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Developers embracing Mac hardware

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The Wellington offices of web development company YouDo. Photo / supplied
The Wellington offices of web development company YouDo. Photo / supplied

Developers don't have any particular attachments to Macs, or so I thought, but on the Thursday I attended Webstock in Wellington last week I did a count of laptops I could see.

I counted 50 laptops, yet nearly half (23) were Macs. A few years before, at the same conference which focuses on web design and web development, the count was more like 20 per cent.

I am aware that Mac sales were up over 70% on the last financial quarter in Australasia, which includes New Zealand, but the visibility of Apple logs at Webstock still surprised me.

Sitting upstairs at Webstock for a while on the Friday, I happened to turn around. The whole row of people behind were using Mac laptops. So I asked who they were – and they all worked for a company called YouDo Limited.

YouDo is a Wellington-based web developer.

That night, the company took a Webstock Onya gong for the Most Innovative Website. This was for the Powershop site (co-developed with DNA and Powershop).

YouDo was also a finalist for Most Outstanding Website, along with Chrometoaster, for the NZ On Screen site. The other two finalists were Boost New Media with 3Months, Codec and DigitalNZ (for DigitalNZ), and Xero (Xero won this one).

YouDo develops and operates solutions for business. The firm has expertise in many disciplines, going by its website blurb, handling process and data modelling, database and application development, interaction and interface design, infrastructure, strategy and project management.

Quite a portfolio. Indeed, YouDo has worked with Powershop, *Beetil, M-co, NZ On Screen, Meridian Energy, Right House and others. (*Beetil is a software-as-a-service platform specifically targeted to those organisations seeking to manage their IT Services more effectively.)

Considering YouDo specialises in Oracle and MySQL databases using Ruby on Rails as a development platform, plus technical expertise in Oracle PL/SQL, Java, and Perl development, you might be as surprised as I was they have so many Macs. So I asked Roger Nesbitt, a senior software developer at YouDo, a few questions.

Mac Planet: How long has YouDo been going?

Roger Nesbitt, YouDo: Just under three years now. I've been with YouDo for just over two years, first as a contractor, and now as an employee.

Mac Planet: How many staff members does YouDo have?

RN: Ten full-time employees and two full-time contractors

Mac Planet: How many Macs and other PCs does YouDo use?

RN: We've got 11 MacBooks, one iMac and two Windows laptops used as desktop machines. We've also got a bunch of Linux servers in our server room.

Mac Planet: Why Macs?

RN: Our boss, Dan Lee, says "I don't care if someone turns up with a Vic 20. If they feel productive using it, they can use it!" Because we focus on writing software for the web, you can use any operating system you like.

We've all chosen Macs for much the same reasons, though:

1) They're great as developer machines when you're using open source software. We can run all the software that we use on our Linux servers straight from our local machines.

2) You get the pretty user interface that Mac OS X offers, and the ability to drop down to the raw power of the UNIX operating system that lies underneath. Although the Windows' user interface has caught up to a large extent with OS X, it still lacks that ability for power users to use the command line to easily control the entire machine.

3) They just work. I used a Linux desktop for three years before I got a Mac, and although I'm very familiar with Linux, it still took a lot of my time mucking around, trying to get the latest driver or device working properly. Linux has come leaps and bounds in the last decade, but unless you want to restrict yourself to the most basic of computing functions, I wouldn't use it as a business desktop machine.

4) The Ruby on Rails community likes using Macs, and so there is excellent support for developing Rails on Macs.

5) It's just nicer. This is the hardest to explain because it's purely a subjective experience crafted from the attention to detail that the Mac and OS X designers put into every aspect of their hardware and software. They're elegant, and that really appeals to developers who focus on writing elegant code. Having used all three major operating systems on the desktop, it's just not as pleasant dealing with anything that's not Mac.

Mac Planet: Are the Macs used as Windows machines?

RN: We have two old laptops that we use for testing our web applications with Internet Explorer, so none of us is running virtualised Windows on our Macs.

Mac Planet: What could Apple change to make Macs better for your type of business?

RN: I can't think of a single thing. The common complaint about Macs is that they are considerably more expensive than their Windows counterparts, but the productivity benefit we gain from using Macs pays for the difference within weeks.

Mac Planet: What did you enjoy most, personally, at Webstock?

RN: From a technology perspective, I really enjoyed Chris Shiftlett's talk on security-centred design. He's interested in looking at how users interact with systems, as opposed to how us developers think they'll interact, and had some great insights into that. My favourite speaker was Rives – he's a poet who's featured a few times on the excellent presentations given at TED Talks.

Mac Planet: What impact can a conference like Webstock have on YouDo?

RN: Aside from education and networking opportunities, it got our developers fired up. We have a Fedex Day at work where, for one day every month, you can work on your own project as long as you present it to the team – it has to be delivered the next day! So everyone's got quite excited and the ideas are freely flowing.

We all love coding here, but like any job, when you do something every day you can get stuck in a rut. Conferences like Webstock remind us why we love doing what we do, give us a bit more knowledge about our field, but most importantly get us enthusiastic about getting back to our desks and tapping out some more beautiful code.

Mark Webster - mac-nz.com

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