Matthew Boyer
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Do you need an IDE, and how to pick one

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Do you need an IDE, and how to pick one

Matthew Boyer's photo
Matthew Boyer
·Dec 1, 2021·

6 min read

Welcome to the world of programming! You are probably experimenting with Unreal Engine or Unity, following a course, or are programming for a competition. Either way, there are lots of factors to determine whether you want an IDE. Essentially every other article just says "use this", "use this on a budget", etc., but it can't encompass all needs.

In this article, I'm going to use C# as the language for these IDEs. All of these support C# and many other languages, so you should be fine. The only exceptions here are the ones by JetBrains. These support other languages, but the experience is better on the respective IDE. I'm also going to compare the IDEs without any extensions or themes installed, this is the stock experience.


First, if you're a student, you will want to apply for the GitHub Student Developer Pack. This includes lots of products, namely all JetBrains IDEs. The paid versions of those IDEs are miles better than NeoVIM, Visual Studio, Sublime, and anything else.

If you aren't a student, then it's not a "get this" option. I'll be comparing 4 IDEs and telling you how to find one that would suit your needs.


I'll be comparing Rider, Sublime Text, Visual Studio Code, and Atom. Two of these are paid, and two are free.

Rider has by far the largest feature set for C#, and especially in coding, a simpler, smaller UI can be key. As opposed to using old-style Chrome tabs like Sublime and Atom, Rider makes them as small as possible while still being able to easily use everything. This UI also works perfectly with a 1440p monitor. But, it comes with a steep price tag of $139 for the first year. Even if you can't afford it, you can still get a theme like it in most other IDEs. JetBrains Decompiler allows people to view the code for a specific method, allowing you to easily figure out the syntax for that method. Or, you could just go to StackOverflow.

Rider has a nonconventional pricing scheme -- the price goes down the more years you buy it. As stated above, the first-year costs $139, while the second year costs $111. The third-year onward costs $83. dotUltimate includes Rider and 5 other tools for .NET for $10 more -> $8 more -> $6 more. All annual purchases and 12 consecutive monthly payments come with a license to keep using that version of the IDE after your subscription expires. After that, you are just paying for updates.

Sublime Text has a decent amount of Rider's C# features but it's lacking in the UI. It has a file explorer, an editor window, and that's it. There is no menu bar or even Git by default. But, its theming capabilities are almost endless. For starters, you could add the menu bar. But, the mega-simplicity combined with the fact that most people don't use the version control in the IDE makes it perfectly fine for most people. Like Rider, it also includes a decompiler with the same shortcut, CTRL+LMB.

Sublime Text and their version-control counterpart both cost $99, but if you buy both, it costs $168. This includes three years of updates and a license to keep using the final update in those three years indefinitely. This makes it cost $33/yr, a very reasonable price for people who can't fork over $139 annually.

Visual Studio Code is one of the most popular IDEs in general, due to its official support of a large number of libraries, its language support, and its incredible price of free. It has lots of support for the most popular languages and for languages that aren't officially supported, there are community plugins that add more features for those, namely adding features for IntelliSense. IntelliSense is almost as good as Kite and for free, but it is much slower. I've spent more time than I'd like to admit getting rid of new lines and methods only to replace them because I hit enter before the popup opened. Like Rider and Sublime Text, VSCode includes a decompiler with the same shortcut.

But, no IDE here is perfect, especially Visual Studio Code. The UI isn't that great, having clunky, Metro UI style buttons. It's not something you care about unless you open VSCode right after closing Rider. It also doesn't install Git automatically, something that doesn't take too long, but if you need to get something done fast, it is a problem. Creating projects is also annoying. In both the standard and WPILib versions of VS Code, you create a project from the command bar and choose all project settings by typing them as opposed to clicking them.

Atom is the only one here that can be considered less of an IDE. Atom is more considered a text editor even by Atom themselves, having less functionality. Unlike the others, Atom doesn't have a decompiler. But, there are a few community-built ones. It also has a lacking UI like Sublime and isn't as customizable. The biggest thing going for Atom is the Git integration, with a much better UI and ease of use, with committing and pushing taking one click, a message, then two more clicks.

There is also a comparable amount of integrations to VSCode and they are easy to set up and configure to your heart's content. On the first launch, there is a checklist that helps you configure the editor.


Now, how would you go about picking an IDE, or even if you need one? Unlike some other ways of choosing products, for this, you would go based on your budget. If your budget is 0, you would go based on your use case.

Rider costs over 4x as much as Sublime Text, but you don't get 4x the features. But, for the features that it includes that Sublime Text doesn't, there isn't any other option.

Sublime Text is essentially Visual Studio Code but has much better theming abilities. If you want something unique, powerful, and still relatively easy to use, $99 is a perfectly reasonable price.

Visual Studio Code is more for full app and game development but doesn't allow you to code with others in real-time.

Atom is perfect with Unity because not only is it free, customizable, and allows you to code with others in real-time, Unity also adds templates when creating a C# file from the engine, removing the pain in the ass part of Atom.

All of these have completely different use cases. You can download a trial for all of them, so pick the one you like the most and start programming.


Download Rider, Sublime Text, Visual Studio Code, and Atom

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