Sep 2005

Development Machine Choices

(3:38 pm) Tags: [General]

Alex is ruminating on choices for a new development machine, and since he mentioned me in the comments, I thought I might be able to add some fuel to the woodpile, so to speak.
First, the comment about VMWare. It is true that the fastest Windows machine I have ever owned was a VMWare instance of Windows 2000 running on a Linux box. It was hands down the fastest machine I have ever used. It was only a P4 2.8GHz with 2GB of RAM and dual 60GB drives (no RAID). I don’t know all the factors that led to that being the case, as I didn’t do any special configuration fo the Linux box or the VMWare instance. Everything just worked, kind of like a car built on Wednesday.
The second fastest Windows machine I ever owned was a 486DX-50 box with 64MB of RAM running Windows for Workgroups 3.11. Not only did the main memory run at CPU speed (the last intel CPU to do that, IIRC), on bootup I created a 32MB RAM drive, copied the windows directory to it, and then booted Windows out of RAM into… RAM. That machine just screamed. Nevermind that the 64MB of RAM at the time set me back something like $3500 alone. I guess I am just a hardware whore.
Enough nostalgia.
The choice is Linux, Windows or Mac. For Alex, as I said in my comment, I just don’t think that the polish is there on the Linux Desktop for you to be happy. Nothing against the Linux Desktop, it’s just that I think the savior of the Linux desktop is the command line, and Alex is not a HUGE command line guy like I am. If you were to try Linux, maybe you should build one of these: Ultimate Linux Box 2005. 4 CPUs (could be dual core now, so 8 CPUs), 32GB of RAM, O decibels of noise, I would love one, if any sponsor would like to ship me one. ;)

So, that leaves Windows or Mac.

I can say I am comfortable with either, they both have strengths and weaknesses. Since Apple is in the middle of ‘the big switch’, I would go with a nice beefy desktop, using the new dual core chips, with about 4 GB of RAM, and 4 hard drives in a RAID 0/1 configuration, for safety and speed. With 2 24″ LCDs in a vertical configuration, and a dual DVI video card, you should be well under the price of the Apple Dual G5 with 30″ display, and have more of everything on a technical level, just some loss of good looks. 2005/6 is the year of dual everything, it seems.

And if you don’t install VirusMaker, I mean Outlook, you should be able to only do scheduled virus scans, instead of active scanning. I would also recommend a nice little hardware firewall, because $80 is cheap insurance.

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10 Responses to “Development Machine Choices”

  1. stephen ogrady Says:

    “For Alex, as I said in my comment, I just don’t think that the polish is there on the Linux Desktop for you to be happy.”

    you sure? i’d be the first to say that for a more consumer oriented machine, that was intended for iTunes and the like, Linux is absolutely not your first choice. but i’m talking to more devs that are working happily on Linux rather than Windows because it’s simply more stable.

    nothing against XP or OS X, they’re both fine operating systems, but i can count on three fingers the number of times my Linux box has locked up on me to the point of a reboot - in the year and a half i’ve been using it as my primary platform.

    in short, it’s got strengths and weaknesses, but for devs i do think that some of the strengths are compelling. particularly if Alex might go the emacs route anyhow.

  2. Scott Sanders Says:


    We are talking about the same Alex here right? ;)

    The Alex King I know and love is all about aesthetics and usability, two things not very well known in the Linux world.

    Will it do what he wants? Absolutely, no doubt in my mind. Will it do it the way he expects? No, but can he adapt to the consistently inconsistent user experience? Yes, but he won’t want to. It will annoy him to the point of wanting to switch back. I am not talking about stability, power, utility, or anything related, only aesthetics.

    Perhaps the Linux world needs more Alex-types to come in and try to help, and maybe I should be convincing him to do that…

  3. stephen ogrady Says:

    “The Alex King I know and love is all about aesthetics and usability, two things not very well known in the Linux world.”

    ah, you haven’t seen some of the new XGL goodness, i see :) once that and the Luminocity stuff makes its way into GNOME, it’ll even give OS X a run for its money in some respects.

  4. Scott Sanders Says:

    Now Steve,

    Aesthetics and usability are not just about flash UIs. I think that is just icing. Using an environement day in and day out has to deal with keybindings, mouse, the UI elements positioning, size, shape, etc. Consistency across all the apps. That’s where Apple has done it the most right (I say that because even they are not 100% consistent).

    In the here and now, you still have to be willing to overlook a significant number of inconsistent ‘warts’ in Linux of any form. “It is all customizable!”, you say. Yes it is, but a developer’s time shoud not be spent in configuration and installation of his operating environment.

    I am only saying all of this to hope that more people see it this way. It is about choice yes, and that battle is more or less won. The new battle is consensus, and that probably won’t ever come close in the Linux world, for obvious reasons.

  5. stephen ogrady Says:

    “Aesthetics and usability are not just about flash UIs.”

    totally agree. but having used GNOME as a primary desktop for the better part of a year, i have to say it’s really pretty usable - whatever that means. stuff works as you expect, menus are simple and easy to navigate, and there is some consistency across applications.

    on the customization point, that’s actually one of the points where i feel GNOME’s actually a better solution for regular users than KDE. yes you can key bind anything to anything, but the options presented to users are less in number; everything’s simpler.

    have you tried Ubuntu yet? that’s really a pretty slick desktop, IMO. everything integrated, it comes with preinstalled applications, devices are handled seamlessly. pretty solid.

    again, i’d be the first to tell you that if it’s a consumer machine, your best bet is OS X or XP, probably in that order (although i find the learning curve for OS X not insignificant).

    but for a dev machine - or a power user machine like mine - i’m pretty happy w/ GNOME/Linux, and there’s some even better stuff on the roadmap.

  6. Scott Sanders Says:

    Perhaps we need to convince Alex to try the latest Ubuntu then :)

  7. stephen ogrady Says:

    Jeff Waugh, the Ubuntu evangelist and an excellent guy, is actually considering a Denver trip during his Denver tour if i can round up support. which reminds me, need to get on that ;)

  8. Alex Says:

    I’d be interested to take a tour of your laptop next time we meet for lunch Steve; but I think Scott has me sized up fairly well in this regard. As far as flashy UIs go - I’d still be using the Windows 2000 scheme on my Windows XP Dell if I hadn’t found a similar theme I liked a tad bit better. I like clean, clear UIs - the problem is that creating one takes a team member that most OS projects don’t have (hint: it isn’t a graphic designer). :)

  9. stephen ogrady Says:

    well, i don’t actually run Ubuntu on my primary laptop - it’s currently on an old Dell box, but i can certainly show you the latest and greatest on GNOME.

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