Sweeping complexity under the rug of as-a-Service development environments

A few days ago, a project I am involved with received a PR described as follows:

This Pr simplifies code contributions by fully automating the setup with gitpod (A free online vs code like ide) with a single click it will launch a ready to code workspace with all the dependencies pre-installed, the compiler watching for changes & the server in /docusaurus also running so that anyone interested in contributing can start straight away without wasting time on the setup.

It seems to work well :) You can give it a try on my fork via the link below

Rather than a genuine contribution to the project, this read to me as a disingenuous and badly concealed attempt at promoting an online IDE that provides, and I quote, prebuilt, ready-to-code development environments with a single click. Sure enough, a quick look at the recent activity of the user in question revealed a number of identical PRs sent to other trending and/or well-established JavaScript projects.

These PRs bring absolutely nothing to these projects. The only entity that stands to gain something out of them is the company that makes the advertised IDE, trying to gain popularity by exploiting the work of others.

To make things worse, I fundamentally disagree with the nature of most online IDEs. Delegating the management of our own development environments to third-party services prevents us from developing a complete, vertical understanding of our projects and of their dependencies. The idea that an online platform can be beneficial to a project because it allows new developers to revel in their ignorance of what is required by the project they contribute to is so fundamentally flawed I can’t even begin to understand how entire products can be built upon it, particularly because we’re not only talking about development-environments-as-code but also about development-environments-as-third-party-non-free-services.

This is how unrecoverable technical and organizational debt creep into a project: by sweeping out-of-control levels of unwarranted complexity under a rug of APIs and vendor lock-ins.