Microsoft's browser-based dev toolbox: How 'Monaco' came to be

Microsoft's browser-based dev toolbox: How 'Monaco' came to be

Summary: What's the former technical lead on Eclipse Java development tools been doing at Microsoft for the past three years? Building a browser-based development toolset.


In 2011, Microsoft made a high-profile hire. Former IBMer and technical lead on Eclipse Java development tools, Erich Gamma, joined the company to work on an unspecified project. Microsoft officials said he'd open a lab in Zurich, Switzerland. And that's about all they revealed.


Now we know what Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Gamma's been doing for the past 2.5 years. He's been working to develop a subset of Visual Studio that would work in not just IE, but also other "modern" browsers, including Safari and Chrome. A first preview release of Gamma's project, codenamed "Monaco" -- which is completely different from this other Microsoft codename "Monaco" -- debuted last week.

When Gamma was still working at IBM, Microsoft officials approached him to gauge his interest in doing work on "online tools," Gamma told me during an in-person interview at last week's Visual Studio 2013 launch in New York.

Microsoft wasn't interested in replacing its native Visual Studio client on Windows. Instead, the idea was to "build a toolbox of components" from the bottom up, Gamma said.

Gamma was intrigued and decided to move to Microsoft. A handful of his former IBM team mates joined his new Zurich lab to work on the project.

Monaco was treated as a "green-grass" startup, Gamma said. That meant he had a wide-open field as to how he wanted to develop Monaco. He decided to use TypeScript, Microsoft's superset of JavaScript that is in the midst of development by Microsoft Technical Fellow Anders Heijlsberg and co.

Even though TypeScript was only in its early stages at the time, Gamma said it appealed to him and his team because of they were all "hard-core JavaScript developers." (TypeScript isn't expected to hit 1.0 until some time in the early part of 2014, according to Microsoft execs.) The team also used Node.js -- the server-side JavaScript technology for receiving and responding to HTTP requests -- and Git in developing Monaco.

"An open mindset meant the ability to use what we wanted and to target every modern browser," said Gamma.

From the get-go, the mantra of the Monaco team was to focus on specific use cases where a browser-based toolset made sense. The first public Monaco use case is focused on allowing testers/developers to edit Windows Azure Web Sites directly from inside any "modern" browser, on any device (Windows-based or not). The thinking is that developers will be able to make relatively simple fixes to their Azure-hosted Web sites from anywhere by using Monaco in a browser.

Monaco also found a home in "Napa," Microsoft's Office 365 development toolset. Monaco provides the cloud/browser-based editing capabilities in Napa. Other Microsoft technologies which have integrated Monaco, even though it's still in preview form, include Team Foundation Service (TFS) and SkyDrive (for file editing within a browser).

The Monaco team decided against building a Metro-Style/Windows Store version of Visual Studio. The browser/toolbox route made more sense, Gamma said, as developers increasingly need to be connected to the Web at all times; there's not as much of an offline use case. The toolbox approach also allows for the addition and removal of specific Visual Studio components, as needed, Gamma said. The Monaco team has developed a command-line console for use in the browser, for example, which may be useful for some developers and applications, but not others.

Microsoft has posted some getting started videos for Monaco on the company's Channel 9 site.

Topics: Software Development, Browser, Microsoft, Web development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Visual Studio/.NET is MIA with Monaco

    The only relationship Monaco appears to have with Visual Studio is in its marketing.

    Why wouldn't Microsoft use its own technologies to build its new browser-based development environment? We're supposed to get excited about a "Visual Studio Online" that wasn't written using .NET on the server, wasn't built using TFS for its own source code control, and avoided Metro like the plague.

    And yet Microsoft is always selling TFS for source code control/ALM/whatever..., ASP.NET for robust server-side development, and the Metro app model for developing modern apps.

    Nice to see that with all the (supposed) organizational change at Microsoft, teams are still working at cross-purposes to one another.
    • Forward Thinking

      It just shows that Microsoft is keeping all options open. I like .NET. It is so powerful and can do so many things. It is massive. At some point it will grow to large to continue. Every once in awhile you need to step back and see where the market is going. I am glad to see Microsoft is not stuck in its old ways. I think this forward thinking is why Microsoft will continue to dominate for many years.
  • Meanwhile...

    Apple buys the company that provides the sensors for the Kinect 3D that Microsoft uses on the XBox. Ooo-owww!! Perhaps instead of buying Nokia, Microsoft should have protected their gaming empire?
    Tony Burzio
    • Wrong

      They had a hand in the first Kinect (provide chip and licence for design). Software was mostly done by Microsoft in house. Since, Microsoft has purchased two 3d motion companies Canesta and 3dv. I believe they have a licence with Prime sense, so they dont care if apple buys them. They are way ahead.
    • You don't understand business, then

      MS can take the designs anywhere they want if they own them, so no issue there. They can also hold Apple to any contract previously agreed on.

      Besides, all MS has to do if that happens is pull all licensing from Apple for activesync, ect, right?
  • technical lead on Eclipse Java development tools

    "technical lead on Eclipse Java development tools"

    Because Eclipse Java rules, it never hangs, it works as expected, it never abuse of my harddisk with a folder of several mbs and it never lags. (sarcasm)
  • Not surprising

    Because after all, as SteveB famously said, Microsoft is all about "DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS!"
  • The Gang of One

    What most do not realize is that Microsoft has a core philosophy: "best of breed". They only take the best, and only produce the best. They looked to the Gang of Four, and said, hey, why take them all? Let's just figure out which one is the best. So, sorry to Helm, Vlissides and Johnson...maybe you can find something to do on some open-source thingy. And sorry to the competition...Gamma is taken!
    • best of breed? lol rofl

      they the "the best" and than ruin it to the point that it's not usefull at all
  • like that will make any difference....

    ...for anyone