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Microsoft and GitHub bet that software programmers will want to work with a buddy

  • Microsoft's Visual Studio Live Share service and GitHub's Teletype package for its Atom text editor let developers work together.
  • The launches come more than a year after Amazon Web Services acquired Cloud9, a start-up that offered a cloud-based development tool that could enable pair programming.
Alan Ruck and Charlie McDermott on ABC's 'The Middle.'
Michael Ansell | Getty Images
Alan Ruck and Charlie McDermott on ABC's 'The Middle.'

Microsoft and privately held GitHub on Wednesday are separately unveiling tools that will make it easier for programmers to pair up and get work done together.

Pair programming, a concept that goes back decades, is a controversial subject in the world of software development because not all developers are comfortable with having others see them do their work.

But pair programming can help organizations keep projects ticking along if one person leaves the company or takes breaks, since the other person on the team will be familiar with the current state of the project. Pairs may also find mistakes more efficiently by switching between coding and checking their partner's work. Other benefits include on-the-job training (by pairing experienced programmers with newbies), team-building and brainstorming.

The new technologies from Microsoft and GitHub call to mind the real-time collaboration features of Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's G Suite — but here Microsoft and GitHub are making sure developers will be able to use the new tools in the coding environments they're used to rather than forcing them to use unfamiliar applications.

With Microsoft's Visual Studio Live Share tool, developers will be able to use their own text editors or integrated development environments while collaborating. Developers will be able to install GitHub's new Teletype package for use with the start-up's open-source Atom text editor, but GitHub is also releasing software libraries that will let people build systems to enable collaboration in other programs.

Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group, is demonstrating Visual Studio Live Share on Wednesday at the company's online Connect conference. "When we show it, it's going to set the developer world on fire with excitement," Guthrie said in a media briefing earlier this month.

The introductions come about a year and a half after public cloud market leader Amazon Web Services acquired Cloud9, a start-up with a cloud-based development environment where people can collaborate. And earlier this year, Red Hat acquired start-up Codenvy, whose tool can be run as a cloud service or in companies' on-premises data centers.

Nathan Sobo teamed up with other developers in person every day during his time at Pivotal Labs — one of a few companies known to use pair programming — before joining GitHub, where he works on Atom.

"I just absorbed so much knowledge and got so much out of those few years that I worked in that style, that synchronous collaboration, working together at same time with someone, where you're actually discussing what you should name that method, rather than getting feedback ... three days later," he said.

Sobo said that even he has his moments when he doesn't want a very social coding experience — but he said he contributed to the Teletype feature with an eye toward making something he would want to use on a daily basis.