[personal profile] mjg59
I was at the OpenStack Summit this week. The overwhelming majority of OpenStack deployments are Linux-based, yet the most popular laptop vendor (by a long way) at the conference was Apple. People are writing code with the intention of deploying it on Linux, but they're doing so under an entirely different OS.

But what's really interesting is the tools they're using to do so. When I looked over people's shoulders, I saw terminals and a web browser. They're not using Macs because their development tools require them, they're using Macs because of what else they get - an aesthetically pleasing OS, iTunes and what's easily the best trackpad hardware/driver combination on the market. These are people who work on the same laptop that they use at home. They'll use it when they're commuting, either for playing videos or for getting a head start so they can leave early. They use an Apple because they don't want to use different hardware for work and pleasure.

The developers I was surrounded by aren't the same developers you'd find at a technical conference 10 years ago. They grew up in an era that's become increasingly focused on user experience, and the idea of migrating to Linux because it's more tweakable is no longer appealing. People who spend their working day making use of free software (and in many cases even contributing or maintaining free software) won't run a free software OS because doing so would require them to compromise on things that they care about. Linux would give them the same terminals and web browser, but Linux's poorer multitouch handling is enough on its own to disrupt their workflow. Moving to Linux would slow them down.

But even if we fixed all those things, why would somebody migrate? The best we'd be offering is a comparable experience with the added freedom to modify more of their software. We can probably assume that this isn't a hugely compelling advantage, because otherwise it'd probably be enough to overcome some of the functional disparity. Perhaps we need to be looking at this differently.

When we've been talking about developer experience we've tended to talk about the experience of people who are writing software targeted at our desktops, not people who are incidentally using Linux to do their development. These people don't need better API documentation. They don't need a nicer IDE. They need a desktop environment that gives them access to the services that they use on a daily basis. Right now if someone opens an issue against one of their bugs, they'll get an email. They'll have to click through that in order to get to a webpage that lets them indicate that they've accepted the bug. If they know that the bug's already fixed in another branch, they'll probably need to switch to github in order to find the commit that contains the bug number that fixed it, switch back to their issue tracker and then paste that in and mark it as a duplicate. It's tedious. It's annoying. It's distracting.

If the desktop had built-in awareness of the issue tracker then they could be presented with relevant information and options without having to click through two separate applications. If git commits were locally indexed, the developer could find the relevant commit without having to move back to a web browser or open a new terminal to find the local checkout. A simple task that currently involves multiple context switches could be made significantly faster.

That's a simple example. The problem goes deeper. The use of web services for managing various parts of the development process removes the need for companies to maintain their own infrastructure, but in the process it tends to force developers to bounce between multiple websites that have different UIs and no straightforward means of sharing information. Time is lost to this. It makes developers unhappy.

A combination of improved desktop polish and spending effort on optimising developer workflows would stand a real chance of luring these developers away from OS X with the promise that they'd spend less time fighting web browsers, leaving them more time to get on with development. It would also help differentiate Linux from proprietary alternatives - Apple and Microsoft may spend significant amounts of effort on improving developer tooling, but they're mostly doing so for developers who are targeting their platforms. A desktop environment that made it easier to perform generic development would be a unique selling point.

I spoke to various people about this during the Summit, and it was heartening to hear that there are people who are already thinking about this and hoping to improve things. I'm looking forward to that, but I also hope that there'll be wider interest in figuring out how we can make things easier for developers without compromising other users. It seems like an interesting challenge.
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Date: 2014-05-19 03:47 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] glyf
It's worth noting that in many significant ways, Linux is not, practically speaking, more tweakable. Have you ever mapped out the sequence of steps it would take to go from "I'm using OpenOffice and I'd like to turn this button blue" to actually doing so?

Despite being somewhat neglected in the gold-rush of mobile everything, the automation tools on OS X, by contrast, are phenomenal.

Here's a practical example. On Linux, if I want to ask Chrome to tell me what URL is displayed in the current window... I'm not even sure what I can do. I guess there might be some kind of IPC I could do to, like, an extension or something? I could write a bunch of JavaScript? I mean, I'm not just saying this off the cuff - I spent about a week trying to figure it out at one point. The only thing I really learned was that if I were able to make it happen, absolutely nothing about that learning process would translate to getting the URL out of Firefox or Konqueror.

