In brief: If you’ve ever wanted to run Visual Studio code in a web browser, now you can. Microsoft has made a zero-installation version of the popular desktop app that can be used as a local development tool, but naturally there are some caveats.
Microsoft has revealed that developers who use Visual Studio Code can now run it in a web browser. In other words, the Redmond company just made it possible for anyone to use its popular lightweight integrated development environment without having to download an installer.
To get started, you have to navigate to vscode.dev in your favorite web browser. If you’re using Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, you’ll be able to work with local files directly as both browsers support the File System Access API. However, working in other browsers will require you to upload and download code files one by one, so it’s a bit less convenient for now.
You’ll also get access to UI customization extensions, snippets, and key maps, and their settings will sync across desktop, web browser, and GitHub Codespaces. Over time, extensions for other purposes such as image editing will become available as their developers update them to work in the web browser.
Visual Studio Code is already a lightweight version of Visual Studio that companies like Facebook have successfully adopted for internal development, so the natural question is — who is this new, even lighter version for? For one, it allows you to edit code on tablets like Apple’s iPad Pro and low powered machines like Chromebooks. It also supports Live Share for the web, which opens up some interesting workflows for education environments.
Intel’s automated code debugging tool ControlFlag is now open source and available for developers to access for free – a move that will come as a relief to many who are tired of spending hours scrutinizing their software programs in search of a potential anomaly.
Now available via GitHub, ControlFlag taps machine learning to automatically identify bugs in software and firmware code, saving developers the time-consuming task of manually debugging the programs they write.
Announced for the first time at the end of last year, ControlFlag has until now only been used internally by Intel, to spot anomalies in the company’s own software development. By opening the tool up to external developers and letting them build on it, Intel is expecting to push the limits of what the system can do to streamline the process of writing code.
Debugging is critical to program development: almost all large-scale software includes accuracy, performance or security bugs that need to be mitigated. What’s more, every update to those programs, for example the launch of a new feature, introduces another opportunity for an anomaly to appear.
But for the vast majority of developers, the process is a time-consuming and still largely manual chore. This is because most bugs require a semantics analysis to identify, assess the root cause and mitigate – an analysis that even state-of-the-art debugging systems are incapable of carrying out effectively.
“Historically, such semantic analyzers were simply software developers,” Justin Gottschlich, principal AI scientist at Intel Labs, tells ZDNet. “As such, this is a key reason why debugging remains a largely human-driven process.”
The last decades have seen advances in trying to automate debugging, but existing tools are no match for software bugs that are only becoming more complex. This is why developers dislike debugging so much, says Gottschlich: it can take days, weeks and even months to fix a single software defect. It is estimated, in effect, that up to 50% of all software development time is dedicated to debugging.
This comes at a cost for companies, too. According to Intel, the IT industry spent an estimated $2 trillion in 2020 in software development costs associated with debugging code, which represents about half of the average IT budget.
ControlFlag was designed to address this gap, through a capability known as anomaly detection. The tool learns from previous examples to detect normal coding patterns, and can therefore identify anomalies that are likely to cause a bug, regardless of the programming language.
Intel’s team determined that an unsupervised learning approach would be necessary to allow ControlFlag to detect bugs in a wider range of repositories. The system learned coding patterns from over one billion lines of unlabeled source code, which enabled it to reach a high degree of accuracy, and even adapt to a developers’ style to differentiate a software anomaly from a stylistic variation in a programming language.
Since it was introduced last year, Intel has tested the machine-learning tool on various software systems, with promising results. “When we originally designed the system, we didn’t anticipate that it would be able to find highly complex defects,” says Gottschlich. “However, given its self-supervised design, ControlFlag has stunned even us, the ones who built it, in its ability to find highly complex, nuanced software defects.”
Using ControlFlag on just two proprietary software repositories, says Gottschlich, resulted in identifying over 300 defects in production-quality, deployed programs. For example, last year ControlFlag detected a code anomaly in a computer software project named Client URL (cURL), which transfers data using various network protocols over one billion times a day. After reporting the anomaly to the cURL team, they agreed with ControlFlag’s findings and redesigned their code to patch the issue.
The past year has also come with a fair share of learning points as Intel’s team worked to develop ControlFlag. Two key areas for improvement, according to Gottschlich, are to reduce the number of false positives reported by the tool – the number of defects reported that aren’t actual bugs – and to integrate an even more advanced sematic analyzer into ControlFlag’s reasoning.
As a system that is set to become one of the flagship products of Intel’s machine programming suite of tools, however, ControlFlag is set to keep evolving. “It’s unlikely that advances of ControlFlag will ever halt,” says Gottschlich. “This is largely because as software programming languages, hardware description languages, and computing devices evolve, ControlFlag will need to evolve too to keep pace with them.”
