Visual Studio Code or Atom? Which editor should you use?

Finding a good open source code editor these days is not difficult, the choice can be.

Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code and GitHubs atom are two of the most popular, feature-rich, IDE-like code editors that have a large user base and fan base.

Both VS Code and Atom are now owned by Microsoft as the original developer of Atom GitHub is now owned by Microsoft. They have an interesting, modern user interface with a nice looking native dark theme. Use both editors electron for the user interface.

The similarities are great and because of this, it is easy to get confused when choosing one of these for your coding setup.

If you can’t decide and want to compare and choose between a VS Code and Atom, this article should help you decide.

Visual Studio Code

The Visual Studio Code user interface with a busy project interface

Visual Studio Code (AKA VS Code) is one of the modern open source code editors. Its user base is skyrocketing due to its IDE-like features, but remains relatively resource efficient.

Visual Studio Code was created by Microsoft and is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows. Microsoft released most of the source code of Visual Studio Code GitHub under the MIT license on November 18, 2015.

VS Code developers have made some fantastic tweaks with Electron to make it as easy and efficient as possible. And since Electron apps work on most operating systems, all Linux, macOS, and Windows users can benefit from these tweaks.

Installing VS Code on Linux is pretty straightforward as well. It is actually available at the software center of many distributions.

Why you should choose Visual Studio Code

  • Visual Studio Code is [generally] chosen by people who want near IDE functionality right from the start and don’t want to fiddle with their code editor.
  • Although Visual Studio Code is based on Electron, it has very little overhead compared to other Electron apps (Atom from GitHub).
  • Other out-of-the-box features like Microsoft IntelliSense auto-complete, Git integration, Markdown support.
  • Plug-ins can only add features, themes, and support for new languages; and this plug-in limitation ensures that the core of the editor remains familiar even after new plug-ins are added.

The binary versions distributed by Microsoft are still proprietary freeware. VSCodium builds on the publicly available source code of Visual Studio Code. However, the discussion of VSCodium is beyond the scope of this article other than to consider it a viable alternative to Visual Studio Code if you want the functionality of Visual Studio Code but without any proprietary elements.


05 atom
Atom editor user interface

GitHub’s Atom is another free, open source code editor available for Linux, macOS, and Windows. Atom is a desktop application created with Electron for easy package development with JavaScript.

Atom’s source code was released under the MIT license on GitHub. Since Atom is a GitHub product, Git Control is embedded in it.

Atom is known as a “hackable text editor for the 21st century” because of its full customizability with HTML, CSS and JS.

Like VS Code, you can easily install Atom on Linux and other platforms.

Reasons for atom

  • Atom is preferred by people who want a simple editor and want to build on it because Atom is hackable.
  • Integrated Git and full GitHub integration; not surprising considering that it was developed by GitHub
  • Atom’s plug-ins are very easy to find, install and update through the app itself.
  • Plug-ins available for Atom are very extensible and can completely change the functionality of the editor and in the end almost create a new editor; It’s really “hackable”.
  • The binary versions of Atom and their source code are completely open source (as opposed to the binary versions of Visual Studio Code which contain proprietary parts + telemetry).
  • You can Turn Atom from a code editor into an IDE with intelligent context-sensitive auto-completion, code navigation functions, document formatting, and more.


Both Atom and VS Code are based on Electron. But Microsoft continued to tweak VS Code to make it as easy as possible.

At this point, VS Code is like Ubuntu, comes with almost everything. While Atom is like Arch, minimal and extremely hackable (expandable).

Both Atom and VS Code are technically under Microsoft and will eventually reach feature parity. Hence, it is best to go with the editor your community (web developer / soft developer) leans towards and pave the way for the future. Maybe you end up on Vim!

About Willie Ash

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