Why developers prefer Macs

Apple systems have become the tools of choice for coders of all kinds, but not without a few aches and pains

"37signals is all about doing less software," says Fried. "Simpler products that do less than the competition. A lot of people think that in order to beat the competition, you need to one-up them or outdo them. We think we can underdo and one-down people."

So the same design elixir that built the iPod and the iPhone can seep into your own code by some bit-based osmosis.

Many software developers also cite the proliferation of graphic design tools on the Mac. As good artistic effects become more and more important to software, using Macs helps programmers find a bond with the stylishly dressed, visually obsessed designers across the office.

The design and quality of Mac hardware is also cited by many. Aaron Mulder, the chief technology officer at Chariot Solutions, uses a Mac laptop and a Mac Mini for developing. He says he will sometimes take a Mac Mini along with a big-screen monitor because it's the most portable way to work with a screen that's larger than 17 inches.

"Mac OS 10.5 ships with a ton of development tools, including Subversion and Rails -- so it's very easy to get started. All you need is a proper text editor or IDE," he explains.

The sting of ka-ching

While the price of Macintosh hardware continues to be competitive with the best commodity laptops and desktops, Apple offers nothing in the rapidly expanding lower tiers. It's possible to build a quad-core PC running Eclipse and Gimp for less than US$400 with refurbished hardware. At the time of this writing, the Mac Pro with one quad-core CPU begins at US$2,300. Adding Photoshop and other tools can push the bill closer to US$4,000. While the Apple machine is much prettier and quieter, the price makes it harder for people to justify.

PCs are also available in greater variety. Although Apple's laptops are highly regarded and craved by many developers, the line is limited. Apple doesn't make a Netbook or a 12-inch machine. Although underpowered Netbooks like the Asus Eee PC and HP Mini-Note aren't really suitable for resource-intensive development work, they can run both Linux and Windows.

There are indications that the Mac is finding itself in a tighter race with other Unix distributions for the hearts and minds of programmers. James Gosling, vice president at Sun Microsystems who leads the Java development team, was once very devoted to Apple. But last year, he announced on his blog that he wasn't carrying an Apple laptop as frequently. OpenSolaris was running well enough for him on commodity hardware. "Java, NetBeans, and GlassFish go like the wind!" he wrote of Sun's products. "It's amazing how fast things run."

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Peter Wayner

Peter Wayner

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