By contrast, if I want to do that on the Mac, I just pop open a Python (or Ruby, or AppleScript, or ObjC) and do this:

>>> from ScriptingBridge import SBApplication
>>> SBApplication.applicationWithBundleIdentifier_("com.google.chrome")
<GoogleChromeApplication @0x7feaddf58b10: application "Google Chrome" (303)>
>>> chrome = _
>>> windows = chrome.windows()
>>> list(windows)
[<GoogleChromeWindow @0x7feadd996b30: GoogleChromeWindow 0 of application "Googl
e Chrome" (303)>]
>>> windows[0]
<GoogleChromeWindow @0x7feadddeecd0: GoogleChromeWindow 0 of application "Google
Chrome" (303)>
>>> win = windows[0]
>>> tab = win.tabs()[0]
>>> tab.URL()

This was a literal interactive session that I did as I was writing this reply to prove the point. A couple of experimental tracebacks are elided, but otherwise this is actually what I did, and it took under a minute.

With BPython or IPython I get interactive tab-completion of the relevant method names. With AppleScript Editor, I can get nice HTML documentation of the various scripting objects present in applications.

I am rooting for the Linux desktop, I really am. But while Linux gives me the legal right to modify my environment in arbitrary ways, OS X gives me the practical agency to do so in useful ways.
From: (Anonymous)
Your point is interesting: How could we make our tools even better for the developer so they work for bringing people into using more Free Software?

But I think that answering this need would almost immediately lead into losing the exclusivity for the difference...

...I mean, if Mr. Foo likes using Emacs on his Mac, and we came up with Emacs major modes to handle bugtracking and pull requests... The problem's solution would be directly usable from the Mac as well — Hence, no reason to change.

And were this functionality you mention to be part of, say, the KDE desktop... First, you'd be alienating those Linux users who are unimpressed with the KDE way of life. And second, the program would probably be soon ported to the desktop environment (or OS) of Mr. Foo's choice.

Yes please!

Date: 2014-05-19 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlBs4z3qJc4lQBYLQsJk95o6CzRag3Oarc
Desktop search integrating with git and issue trackers that I use instead of spending time on searching office documents that I do not have or Amazon products I didn't want to buy? Now that finally sounds like a useful application of the current search-centric model that Linux desktops have switched to!

Re: tweaks

Date: 2014-05-19 05:29 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Have you looked into using LDTP for non-testing purposes? (It's a functional test framework for GUIs which uses the accessibility APIs to implement AppleScript-like robust programmatic scriptability of GUI widgets)

I haven't had time to try it yet but I get the impression it should be possible and should produce an experience similar to your example session.

Linux should be the means and not the end

Date: 2014-05-19 06:39 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have been using Linux for a decade now and when I had a chance to grab a MAC, I just did that. And I was amazed at how it made things more easy for me. True to its founder's words, I don't really have to struggle to figure out how to do something. Its all about what is it that I want to do.

I totally agree with you that its a very small percentage of users [ and not developers ] who would be interested in changing their system configuration.

The design with which we need to go for making Linux more useful, will be the key for what Linux actually turns out to be. If we go for enhanced Security, we cannot crib about extra steps to dig deeper into some machine secrets. With enhanced Security, you are bound to have multiple levels of checks before you get your hands to what you need. So, the design drives the outcome.

One design that would be great to have on Linux would be to make Linux just a means of doing something and not the end in itself. We need to start by understanding what people want to use computers for. And give them a tool [ Linux ] that does it with excellence. They really shouldn't be bothered about how it does or how they can enhance it. It should be configured out of the box to do the best thing for the user.

-- Sarfraaz Ahmed


Date: 2014-05-19 06:40 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The environment is really important for developers. Tweak-ability is nice but if I'm going to spend all day tinkering with my DE/OS just to get a decent setup, then I'm not being productive at all. I tried using Linux as a desktop but gave up due to too much configuring and tweaking just to get things done.

The Linux desktop is really in need of an overhaul. Gnome is getting better every release and elementary OS is shaping up nicely.

I just hope that there will come a time when the Linux desktop just gets out of the way and looks good doing it.

Just my 2 cents.

Date: 2014-05-19 06:50 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I switched some time ago from Linux to Mac OS (Hackintosh on the desktop actually). The main reason was that it is a Unix, but with games and MS Office. So you're right, its a OS that I can use for work and for fun. But I don't like it because the UI was more polished. In fact, nowadays OS X is the most conservative UI (compared to Windows 8 and Gnome). It's essentially unchanged since the beginning. I like it because it doesn't force me to change my habits. ITunes and other Mac specific software is also not a selling point for me. I use VLC, Clementine and other free/open source software instead, which have the benefit that they are the same in all desktop environments. So basically, I like Mac because it is simple and bland and runs all my software.

