What Do You Develop On?

Posted by Stuart Herbert on September 11th, 2009 in Toolbox.

At work, we have quite a variety of kit that we use for development:

  1. Cheap and cheerful desktop machines w/ multiple monitors and plenty of RAM, normally with AMD CPUs. These machines mostly run some form of Linux … Ubuntu and Debian are both popular.
  2. Various laptops, a fair mix of MacBook Pros and other kit running Linux.
  3. Virtual machines running on the desktops and laptops, used for cross-browser testing.
  4. Virtual machines running on HP servers and blades, used for system testing, release testing and production.

It gives us a lot of flexibility, allows us to develop and test on standards-compliant environments (but still use Windows for testing IE), and most of the time the developer is the bottleneck not the equipment 🙂 Recently, I’ve added both a netbook and an Atom-based mini-itx machine into the mix, and this blog post is my attempt to recommend that you consider doing the same.

Netbooks are incredibly popular in the wider computer-owning population. Over here in the UK, they come free with many mobile broadband packages, making them cheaper than many low-end laptops. They’re sold in the supermarket and the high street. Their small form factor and relative lightweight makes them appealing to people who would never willingly cart a traditional laptop around. And they run Windows, which most people are familiar with.

After an initial explosion of innovation, the specs have settled around a 1.6GHz Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM and a 10″ 1024×600 resolution screen. That’s not a lot of power, and it isn’t a lot of screen estate. How do your websites look on a netbook? Does your home page or your landing pages make an impact at that size, or is your site’s message partially or completely below the fold? How do the rest of the pages look? If you’re creating an app, does the user have enough of a working area to comfortably do their tasks? Try using Google Reader or Zimbra on a netbook to see examples of what to avoid.

And how do your websites run on a netbook? Too much Javascript, and the pages won’t be snappy. The CPU won’t keep up, and the different latencies and throughput of mobile broadband make round-trips back to the server much more noticeable. Javascript that fires at regular intervals (e.g. rotating marketing spotlight images) can force the CPU to switch execution speeds, and so drain the netbook’s battery much quicker.

Testing on a netbook is one way you can spot and deal with these problems before your customers do.

Stuart is running a course in Manchester in October immediately before the PHPNW09 conference on how to setup and organise your PHP developers to ensure things run smoothly for you and your customers. Learn more about the course, or sign-up now.

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Looking At PHP On Windows Adoption

Posted by Stuart Herbert on September 11th, 2009 in Opinion.

On Zend’s DevZone, Remi Woler recently talked about his experiences as a judge for the WinPHP contest organised through the Dutch PHP User Group and the Dutch PHP Conference. One of his closing remarks really stood out for me, where he was expressing his surprise at how few people participated: “I refuse to believe there are only a couple of dozen PHP developers in Europe.”

It’s an odd statement … the world and his dog knows that PHP is immensely popular over here in Europe. Perhaps Remi completely overlooked the Windows factor here?

  1. I’ve been running a series of polls looking to learn more about the wider PHP community. One of the things that comes out of those polls is that 15% of developers use Windows as a platform, but only 3% are using Windows for their production platform.
  2. At this year’s PHP UK Conference in London, Microsoft’s Hank Jansen (who heads up their open-source efforts) spoke in the main room. I wasn’t able to attend personally, but by all accounts his talk was not well-attended. Not only aren’t people using Windows, but the curiosity doesn’t seem to be there either.
  3. Most hosting services (and practically all shared hosting services) are Linux based. If you want to host your site on Windows Server, there are plenty of firms offering this as an option, but many of these services are beyond the budget of many PHP projects.

My personal experience over the years is that many developers work in PHP on Windows because they’re working on laptops … and Linux on laptops continues to be a very hit-and-miss experience sadly. (They should all buy Macs instead 😉 ) About half of the larger corporations I’ve worked with in the UK prefer Windows Server because Linux skills are rare in their organisation, but these corporations were also reluctant to use PHP-based solutions, still wrongly seeing PHP as a hobbyist language compared to .NET or Java.

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