Build a Development Infrastructure…or buy a Mac

Disclaimer: Let me start out by saying I am not anti-Mac. That being said, I am very pro-Linux. I am not a Dell lover either. I just picked them for comparison.

As a web developer, I have found it extremely beneficial to have access to my own servers for development purposes. I have my own infrastructure for version control. I maintain my own DNS servers and can quickly provide access to a temporary site for clients.  While developing TheBigFork, I developed several long-running data cleanup scripts. These would not have been possible without an always-on server to do the work.

Great. So, what does that have to do with buying a mac? Nothing, really. I recently have become aware that more and more web developers (especially Ruby developers) are developing on a Mac. Frankly, I don’t get it. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t come close to developing on Linux. But, that’s really a discussion for another day. This article is about price.

I compared the price of a MacBook Pro 17″ 2.5 gHz notebook with a collection of Dell machines. The MacBook is listed at $2799. For that much money, you could buy:

Seven Dell Vostro 200 desktops with a 20″ widescreen display and a 250 gig hard drive. These come with Windows XP, but you can easily reformat it and install Ubuntu or Fedora. Doing so opens up a whole world of freely available open-source software. (And, don’t argue that Linux isn’t ready for the desktop. If you can switch from Windows to Mac, you can easily make the switch to Linux.)

With 7 computers, you can hire a receptionist, bookkeeper and project manager and still have a few extra machines for some junior developers. Granted, these aren’t the most powerful machines out there and they probably aren’t worthy of acting as a server–unless you’re desperate.

Here’s another scenario. Buy a Dell PowerEdge 840 server plus a Dell Precision T4300 workstation (which alone rivals the macbook’s specs). The only problem is, you’ll have almost $1400 extra. I guess you’ll have to buy a Dell Latitude D830 laptop for working on-the-go, and a second 21″ monitor for your workstation. Wait–you still have extra money. So, grab a Vostro 200 from the previous scenario. Now you have four machines: a server, a high-powered 64-bit workstation, a nice notebook and an extra desktop for your assistant.

If you really need a laptop with more horsepower than the MacBook, just get the Precision M6300 mobile workstation instead of the workstation and notebook above. You’ll still have enough for a server and the spare desktop.

Finally, if computers aren’t your thing, put a down-payment on a nice new car!

Bottom line: Macs are very nice. To me, they are simply not worth the extra cash–especially when you have work to get done.

In case you’re wondering, the best Ruby IDE that I’ve found is Aptana Radrails which runs poorly on Mac and excellent on Linux. Textmate is the Ruby IDE of choice on Mac. I found it lacking in features and difficult to use.

3 Responses

  1. He-he, well I quite agree with you. Mac’s are more expensive and your argument that from a hardware purchasing perspective with all other ideals operating perfectly in a “Tandy” world sounds very convincing. Why buy a mac, especially when the end goal is to get the job done well, expeditiously and with the least cost involved? Quite honestly if you could “guarantee” several factors, I think you would be safe in saying that the best choice is NOT a mac to achieve your “business” goals and many businesses use this thinking as well. What are those “several factors”? Oh and by the way, “pink elephants” we’ll get back to that later. Hmm..well its a BIG blob in my head but lets look at a facet with some if’s and’s or but’s.

    I think the reality of computing in a home or business is different from the ideal they try to sell in a store and many businesses are left picking up the pieces where one developer or IT support person leaves or there is some area’s that they (the business, the home user or those they hire to solve the problems) lack expertise or man power to do.

    I would say the macintosh offers both an appealing “ease of use” and an “idiot’s realm of bliss”. What do I mean by that? Well, think about it, linux does work and work well, but it isn’t kind to idiots. You can get in a trouble in a hurry when things go wrong. Really this isn’t different from any computer, but with every computer questions you might ask are: 1. What do you want to do? Or What software do you need to use? 2. Who are you friends and what do they use?

    Why are these questions important? Well, who are they going to turn to for help? Are they going to pay someone 10$, 20$, 30$ an hour to help them when there is trouble (and there always is) or are they do-it-your-selfers with nothing but time to kill? Time=money, its a simple equation, and yes, you have made the argument that you save time working in linux, but I wouldn’t sell YOU a mac. I am talking about people who have a targeted expertise, who know that and know it well and want to bring it to others and want to use a computer to make it possible and they can’t be bothered by operating system hang-ups or incompatibility issues. Now in all honesty…this is not a mac either. What they want is a fantasy, it doesn’t exist. Is the mac the next best thing? Well, I propose that the answer to that is “maybe” not “NO WAY!”

    The difference between the cheapest printer and the most expensive printer, in an electronics store is just a few cartridges of ink, really, and you will certainly use lots of ink. There is more to computer costs when you buy a computer, people are always surprised when they have to buy software like Anti-virus software, disk-utility software or heaven forbid “MS Office”.

    Let’s talk about that a little to address our second point regarding “what sofware”. Yes, there are free software alternatives, and yes, many are quite good, but for some the experience is lacking in polish and a certain level of idiot friendly-ness (meaning you don’t have to constantly peruse websites, helpfiles or manuals to figure out things you can menu surf and viola! find an answer.) and for many who operate in an infrastructure of businesses, governments and institutions they have a set of rules that require you to format the information a certain way because it is cumbersome to do otherwise. Blah, Blah, Blah I could go on..but didn’t you stop listening back when I started talking about the pink elephants?

  2. Spencer–thanks for your comments. I stand by my argument that Linux is not as geeky and complicated as people think it is. It can be just as easy or complicated as you want it to be.

    Pop an Ubuntu CD into your computer. You’ll get a polished desktop with plenty of user-friendly, enterprise ready applications including Firefox 3.0, and The Gimp among others. Plug in just about any USB device, and it is instantly recognized and available for use. Even wireless networks are instantly configured easily.

    Case in point: my wife has been happily using Ubuntu for over a year with very little help from me. All three of our children use Ubuntu for kid stuff daily. I don’t have to help them or configure anything for them either.

    Anyone waiting for Linux to “arrive” as a viable alternative for home and business computing can stop waiting. It is here!

  3. That’s unthinkable. Macs never used to be anywhere like that. I am aged enough to think back to the very first that had mouse support

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