Sadly, the pinnacle of desktop Linux was Ubuntu around 2009. Most of the people I know who switched to Linux made the switch around that time. You had excellent apps, a simple UI that let you get your work done, a technical basis that was tried and stable, and thanks to Ubuntu, easy installation and configuration. After that, it went downwards. Paradoxically, trying to modernize Linux (the distributions, not the Kernel), has driven people away instead of luring them.

But even if Linux were to return to its virtues of a simple GUI, compatibility, and solid underpinnings (now that Gnome 3 and Unity are more mature, once the dust settles on the systemd, wayland, ... migrations), it would still compete with OS X which does all that right now. So what's the USP of Linux over Mac? Even if people don't like to hear it, Linux Is About Choice. (Or, for nitpickers: "what makes cost-free unix distributions (mostly using the Linux Kernel and GNU stuff) great is that I can change my desktop theme".) No, seriously. Make it easier to run stuff from different desktops in parallel. Make it easier to swap components. Let me run Gnome Shell, with the Mint version of Nautilus, but with the titlebars of KDE, and the theme of Ubuntu. Give me ten great themes to pick from.

So, make Linux comfortable, compatible, and configurable, and I believe all the developers will come back :-)

Date: 2014-05-19 07:14 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I don't think those are the real reasons for using Macs. The real reason is that if you want a premium laptop, the only option you have out there that isn't compromised in any way is a MacBook. It's the only way you can get a high resolution screen, PCIe storage, Iris/Iris Pro graphics, a quality trackpad and top notch build quality in a single package at a reasonable price. Even if other OEMs come close on these points, they'll either cut corners somewhere or price it way beyond a Mac. The popularity of Macs is indicative of the garbage in the rest of the market. At this point the only other laptop I would even consider is a Razer Blade.

The other problem stems from Linux itself. In 2014, you still need to wrangle with the terminal to get certain drivers working correctly. Even if you do get them running, you're still stuck with inferior performance and lower battery life as compared to Windows. This is particularly true for GPU drivers - whether closed-source or open-source, they suck a lot. On a Mac, the driver setup and optimisation has already been done for you, leaving you free to get on with your work straightaway. You get great performance and great battery life out of the box.

Date: 2014-05-19 07:14 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Well the idea that people want to "tweak" their OS is flawed. The only reason people want to "tweak" things is because stuff do not work and they try to work around it. (Ignoring the miniority that "tweak" for the sake of tweaking).

But at the end of the day you work using a text editor, IDE, word processor, web browser, ... not a configuration dialog.

Date: 2014-05-19 07:59 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Agreed. I was somewhat recently in the market for a new laptop, when I started my search I was looking for a windows ultrabook with a price around ~1000 dollars. Everything I found was disappointing in one way or another (most commonly they had poor battery life for the price). during the search I just kept coming back to the macbook air even though I wasn't even looking for a mac, the touchpad and battery life just seemed to blow anything else in the price range away. Some of the ultrabooks had nice screens, but that wasn't my priority.

When I bought the MBA and used it I was immediately amazed with the touchpad. Both the touchpad hardware, and the OSX driver/touchpad integration was flawless. Everything from the scrolling to the gestures just works so damn well. I've always *loathed* using windows on a laptop because if its shitty touchpad support, most features were left up to the touchpad driver itself (synaptics etc... and their drivers were usually really buggy), and even basics like two finger scrolling never worked well. I had actually used linux for years on my previous two laptops, because I found even linux was much nicer to use with a touchpad than windows. /windows touchpad rant

I ended up disappointed with though, even though there was a lot I liked about it, because the linux desktop's quality control just isn't there yet, way too many bugs and regressions with every release, at times I felt like I was spending way more time reporting bugs, trying to work around bugs, and distro/desktop hopping than actually using my computer.

So far the MBA has hands down my favorite laptop and OSX has quite good to me (although not without its own issues).

Date: 2014-05-19 08:01 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oops, I accidentally a word near the end there, meant *I ended up disappointed with linux though*

Date: 2014-05-19 08:08 am (UTC)
ewx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ewx
Linux desktops also undergo fundamental change every few years. The Gnome 3 user experience is completely different to Gnome 2, which in turn was quite unlike Gnome 1.

Compare with OSX where the fundamentals haven't changed that much in 15 years. Windows has undergone a bit more evolution (in a slightly longer time frame) but looking at a Windows 8.1 desktop there's a lot of day-to-day stuff that's familiar from a long long time ago.

