Choosing a platform, Windows and Linux 25 Apr 2007
software development

Came across an article through slashdot (I should almost template that intro) that presents the opinion that Microsoft wins over developers by not offering the wide variety of development tools for Windows that are available on Linux. I've got quite a bit of insight on this topic, and I'll get to that in the context of some quotes from the article, but let me start with one thing I think the author has absolutely right.

Every time I thought I was going to be stuck, there were a dozen articles explaining how to do exactly what I needed to do, with sample code that was up to date with the versions of the software I was using, and that actually related to the problem I was trying to solve.

There are always cases where you end up thinking "this example isn't what I want" on any platform, but by and large the material you can find on MSDN is second to only the OpenBSD man pages in documentation that I've found useful and usable. There is also a huge amount of additional information online for .NET programming (Code Project comes to mind). This is the only part of the article I can say I strongly agree with.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on why people seem to be drawn to the Microsoft Way.

The reason I do Windows development is because it has been the platform available for every job I've had since 2001. When I was a co-op student working with industrial control systems I did PLC programming and the manufacturers provided Windows tools to work with. When I started my current day job they were looking for a nice Windows replacement for an old DOS program. I do a lot of quick data acquisition setup for experiments and I typically grab a Windows laptop and one of a pile of cheap PCMCIA data acquisition cards that we have lying around that don't have Linux drivers. I'm doing some freelance application development for a medium sized company which is an all-Windows shop. None of these reasons have anything to do with lack of choice, and I suspect my experience is fairly similar to a lot of Windows developers.

Microsoft offers the certainty of no choices. Choice isn’t always good

There is no lack of choice on Windows. Most of the options available for Linux also apply to Windows. I can do a project in Visual Basic, C, C#, C++, Java, Ruby, Python or Perl, or choose Win32, .NET, Mono, GTK+, Qt, WxWidgets, or nearly anything else under the sun. I will admit this may or may not apply as much to web development, since that is an area I generally stay away from, but saying there is no choice for development on Windows is simply not true. Just because there is an obvious preference doesn't mean the choice doesn't exist. I should state explicitly that I won't consider only products offered by Microsoft to be the same as choices for programming on Windows. Just because the OS provider is also a tool provider does not preclude the existence or use of other tools.

The astute among you may have noticed I've sidestepped the choice of Linux distributions, and I did so intentionally. I consider it prerequisite for becoming a developer on either platform to be a user of that platform. If you are talking about converting Windows developers to Linux developers they first have to be Linux users, at least to some level of proficiency, and vice versa. The distribution choice is much relevant to users than to developers.

The takeaway I get from this entire line of reasoning is this: that somehow, someway, we need to start doing some winnowing

What I really think about why developers program on and for Windows instead of Linux is that Windows is still the dominant environment for most of these developers, exactly the reasons I gave for my own programming on Windows. I've done some Linux programming at my day job in addition to my Windows programming. The longer I'm here the more I'll do and the less dominant Windows will become in this one organizational group. The issue as I see it isn't the quality of the OS or the available development tools, nor is it the number of tools available, it is simply a matter of inertia.

Unfortunately I'm in no position to bring Mac into this discussion, but it'd be great to see some discussion of that as well.