The system is part of Intel’s Machine Programming Research (MPR) project, which has the overall objective to reduce the time that it takes to develop software by 1,000 times thanks to automation. One of the areas that Gottschlich’s team is investigating, for example, is to eventually expand the abilities of ControlFlag to automatically repairing the bugs that it detects.
In parallel, Intel’s MPR team is working on a handful of projects that focus on making software development easier. Last year, for instance, the company released a tool co-developed with MIT’s labs, which can study snippers of code to understand what a piece of software intends to do. Called MISIM (Machine Inferred code Similarity), the system uses a catalog of pre-existing code to understand the intent behind a new algorithm and help engineers working on software by suggesting other ways to program, or offering options to make the code more efficient.
Gottschlich anticipates that MISIM will one day work alongside ControlFlag. “When properly fused together, we envision a more powerful new system that will be capable of detecting all the defects ControlFlag currently can, as well as hundreds of defects it currently cannot detect due to their underlying complexity,” says Gottschlich.
In the meantime, developers who are interested in getting started with the tool can now access ControlFlag on GitHub here.
When 34-year-old engineer and inventor Dmytro Kostyk founded his Internet of Things (IoT) company Kodisoft in 2003, he knew there was a rough journey ahead. “In Ukraine, you have a top supply chain, but to get something here in the country, you have to move mountains,” he says.
More than a decade and a half later though, Kodisoft has helped transform the dining experience for customers and restaurateurs alike with its interactive table technology, which is now used by 19 restaurants in cities including Kyiv, Barcelona, London and Dubai.
These interactive dining tables can be used for ordering food and drinks, summoning restaurant staff and paying the bill, but also offer entertainment features like music, children’s games and the ability to share photos and videos with other guests.
To date, Kodisoft has sold more than 1,000 of its smart tables which are now used in shopping malls, cafes and other eating establishments all over the world. Despite delivering products all over the world, from North America, Europe, and to the Middle East and Asia, most of Kodisoft’s operations and productions remain based in Ukraine. “Most of our developers are still here, and a big part of the production is also here – all of our core IP, sensor technologies, etc, we keep it here,” Kostyk tells ZDNet.
Yet achieving such success in a country like Ukraine brings a unique set of challenges and obstacles, ranging from outdated legislation and difficulties with the IP laws, to high-level government corruption.
According to Denis Dovgopoliy, CEO of Ukraine-born investor matchmaking startup Unicorn Nest, startups often have to contend with a lack of funding alongside shortcomings in the legal system. “There are few local Ukrainian investors, while European and global investors are hesitant to invest in Ukrainian startups. The jurisdiction for registering companies has some shortcomings, while there is also an unstable economic, social and political situation,” Dovgopoliy tells ZDNet.
Galyna Paliychuk, country lead and global head of innovation at UK-based e-commerce company Growth Shop, says the lack of multicultural experience is another obstacle Ukrainian businesses face in attracting foreign clients and investors.
“People in Ukraine are very talented, but sometimes lack of multicultural experience makes it difficult for them to find clients and investors, and for foreign companies like ours to find the right talents that are a great cultural fit to the team,” Paliychuk says.
“Communications are still not at the high level. That’s why many startups struggle with scaling to other markets. They don’t know how to sell their products, services and even themselves in the West through the right communication.”
However, if there is a will, there is a way, says Kostyk. Kodisoft, which is today valued at around $100M, began its rise in 2007 when the company created a Bluetooth beacon device designed for mobile advertising. Using the profits from this, Kostyk’s company had the foundation to start experimenting with their next product – interactive ‘smart’ tables. “We spent four years creating the technology, and the machinery needed to produce the tables,” he says.
Unlike Kostyk’s case, for up-and-coming startups and tech companies in the country nowadays, the biggest angel investor comes in the shape of Ukraine’s Startup Fund (USF). Founded in 2020, the state-owned fund develops tech startups at early stages, offering up to $85,000 in pre-seed and seed funding.
During the past couple of years, more than 250 startups have already received grants from the USF totalling more than $6M.
“Our Fund works to give impetus to the development of the Ukrainian startup ecosystem, to finance promising young entrepreneurs in the early stages, and to help businesses get back on their feet,” Pavlo Kartashov, director of the USF, tells ZDNet.
“We support every national startup that has a chance of succeeding.”
Telemedicine company Comeback Mobility is one of the startups to have received funding from the USF, and which has contributed significantly towards its early development. Recently, the company raised over $1M from different med-tech investment funds and angel investors in the country.
What’s interesting about Comeback Mobility’s business model is that its own employees are investors in the company, the organization’s 32-year-old CEO, Ilya Popov, explains.