If the changes were actually improvements that would be much more tolerable but in practice I can spend weeks trying to get used to these changes and still find it easier to give up and use the paid offerings instead, despite the inconvenience associated with having to use SSH to get to a real computer.

Guileify GNU!

Date: 2014-05-19 08:09 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I think the answer is the total guileification of the (extended) GNU operating system. We need to facilitate cross-talk between bits of the operating system, and there would be no more natural way to do this in GNU than to make all commands understand literal Scheme lists of arguments, and give back literal Scheme lists of data (including the response to '(help), which would make the entire system introspective!), so that inter-operation between sub-systems becomes natural.

vcs with integrated issue tracker

Date: 2014-05-19 08:17 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Git ought to have an integrated issue tracker and wiki like fossil-scm. I don't use fossil but if git had an integrated issue tracker we'd have a much better foundation for that specific problem. I envy fossil-scm for that but it falls short in other aspects.


Date: 2014-05-19 10:25 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I am not so sure that people want to tweak things, and that this should be a selling point. I would have to agree with the other commenters on here that although tweaking is nice, eventually you want to just be able to get stuff done. The recent iterations of Linux and reinvention of the desktop has driven me away from it, because I found that of the 20+ years of computer use, they were the most unusable forms of desktop. I could do more with my BBC Micro using a CLI, as it came with a manual (and you knew you were getting a complicated computer, so a manual was a necessity).

Opposite to this, there has been the Great Dumbing Down of desktops to pander to the lowest common denominator of computer user. But it is flawed because they assume that you want computer use to be "fun" and "enjoyable"; instead, they have made it "frustrating" and "enraging" to the 98% of users who are used to the way it used to work. I don't necessarily want to be grinning all day long when using a computer - I want it to let me do things, in the same way that I don't want to feel delighted every time I use a knife or fork.

I don't know who they consider to be the lowest common denominator but my mum got by just fine using Windows XP on a basic level, and has happily moved on to using an iPad as her "computer", due to the fact that she just had to learn to press one big button, and didn't really create anything on a traditional desktop PC, making it redundant. Reinventing the traditional desktop paradigm that has been in use for 20+ years wouldn't magically draw my mum to use Linux, nor would the fact that she can tinker with it - she isn't bothered about that. The maximum amount of "tinkering" she did/does with both her PC and iPad was changing the background picture.

Like the others, I went to buy a Mac after using one for work and being impressed with the build quality (and non-flexing keyboard) and excellent touchpad. The extensive battery life, even on an i7 MacBook, was very impressive. The biggest amount of "tinkering" I have done is install TinkerTool and ShiftIt so I can use the keyboard a bit more, plus I put the Dock on the left, but I do not find that I am lacking in any way. In fact, the most impressive thing about the UI is that it doesn't get in the way, unlike Windows 8 (and Vista+ where popups on the bottom right constantly attempt to inform you of things). I have stuck with Windows 7 for my Windows use, as I am not in kindergarten (and therefore impressed with big square blocks to press) or using a touchscreen device. (Yes, I did use Windows 8 for months but found it confused and a mess). Even Spotlight doesn't get in the way, and that appears to be what the Unity and GNOME3 systems are aiming for with their new way of launching programs, isn't it?

I cannot see a way of pulling users back to Linux with their New Way Of Using Desktops when you have working desktops that aren't particularly frustrating and take very little learning (Mac OSX's window management, sloppy mouse focus model for scrollwheel behaviour etc.; Windows traditional desktop mode). (Converse to this, my brother hates using the Mac and finds it highly frustrating).

Apple's bug tracking system requires use of a web browser, so I do not feel that the lack of integration with bug tracking systems in the OS itself is a problem. I do not feel anger when I cannot report a bug from within the OS.

I still run Linux under a VM but it is running GNOME2 due to the fact that it behaves in a logical manner and doesn't attempt to treat me like an idiot. I thought it was good. For info, I am a software developer and write under Mac OSX and Windows (and iOS and Android) for my day job, and write software under anything else in the evening (with Linux being my main development environment).

Just some thoughts; not meant offensively in the slightest, hopefully nobody misreads this! Apologies in advance if this annoys you.

This is why...

Date: 2014-05-19 12:01 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is why end user focused distributions like Fuduntu and SolusOS were hugely popular with end users, they targeted end user use cases and provided real solutions to desktop usability even if sometimes those solutions were ugly hacks. Sadly, this is also why they and others have all failed.

