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What Has Linux Done for Programmers Lately?

This story was originally published on May 27, 2010, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

It seems fair to say that the relationship between programmer and platform is in many ways like a romantic one, characterized by mutual respect and a balanced exchange of give and take on both sides.

Just as so many of us love and respect Linux, for instance, so it surely loves us back with all its many virtues — no strings or price tags attached!

So happy are many in the Linux community with their favorite OS, in fact, that it was difficult not to feel mortally wounded by a recent accusation — one that not only charged Linux with doing too little for programmers, but then went on to say Microsoft does more.

Talk about sprinkling salt on the wound!

As the famous poet once said, “Ah, Love, but a day, and the world has changed!”

‘Nothing to Compare’

“Microsoft does some things better, much better, than Linux,” Computerworld’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols began. “Number one with a bullet is how Microsoft helps programmers and ISVs (independent software vendors).”

Specifically, “MSDN (Microsoft Software Developer Network) is a wonderful online developer resource,” Vaughan-Nichols asserted. “Linux has had nothing to compare.”

The Linux Developer Networkhasn’t lived up to its promise, he added; training classes, vendor-ISV partnerships and a dedicated conference are all among the solutions he proposes.

‘Kidding, Right?’

More than 50 Linux bloggers fairly tripped over themselves in their haste to respond to Vaughan-Nichols’ cutting remarks on Computerworld before the topic spread to Linux Today, to LXer and beyond.

“You are kidding, right?” shot back Seth Kriticos in the Linux Today comments, for example. “Maybe the documentation for Linux needs more attention, maybe not. One thing I’m sure of is, that it’s far superior to the MSFT stuff.”

Then again: “Some programmers are married to their code,” charged Sherman T Potter in the Computerworld comments. “They take any critique or suggestion for improvement as the equivalent of saying their is wife ugly.”

Who’s Gonna Pay?

Alternatively: “Standards are the only way,” opined an anonymous Computerworld commenter.

On the other hand, “who’ll pay for it?” asked another one.

It soon became clear that the court of public opinion was far from unanimous on this one. Linux Girl took it upon herself to seek out a little advice on the matter from a variety of Linux Love Doctors.

Should Linux really be doing more?

What Microsoft Does Well

“When it comes to IDEs, MSFT rocks,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted. “VS is THE programming IDE as far as myself and many of my programming friends are concerned. More importantly it allows those that aren’t kernel level programmers (such as myself) to write basic apps in a RAD style and get them usable and out the door.”

Linux “simply doesn’t have a multilanguage IDE that compares to VS, so perhaps that is where the focus should be?” hairyfeet suggested. “A nice, easy-to-use multilanguage IDE that would allow for an easy migration path for those that are used to VS. Linux has the web programmers, it is the rich desktop apps that seem to be harder, at least to me, on Linux.”

In fact, “if Linux could come up with the next truly user-friendly programming language — one that is as easy to pick up as VB — then that could be the ‘killer app’ that could give Linux a real shot at gaining some real marketshare,” hairyfeet added.

“Programming simply isn’t hardcore ASM or kernel-level hackers anymore, it is guys dragging and dropping in IDEs,” he said. “Appeal to THAT group and you have a real shot of gaining ground.”

A Forum for That

Slashdot blogger David Masover saw it differently.

“I have to wonder how much the Computerworld guy knows,” Masover began.

“His complaint seems to be that Linux has no MSDN, but I’ve never wanted or needed that,” Masover asserted. “Just what does MSDN actually provide? Help and support? I’ve got forums for that. Cheap software subscriptions? My package manager delivers software for free.

“Maybe I’m missing something, but maybe this is like complaining that Linux has no antivirus software,” Masover added.

It would have helped if Vaughan-Nichols had provided “a specific example of a specific problem for which having MSDN would’ve been useful,” he suggested.

“The closest he comes is describing the problems of developing and deploying on multiple Linux platforms, for which there are multiple solutions — not that it seems to matter much,” Masover said. “Shouldn’t your app be cross-platform anyway? Would you expect a single source of support for both Windows and OS X machines?”

Pity the Fool

Regarding training, meanwhile, “I’m going to Railsconf this summer to learn more about Rails, so I’ve got my training covered — but notice, that’s not ‘Linux training,’ it’s Rails training,” said Masover, who develops Java using Eclipse and also works with Ruby on Rails.

“I think that’s as it should be — no single OS is as exciting as a platform that works on all OSes, and there are enough such platforms already, with their own communities, training sessions, certifications, networks, and distribution systems that, as a programmer, I’m really having to work hard to understand what he’s complaining about,” he concluded.

“It’s a pity he’s completely missed out on the existence of freenode.net,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “I tend to visit Freenode when Google searches don’t help me with what I’m working on.”

‘Make Me Coffee!’

Should Linux do more for programmers?

“Absolutely! Linux should go and make me a coffee! Then it should automagically translate my ideas into perfect code,” quipped Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “And how about walking my dogs for me? Or put away the laundry? Linux is certainly not doing enough for *this* programmer!”

As for Vaughan-Nichols’ arguments, “I’m not buying it,” Hudson said.

“Linux runs Java apps just fine,” she explained. “It also is a much better development platform for web work — most distros, including a LAMP stack is just a few clicks during the initial setup, and you’ve got your choice of servers, php, python, perl, ruby, tcl/tk, etc.”

One also doesn’t need to be any more of a Linux expert to use Eclipse or Netbeans or a text editor “than you have to be a Windows expert,” Hudson asserted.

‘Thank Them’

Blogger Robert Pogson summed it up nicely:

“Of course we should do more for the programmers who contribute to FLOSS,” Pogson opined. “Donate money and equipment, hire them, give them credit when FLOSS shows on the resume, provide them with assistance documenting and testing and promoting, and thank them for a job well done.

“The mass of software contributed as FLOSS is of inestimable value,” he added. “Every contributor should be well rewarded.”

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