Code Bubbles and the Keyboard

I was catching up on reading one of my favorite blogs today, Lambda the Ultimate, and was not disappointed in the least.  At the top of the list sat Code Bubbles, a whole new take on the IDE.  Code Bubbles shocked me because it’s visually manifest much of what I had in mind when I wrote almost two years ago on leaving flat files behind.  That said, I think Code Bubbles has a long way to go before it’s a reasonable platform to choose for active development.

From a high-level point of view, Code Bubbles is a modern programmer’s dream.  With organized tasks it would be much easier keep your mind focused on what you are trying to accomplish.  With code represented outside of its restrictive flat file format, you would need not repeatedly wade through piles of irrelevant cruft to reach the small pieces of code you need to change or consider.  Even the integration with bug tracking and email looks quite promising.

However, the actual process of using Code Bubbles looks to be an experienced programmer’s worst nightmare.  To be tied so extensively to the mouse would mean we all would need to move to one handed keyboards.  To organize everything by drag and drop on the screen would mean we would end up spending much of our time organizing the layout of code on our screen instead of its actual contents.  Also, due to the nature of the scroll-and-select interface, finding what you need in a large project could quickly become quite annoying.

Even at the most basic level, just reaching for the mouse has a huge impact on programmer performance.  Many think of it much like a cache miss.

The good news is that none of these problems seem insurmountable.  An intelligent keyboard shortcut scheme could be invented.   A snap-in grid layout would speed drag and drop, although automatic layout needs to happen eventually.  Perhaps the scroll and select could be made less frustrating with a textbox filter (ala Firefox config).

An even more far reaching solution to this mousyness might be something like NDepend style querying.  Even just Windows 7-style keyword search would be a huge boon.  The IDE practically screams for keyboard queries.

That said, I for one am looking forward to the day I can use Code Bubbles (or something similar) as a mature and robust IDE.  With the monstrous computing beasts we have under our desks, the layout of on disk or in memory should not limit the ways in which we are able to interact with our code.

Update: Additional commentary is available on programming reddit.

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