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

The creators of some Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, are just as aware of good visual design as Apple. All of the Java-based tools for developing on smartphones and the server work as well on Linux and commodity hardware. The new visual improvements to Ubuntu, though, are leading some to feel that it's getting slower, something that's borne out by recent benchmarks.

Others' objections are more political. Apple's decision to drop the word "computer" from its name is part of a trend that is rubbing some developers the wrong way. They note that the company's pursuit of the wider marketplace is hurting the spirit the company once celebrated in its famous commercial in 1984.

Apple is now becoming notorious for deliberately not giving customers what they want: iPhone users can't cut and paste. Simply reading the iPhone developer's documentation requires agreeing to an onerous licensing agreement. Just about when the T-Mobile G1 smartphone arrived with Google's open source Android operating system, Apple loosened the agreement significantly.

Some of the newer products are locking out uses that programmers expect. Although Apple TV is clearly running on a version of OS X, users can't even pop open a browser window, let alone use a command line in the living room. Apple is pushing heavily for stiff control over what happens inside its beautiful shells, knowing full well that most customers could care less about checking their cron jobs in a command-line window while watching a movie.

Blame Apple

Apple has defended itself against these accusations, pointing out that new markets like cell phones require more control. There's little damage that a desktop programmer can do beyond crashing an application, but the cell phone world is new and evolving. If a programmer leaves an endless loop in an iPhone application and the battery dies quickly, Apple will get the blame, not the programmer.

Some even half-joke that the Mac's place in the center of the programming universe is more a surprising accident opened up by the transition to Intel's chips. The company's real focus is on the unwashed who think that the word "Perl" is a misspelling. The lament is just like when the once cool, independent rock band makes it big. The money, the fame, and the adulation are impossible for the new star to ignore, especially one that is a profit-maximizing corporation beholden to the shareholders.

Naturally, the coders hope that Apple will somehow find a way to play to the non-programmers while the Mac continues to be the most beautiful and least-flawed solution for turning keystrokes into bug-free code. After all, the programmers are responsible for much of what the non-programmers love about the machines.

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Peter Wayner

Peter Wayner

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