Unfortunately, FOSS developers only care about the shiny ball they are chasing and don't care to do any work beyond the scope of what they care about, take systemd for example, and Lennart's recent refusal to even help test on libc because they don't use it. It's the absolute wrong mindset to have, and it's why you see more and more people considering leaving for FreeBSD on servers and OSX on their laptops and PCs. This new age developer is unlike developers in our past who actually cared to see the whole platform succeed. That's why every one of these end user focused distributions has failed, or will fail and it's why Ubuntu gets little to no upstream support. You'll keep seeing people developing for Linux on OSX because that experience is so much better that it's not worth anyone's time to constantly screw with a Linux desktop to make it work.


Date: 2014-05-19 12:25 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> They don't need a nicer IDE.

Yes they do. Pretty much all the suggestions you made have already been implemented in one IDE or the other, Eclipse, Visual Studio, Emacs, etc. Does any of them support OpenStack development well? Maybe not.

And by the way, most IDEs overlay the entire desktop. Simply because IDEs are meant to be exactly that: a "developer's Desktop".

Eclipse is especially relevant to your point because it was designed to be extensible/a framework from the ground up: there are countless plugins to do anything, including querying bug trackers, terminals, remote (target) debugging, file transfers,... and of course Eclipse is able embed the operating system's browser. Many Java developers almost never look at the "real" desktop behind Eclipse. Last time I checked support for C/C++ was not as good as for Java but it was a long time ago.

Note I am not saying Eclipse is the perfect IDE (far from that!) - it's just one demonstration that your suggestions have been implemented already. Just a data point.

Now, like someone already wrote above, Eclipse runs everywhere so why would you switch to Linux for it?

unhappy? not that much

Date: 2014-05-19 12:31 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> That's a simple example. The problem goes deeper. The use of web services for managing various parts of the development process removes the need for companies to maintain their own infrastructure, but in the process it tends to force developers to bounce between multiple websites that have different UIs and no straightforward means of sharing information. Time is lost to this. It makes developers unhappy.

From my experience many developers don't care that much about their own productivity; no more than other professionals. Sure, software rock stars like you do, but mere mortals don't. Like you said, they want a polished, iTunes-like user experience when they are at home but for development inconveniences they just write a quick and dirty script to workaround the problem / automate things a bit and then they make sure no one ever sees that script in case they would be asked to clean it up for sharing.

Re: unhappy? not that much

Date: 2014-05-19 12:34 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> From my experience many developers don't care that much about their own productivity; no more than other professionals.

Try blocking a developer and then get back to us on how much they don't care.

Same here

Date: 2014-05-19 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm surprised that battery life hasn't been mentioned more times already. I recently went shopping for a new ultra-portable laptop, even though I had one that would regularly give me 6+ hours of actual use (10 claimed IIRC). The 13" MBA I'm typing this on was just way better than anything else, and I regularly get 8-10 hours out of it. It's also dead silent unless I'm playing graphically intense games, which is notable because fan noise is another problem that severely afflicts many machines in this category. I won't risk making either battery life or fan noise worse by installing a whole different operating system and drivers, so I just keep running OSX and iTerm2. If I ever saw actual proof that an *out of the box* Linux install on something like a Yoga 2 Pro or the latest X1 Carbon would work as well then I'd gladly do that too, but that has been such an often-made and never-met promise in the past that it might take more than one person's word to convince me. My time is worth more than the price differential between MBA13 out of the box vs. hours of research plus purchased alternative plus even more hours pulling all the bits together.

Re: tweaks

Date: 2014-05-19 01:07 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The difference is that the day your "practical agency" becomes strategically unimportant to Apple, they will simply revoke it. You compute this way at Apple's grace.

Re: tweaks

Date: 2014-05-19 01:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The appleevent infrastructure is 20 years old or more.

Re: tweaks

Date: 2014-05-19 02:32 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Substitute Gnome for Apple and you have one of the major problems with Linux today.

Also, weight

Date: 2014-05-19 02:35 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I agree. I'm actually not a huge fan of Mac OS X or iTunes.

But I like having graphics drivers that always work, and I love the weight and battery endurance of the MacBook Pro.

There are three things that I really hate though:
- Glossy screen
- Can't get a 17" screen
- Non-PC keyboard.

So I'd say the MacBook Pro is somewhat preferable than my Dell M6500 in a hardware sense, but it's certainly not a slam dunk.

Date: 2014-05-19 02:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
A good rebuttal to that is https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=676898 Some Gnome developers decided that people didn't want to tweak the date field in nautilus so 'fixed' it resulting in nautilus being forked multiple times now.

Everyone's workflow is different enough that an OS can't make a good non-tweakable judgement call on some things like the above.
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Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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