I’ve been working in Microsoft Research on a project called Code Canvas for a while now, and we finally got through enough of the patent process so that I’m able to release some details publically.
Code Canvas is a research prototype focused on spatial orientation of code as the foundation of an integrated development environment. It is a spatial (2.5D) representation of source code, visual designers, and project-related artifacts that utilizes infinite panning and smooth semantic zoom for navigation. It is also extensible to allow analysis overlays and graph-based relationship visualizations.
Whenever a developer draws their code on a whiteboard, they are applying a sense of space to their software that includes directional relationships and architectural boundaries. Code Canvas lets developers write their code on a two-dimensional infinite canvas instead of in tabbed editors, so all of their source code is arranged in the same way as it would be on the whiteboard. They can still write code as they do today, in C# or C++ or whatever, but the directional relationships and architectural boundaries are part of the same canvas, and they can easily navigate and zoom smoothly in and out to understand everything at once.
In addition to utilizing spatial memory, the ability to overlay visualizations among multiple files at once is proving to be extremely valuable, especially when the visualizations are drawn directly on top of the same source code that you have already been working with. This essentially takes the canvas from a simple code editing surface and turns it into a full-blown diagramming surface, but I’ll have to go more into that later…
In the mean time, here is a somewhat old video of Code Canvas that shows some of the first features I implemented when getting started on this project.