According to Popov, this is mostly due to the uniqueness of the company’s core product – a telemedicine device that attaches to the end of walking crutches and helps aid patients’ recovery from leg injuries.
“We have created a product that’s unique and which solves the existing problem ten times better than anything else existing on the market,” Popov tells ZDNet, adding that investment by employees has now reached $218,000.
How success stories drive innovation
For the USF, such success stories can inspire other aspiring startups in Ukraine, and help drive technological development in the country.
“Successful startups can also help Ukraine’s society become much more technologically advanced. For example, medtech startups such as Comeback Mobility can also help a lot of hospitals in the country with their technology,” says Yana Paladiieva, project manager at the USF.
Paladiieva adds that most of the fund’s success stories have so far come from the medtech and AI sectors.
Altris is a young Ukrainian startup working at the intersection of these two fields. The company has created a deep-learning platform that applies AI and ML to detect more than 100 pathological signs and retinal diseases. Founded in 2018 by tech entrepreneur Andrey Kuropyatnyk and ophthalmologist Maria Znamenska, the startup received most of its funding from foreign investors and this year closed a post-seed round at about half a million dollars.
The platform now has more than 10,000 active users, and Altris has partnership deals with five global optical coherence tomography (OCT) equipment manufacturers. “In the upcoming period, I expect that we will cover more than 60% of the global market of OCT devices,” Kuropyatnyk says.
While such examples can be encouraging for up-and-coming Ukrainian tech entrepreneurs, Kostyk’s advice to most of them is to continue to believe in the core idea of their product, regardless of the odds.
“Ukraine has an image that there aren’t a lot of successful startups because a lot of people just get the investments, spend the money, and nothing comes out of it. My advice to those that really believe in their product is that they should work hard on it and do whatever it takes to make the best possible version of it.”
Aiven Inc., a cloud-based open-source software services firm, raised $60 million in a second funding round in less than a year, as investors bet on growing demand from chief information officers for ready access to shared computer code.
The new injection of capital, which comes just seven months after a Series C round netted $100 million, lifts the Finnish startup’s valuation above $2 billion, the company said. Its latest round was led by World Innovation Lab and IVP, both of which had participated in earlier rounds.
Aiven’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said he plans to use the additional funds to expand the company’s global footprint, which currently includes some 700 customers in 50 countries. A Singapore office, set to open this year, is part of a broader move into Asia-Pacific markets, he said.
Mr. Saarenmaa and a small team of software engineers launched the startup roughly five years ago in Helsinki. Today, it has more than 200 employees world-wide.
An outgrowth of the collaborative spirit of software development in the early days of the web, open-source developers make software available free of charge, enabling programmers to modify, share or create new apps from the underlying source code without paying licensing fees.
Examples include the Android operating system, the Firefox browser and the Python computer language.
By allowing companies to freely use one another’s software—with some restrictions—open-source systems offer interoperability, while fostering innovation. Vendors like Aiven can charge for added services or enterprise-grade features.
Aiven helps companies manage open-source projects on a public cloud platform. That enables CIOs and other corporate information-technology leaders to access computer code, data and other resources from anywhere—a key advantage during Covid-19 lockdowns and remote work.
Mr. Saarenmaa said the open-source community is in a transformative period. Many IT vendors that originated as open-source developers are placing restrictions on their own software licenses—decisions he says are shortsighted and driven by profits. “This has formed an industrywide myth claiming open-source business models are no longer sustainable,” he said.
David Mooter, a senior analyst at IT research firm
Forrester Research Inc.,
agreed the business model is doing just fine. “I haven’t seen open source decline,” he said. “If anything, it’s likely increasing in use.”
In a landmark legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that
Google didn’t violate copyright protections in using bits of
-owned Java computer code to enable its Android mobile operating system to connect to other software. Sun Microsystems Inc., which created Java as free and open-source software, was acquired by Oracle in 2010.
Some of the world’s largest technology companies have embraced open-source software development in recent years.
in July 2019 bought Red Hat Inc., one of the world’s largest open-source developers. Just a year earlier,
acquired software-code repository GitHub Inc.
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“The current state of open source is still hot and we haven’t seen a slowdown in venture backing of open source companies,” said Kelley Mak, a partner at enterprise-technology-focused venture-capital firm Work-Bench. The firm isn’t an investor in Aiven. “Given the benefits that open source provides for building a community and developing mindshare and goodwill in the age of developer-driven software adoption, I would only imagine open source to be even more embraced,” he said citing
and Microsoft as high-profile advocates.
Aiven’s Mr. Saarenmaa said the company’s $2 billion valuation is evidence of that.
“When Aiven’s other co-founders and I set out to solve a challenge facing developers all over the world, I knew this business had major growth potential,” he said. “It’s still an exciting and humbling milestone.”
Write to Angus Loten at [email protected]
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