Python IDE Frustration

I didn’t think I was looking for a lot in an IDE. Turns out what I want is impossibly hard to find.

In the past 6 months I’ve tried (or tried to try):

  • Komodo Edit
  • Eclipse w/ PyDev
  • PyCharm (from the first EAP build to… yesterday)
  • Wingware
  • Textmate

Wingware

First, let’s get Wingware out of the way. I’m on a Mac, and if you’re not going to develop for the Mac, I’m not going to pay you hundreds of dollars for your product. Period. I don’t even use free software that requires X11. Lemme know when you figure out that coders like Macs and I’ll try Wingware.

Komodo Edit

Well, I wanted to try the IDE but I downloaded it, launched it once for 5 minutes (maybe less), forgot about it, and now my trial is over. I’ll email sales about this tomorrow. In the meantime, I use Komodo Edit.

Komodo Edit is pretty nice. One thing I like about it is that it doesn’t really go overboard forcing its world view down my throat. If I’m working on bunny, which is a one-file Python project I keep in a git repository, I don’t have to figure out their system for managing projects. I can just “Open File” and use it as a text editor.

It has “ok” support for Vi key bindings, and it’s not a plugin: it’s built in. The support has some annoying limitations, but for about 85% of what I need it to do it’s fine. One big annoyance is that I can’t write out a file and assign it a name (e.g. ‘:w /some/filename.txt’). It’s not supported.

Komodo Edit, unless I missed it, doesn’t integrate with Git, and doesn’t offer a Python console. Its capabilities in the area of collaboration in general are weak. I don’t absolutely have to have them, but things like that are nice for keeping focused and not having to switch away from the window to do anything else, so ideally I could get an IDE that has this. I believe Komodo IDE has these things, so I’m looking forward to trying it out.

Komodo is pretty quick compared to most IDEs, and has always been rock solid stable for me on both Mac and Linux, so if I’m not in the mood to use Vim, or I need to work on lots of files at once, Komodo Edit is currently my ‘go-to’ IDE.

PyCharm

PyCharm doesn’t have an officially supported release. I’ve been using Early Adopter Previews since the first one, though. When it’s finally stable I’m definitely going to revisit it, because to be honest… it’s kinda dreamy.

Git integration is very good. I used it with GitHub without incident for some time, but these are early adopter releases, and things happen: two separate EAP releases of PyCharm made my project files completely disappear without warning, error, or any indication that anything was wrong at all. Of course, this is git, so running ‘git checkout -f’ brought things back just fine, but it’s unsettling, so now I’m just waiting for the EAP to be over with and I’ll check it out when it’s done.

I think for the most part, PyCharm nails it. This is the IDE I want to be using assuming the stability issues are worked out (and I don’t have reason to believe they won’t be). It gives me a Python console, VCS integration, a good class and project browser, some nice code analytics, and more complex syntax checking that “just works” than I’ve seen elsewhere. It’s a pretty handsome, very intuitive IDE, and it leverages an underlying platform whose plugins are available to PyCharm users as well, so my Vim keys are there (and, by the way, the IDEAVim plugin is the most advanced Vim support I’ve seen in any IDE, hands down).

Eclipse with PyDev

One thing I learned from using PyCharm and Eclipse is that where tools like this are concerned, I really prefer a specialized tool to a generic one with plugins layered on to provide the necessary functionality. Eclipse with PyDev really feels to me like a Java IDE that you have to spend time laboriously chiseling, drilling, and hammering to get it to do what you need if you’re not a Java developer. The configuration is extremely unintuitive, with a profuse array of dialogs, menus, options, options about options and menus, menus about menus and options… it never seems to end.

All told, I’ve probably spent the equivalent of 2 working days mucking with Eclipse configuration, and I’ve only been able to get it “pretty close” to where I want it. The Java-loving underpinnings of the Eclipse platform simply cannot be suppressed, while things I had to layer on with plugins don’t show up in the expected places.

Add to this Eclipse’s world-view, which reads something like “there is no filesystem tree: only projects”, and you have a really damned annoying IDE. I’ve tried on and off for over a year to make friends with Eclipse because of the good things I hear about PyDev, but it just feels like a big hacky, duct-taped mess to me, and if PyCharm has proven anything to me, it’s that building a language specific IDE on an underlying platform devoted to Java doesn’t have to be like this. When I finally got it to some kind of usable point, and after going through the “fonts and colors” maze, it turns out the syntax highlighting isn’t really all that great!

