribute or try out things there.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Sven, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about OpenVSCode. And also give us a comparison between, of course, Gitpod and GitHub Codespaces. It’s open-source, so the beauty is there are more choices, and more choices always good. So thanks for those insights, and I would love to have you back on the show. Thank you.

Sven Efftinge: Thank you.