GitHub announces new developer experiences for desktop and Atom

GitHub is turning to web technologies in its latest announcement of the GitHub Desktop Beta. The release offers a complete redesign of the company’s desktop client built on Electron, a cross-platform development solution for desktop applications.

GitHub’s previous desktop solution provided two clients: GitHub for Mac and GitHub for Windows. The solutions had similar feature sets, but two separate codebases. After seeing the industry’s momentum with web technologies — such as Google’s investment with Chromium, and Slack, Facebook and Microsoft’s development with Electron — the company decided to reboot its desktop client, and “start with a brand new single codebase that would work for both Mac and Windows,” said Phil Haack, director of client apps for GitHub.

According to Haack, GitHub hopes having one codebase will make it easier for the company to add new features and be more responsive to its customers. “In the past, it would have been very difficult if someone said ‘This is really hard, we wish you would make this better,’ because we would have to go and implement that twice,” he said.

The redesign of GitHub Desktop will be released into open source for the community to provide feedback and to gain Electron desktop app examples. “We had a lot of people ask us to open source our old client, but we just weren’t in a position to do that at the time. With this, we are giving people not only something people can look at, but something they can learn from when building their own Electron application,” Haack said.

For now, the existing GitHub clients for Mac and Windows will remain available, but the idea is to eventually replace them with the new redesign. GitHub will also be gathering feedback from developers on how they can help make the transition as easy as possible. “The design is different, but not so different that people should be lost. If you used the old one, this should just feel like a new version of the app you have been using,” said Haack.

In addition, GitHub is announcing new Git and GitHub integration for its hackable text editor Atom. According to Haack, developers don’t typically like to leave the editor they are working in. To make developer life easier and more productive when working in Atom, the new integration allows developers to use Git operations they know and love right within the text editor. The package provides support for the most common Git functionality such stage files, commit code, switch branches, and the ability to resolve merge conflicts within Atom.

The Atom package will also be released into open source.

“Since its 1.0 release in 2015, Atom has grown to 2.1 million active users. Integrating Git brings together two essential parts of many developers’ workflows, reducing the need to drop to the command line or another GUI application and helping them stay in the flow longer,” Haack wrote in a post.

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