A quick word about Vi key bindings in Eclipse: it’s not a pretty picture, but the best I’ve been able to find is a free tool called Vrapper. It’s not bad. I could get by with Vrapper, but I don’t believe it’s as mature and evolved as IDEAVim plugin in PyCharm.

So, I’ll probably turn back to Eclipse for Java development (I’m planning on taking on a personal Android project), but I think I’ve given up on it for anything not Java-related.

Vim

Vim is technically ‘just an editor’, but it has some nice benefits, and with the right plugins, it can technically do all of the things a fancy IDE can. I use the taglist plugin to provide the project and class browser functionality, and the kicker here is that you can actually switch to the browser pane, type ‘/’ and the object or member you’re looking for, and jump to it in a flash. It’s also the most complete Vim key binding implementation available ;-)

The big win for me in using Vim though is remote work. Though I’d rather do all of my coding locally, there are times when I really have to write code on remote machines, and I don’t want to go through the rigmarole of coding, pushing my changes, going to my terminal, pulling down the changes, testing, failing, fixing the code on my machine, pushing my changes, pulling my changes… ugh.

So why not just use Vim? I could do it. I’ve been using Vim for many years and am pretty good with it, but I just feel like separating my coding from my terminal whenever I can is a good thing. I don’t want my code to look like my terminal, nor do I want my terminal to look like my IDE theme. I’m SUPER picky about fonts and colors in my IDE, and I’m not that picky about them in my terminal. I also want the option of using my mouse while I’m coding, mostly to scroll, and getting that to work on a Mac in Terminal.app isn’t as simple as you might expect (and I’m not a fan of iTerm… and its ability to do this comes at a cost as well).

MacVim is nice, solves the separation of Terminal and IDE, and I might give it a more serious try, but let’s face it, it’s just not an IDE. Code completion is still going to be mediocre, the interface is still going to be terminal-ish… I just don’t know. One thing I really love though is the taglist plugin. I think if I could just find a way to embed a Python console along the bottom of MacVim I might be sold.

One thing I absolutely love about Vim, the thing that Vim gets right that none of the IDEs get is colorschemes: MacVim comes with like 20 or 30 colorschemes! And you can download more on the ‘net! The other IDEs must lump colorscheme information into the general preferences or something, because you can’t just download a colorscheme as far as I’ve seen. The IDE with the worst color/font configuration? Eclipse – the one all my Python brethren seem to rave about. That is so frustrating. Some day I’ll make it to PyCon and someone will show me the kool-aid I guess.

The Frustrating Conclusion

PyCharm isn’t soup yet, Wingware is all but ignoring the Mac platform, Eclipse is completely wrong for my brain and I don’t know how anyone uses it for Python development, Komodo Edit is rock solid but lacking features, and Komodo IDE is fairly pricey and a 30-day trial is always just really annoying (and I kinda doubt it beats PyCharm for Python-specific development). MacVim is a stand-in for a real IDE and it does the job, but I really want more… integration! I also don’t like maintaining the plugins and colorschemes and *rc files and ctags, and having to understand its language and all that.

I don’t cover them here, but I’ve tried a bunch of the Linux-specific Python IDEs as well, and I didn’t like a single one of them at all. At some point I’ll spend more time with those tools to see if I missed something crucial that, once learned, might make it hug my brain like a warm blanket (and make me consider running Linux on my desktop again, something I haven’t done on a regular ongoing basis in about 4 years).

So… I don’t really have an IDE yet. I *did* however just realize that the laptop I’m typing on right now has never had a Komodo IDE install, so I’m off to test it now. Wish me luck!

  • Diana

    The above combo is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for – THANK YOU!!

  • ToSca

    Hmm,

    and … Textmate? You said you tried it but then didn’t even mention it anywhere.

  • bkjones

    I didn’t have anything nice to say. I found the experience unimpressive and the IDE itself forgettable.

  • s_48k

    PyDev configuration in Eclipse 2 minutes. Only choose the python version. Unintiuitive??? Window -> Preferences -> PyDev

  • http://DaviWorks.com Davi P

    Thanks for the great review. Love to see an update! I use BBEdit mostly; looking for more full-featured IDE.