Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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a conference management web application

XTech Conference
a European web technology conference

Living and coding on a Mac

For most of this year I've been working mainly on a Macbook Pro, having deserted my Ubuntu desktop.  Somebody wrote to me recently, kindly enquiring how this life was going, and asking some questions in particular.

Although of limited interest to some, I decided to answer the mail here, if for nothing else to record my views for future reference.

Q: How is developing on a Mac? Is TextMate really that good?

Developing Rails applications on a Mac is sweet, and yes, TextMate really is that good. My jilted .emacs languishes in lonely misery.

Developing other (non-Mac) stuff on a Mac is a real pain however, because nothing's where you'd expect it after years of Linux use.  Like several other developers I've seen, I run Ubuntu Linux in a virtual machine under Parallels for such work.

It's not just that Macs lack apt-get (as you can get it with fink), it's that they lack the reliability of Debian or Ubuntu's package repositories to underpin it. Running Linux in a virtual machine is far easier.

On the subject of TextMate,  perhaps the best compliment I can pay it is that using it reminds me of the last text editors I really felt at home in, CygnusEd and then FrexxEd on the Amiga. TextMate's most serious flaw is the inability to create split views, however. It seems to me that's a key programmers' feature, to be able to read from one source file at the same time as editing another.

Q: Is the hype about Ruby on Rails true?

I still think so. I resisted it for 6 months because I tend to be averse to anything that gets such a large amount of publicity, but then stepped aboard the train around the time of Rails 0.13.

I've not really looked back after my initial experiments seemed to bear out the claim of developing "ten times faster than PHP". I'll admit I find it hard to keep up with all the extra developments that get added at the Rails cutting edge, but then again I don't really need them.  Most of those additions are refinements, rather than core changes. Constraints on my time mean I tend to write in a common Rails subset, as opposed to flexing my muscles with the obscure but clever bits.

Even if your taste isn't for Rails, then the trend that Rails, Django and friends have started is improving the web development playing field for all.

Q: What makes you happy and sad about the Mac?

The things that the Mac still scores on are:

  • Fonts, fonts, fonts. Despite all my many efforts at getting good letterforms on Linux, I still couldn't make it as good as OS X.
  • Productivity applications. I love my OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner. I'm salivating over the prospect of OmniFocus, and Quicksilver rocks my world.
  • Hardware. Suspend/resume without worry, video conferencing that works.

The interesting thing to me is that none of these are very difficult to surmount, for want of a little resource.  The day of the Linux desktop, so perennially around the corner, will yet come.

As a balancing postscript, I will mention that there are some things that are Mac irritants to a sensible Linux person, which include filesystem case sensitivity, lack of decent SSH agent (yes, I've tried them all), not knowing what to kill -9 when things go pear-shaped, Apple's arrogance, crippled nature of some default apps (iChat won't put multiple accounts in the same window, Safari doesn't support keyboard navigation at all well, Quicktime player won't play movies fullscreen).

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