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The Work Anywhere Theory, in Practice
September 19, 2012 7:52 AM   Subscribe

A year ago, programmer Mark O'Connor decided to swap his MacBook for an iPad and a Linode VPS (Virtual Private Server) development environment. Today, he discusses the success of his experiment.
posted by gilrain (79 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a hoax. I know this because I have been repeatedly told the iPad is merely a content consumption device.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:55 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


So for development he's using his iPad as a dumb terminal, often working over 3G. The delay when using a terminal over 3G is maddening to me; I'm not sure how he did it. (There's Mosh, which improves things, but it is not a panacea and there are no iOS clients for it yet.)
posted by zsazsa at 8:02 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is insane. I would never want to write code on such a small screen.
posted by scose at 8:03 AM on September 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


Obviously Mark O'Connor is a tool of those forces out to kill general purpose computing.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:04 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I occasionally use my N7 to get "real work" done, but it sucks even with Hacker's Keyboard. I guess if I got a real keyboard for it, it might work better, but at that point why don't I just carry my netbook around?

Don't make the mistake of thinking this is doing content creation on an iPad. It's not. It's using an iPad as a dumb terminal, just as Apple intended. Were the iPad worth a damn for (this sort of) content creation, you wouldn't need a Linode VPS to back it.
posted by wierdo at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


No stark, I think this is a fascinating topic. I'm not sure why the iPad needs to be part of this work-from-anywhere solution, it's probably not what I would have selected (if I'm doing all of my dev on Linode, I would have more likely selected a thin laptop running Linux with a bigger screen).

However, I'm glad that someone tried this and detailed the experience, because it is a fairly novel concept right now, using an iPad as a primary development machine. We're in a pretty strongly shifting wind right now with personal computing, and many that need to use computers to produce things are wondering if the rise of mobile devices is going to help in that pursuit.

His overall conclusion was that Linode rocks the house, but that the iPad is not quite what he needs. He goes on to say that Windows8 RT is exactly what he wants, which...okay, I see his point, but I can't get behind because up yours Intel/Microsoft for jailing off your RT machine from anything but Windows.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


bah, that should have opened "No snark"
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:07 AM on September 19, 2012


I loves me some iPad and think the "merely for content consumption" talk is mostly from people carrying a grudge of some sort.

But the fact remains that if you need to add an external keyboard to get your work done, by definition, the iPad is not sufficient to get your work done.

And at that point - as has been observed - you might as well use a netbook.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:07 AM on September 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


>This is a hoax. I know this because I have been repeatedly told the iPad is merely a content consumption device.

No, in this case its an expensive SSH client for someone who lives and breathes the command line. Joe User isn't switching to vim and mutt.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:07 AM on September 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's weird how the iPad seems friendlier to code writing than to writing — the text editing and terminal app choices are far ahead of the word processing options. Word processing is hard and the presence of Pages (which is very feature-poor) discourages others from taking a shot, I guess, and the device is surely popular with web-techie types, but it still seems like a striking difference.
posted by RogerB at 8:11 AM on September 19, 2012


the "merely for content consumption" talk is mostly from people carrying a grudge of some sort.

Not at all. He's using the iPad as a dumb terminal here, and connecting to a remote server to do all his work. He couldn't do this with an iPad alone. Content creation is taking place on a remote server.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:12 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have colleagues that use an Ipad combined with a VPN to a Windows Server. I guess I could too...

Most of the article is about how great it is to work from anywhere (on an on about nature and cafes, etc) but all that applies just as well to a Macbook Air + 3G as it does to an IPad setup.

I have a semi-cloud based workflow. I store a lot of local stuff on my MacBook but I am also running jobs on remote Linux and Windows servers that I check into from time to time. I write documents in Word that are always backed up to DropBox. My email is IMAP or GMail. Nothing important is only local. If my laptop died I'd be sad but not because of data-related reasons.

