Why All Developers Need a Crappy Computer

I have a quad-core i5 with 12GB RAM on my desk that has an ethernet connection as well as a back-up wireless connection option. I also have a Macbook pro for business travel.

These are what I use for development and other work.

I also have three increasingly POS (as in piece of shit, not as in point of sale) computers. One runs Windows 7 and Ubuntu (dual boot) on a really old HP desktop I got for $100 very used. A second is a re-furb laptop I bought for $300 with barely enough RAM to run Windows 7 Home Premium. The third is even older and is in the closet at the moment.

These are what I use for testing.

Why? Did you ever call tech support and have the person on the other end of the line say,

“Well, I don’t know, it works fine on my computer.”

Ronda choking TravisHow much did you want to choke them just like this? The reason it works on THEIR computer is that their computer doesn’t have an old processor, has enough memory, has current software and the latest operating system. Unless you have $1,000 or more to update your system to be like theirs, knowing that doesn’t help you at all, does it?

We learned early on that things that work on our shiny new computers with the latest operating systems and the coolest browsers and the updated everything often did NOT work on the computers out in the field used by those poor saps working for pointy-haired bosses who didn’t see any point in wasting money on equipment that their employees would use every day.

Going into schools and colleges, we were often surprised to find that those pretty monitors on top of the desks were connected to obsolete hardware under the desk. The computer labs looked great but looks are deceiving.  As for the software, we had assumed that schools would have the latest, because they were teaching students for the future, right? Wrong. Often budgets for both software updates and the personnel to install those updates had been axed long ago.

We don’t try to develop for everyone. We don’t see a point in developing for Windows XP, Mac OS 9 or IE6 a product that is going to be out in a year or so. We are developing to run on the earliest version of Mac OS X, Windows 7 and IE9. Looking to the future, we see a huge expansion in the schools of iPads replacing computers in many areas,  so we chose HTML5 over Flash.

That being said, we are assuming that many people will have slow connections, old computers and outdated software. So, after a few false starts we learned to develop for the crappiest 20% of the market in terms of hardware and software that we expect by the time we go into production. The last time I updated the laptop there were 66 updates/ fixes. I do this deliberately. I also test anything that runs on the Internet in the corner by the window. This is as far as I can get from the router and still be in the building. I’ll see which of our two networks has the weakest signal at the moment and connect to that one.

You know the old 80-20 principle, that 20% of your customers will have 80% of your problems? Well, we try to develop to meet the needs of that 20% and usually the other 80% are taken care of at the same time.



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  1. Yes, it works for me. If I am doing something with huge amounts of data I would not use my desktop machine. For testing and development, yes, it works fine.

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