This solution works best for me now. Things may change of course but, as someone else mentioned, since the IPad still needs an external keyboard then you have a netbook.
posted by vacapinta at 8:13 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It’s a crisp summer morning. The clear blue sky promises a hot afternoon, but there’s a hint of freshness on the breeze that ruffles my hair. I smile in the dappled shade of the tree and lean back against the rock. My fingers lazily stroke the screen, scrolling through the feature spec, but my mind is a thousand miles away weighing up design decisions for our new product.

An opening salvo in the new writing genre "Ipad Porn."
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:14 AM on September 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


No, in this case its an expensive SSH client for someone who lives and breathes the command line. Joe User isn't switching to vim and mutt.

This. I this this is a fascinating topic but, not being a programmer, I couldn't even understand the article, never mind implement any of the tricks or solutions he found.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:15 AM on September 19, 2012


No, in this case its an expensive SSH client for someone who lives and breathes the command line. Joe User isn't switching to vim and mutt.

I use mine with the Citrix client to connect to a virtual desktop. The interface isn't the best in the world but for making quick fixes it's a lot better than lugging around a laptop everywhere I go when I'm on-call.
posted by Gev at 8:16 AM on September 19, 2012


It's interesting that what he complains about are all software issues: Safari isn't a good browser, Google Docs really isn't a replacement for MS Office, and so on.

Similarly, he remarks that he likes the lack of windows management but then enthusiastically endorses GNU screens to manage his terminal sessions. He's also primarily working on remote servers, so he misses the blecherousness that is the iOS filesystem.

He's using the iPad mostly like a portable VT100, a mobile dumb terminal.
posted by bonehead at 8:22 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This seems like a lot of money to do something that could be done a lot cheaper and easier if you discarded the requirement that it must use an iPad.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 AM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've been trying to use the iPad as a note-taking device. For me, the results have been less successful. For me, the problem is ergonomic.

I have no problem with the software. The app I use, WriteUp, syncs to dropbox and lets me write in Markdown. It's a good setup.

I use Apple's bluetooth keyboard. It's nice. But the big ergonomic hit for me is the fact that I can't use it as a laptop—literally, I cannot have an integrated gadget in my lap to type on. I need to take notes in places that don't necessarily have anything resembling a type-height tabletop, and I find I'm propping the iPad up in a spot that is awkward (especially when I need to touch it), and constantly worrying about it tipping over.

I know there are keyboard cases that do make the iPad more laptop-like, but as I understand it, the typing on these is not good. I do appreciate the excellent battery life and the light weight, even schlepping a separate keyboard.
posted by adamrice at 8:24 AM on September 19, 2012


Most of the article is about how great it is to work from anywhere (on an on about nature and cafes, etc) but all that applies just as well to a Macbook Air + 3G as it does to an IPad setup.

I have both a Macbook and an iPad. I recently went out of town for a conference and decided to leave the laptop in my hotel room rather than drag it down to the show. I thought for sure I'd run into some snags, but it turned out to be the first of several days of a totally different way of working. Combining the iPad with this keyboard resulted in an amazingly useful device for easily 70% of my day-to-day work. Like this guy does, I popped into the VPN to take care of server work via RDP, which is exactly what I'd be doing from my laptop anyway.

I did have to jailbreak it to resolve some inherent inadequacies, like access to the filesystem, so I'm not entirely satisfied with it just yet, but there's a huge difference between dragging a laptop or even a netbook around, and immediately starting up an iPad. It really did free me from constant searching for power outlets while I was traveling. I was able to literally work all day without charging the iPad.
posted by odinsdream at 8:25 AM on September 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


adamrice: Definitely check out the keyboard I linked to. It's really wonderful.
posted by odinsdream at 8:26 AM on September 19, 2012


zsazsa: So for development he's using his iPad as a dumb terminal, often working over 3G. The delay when using a terminal over 3G is maddening to me; I'm not sure how he did it.

Have you checked it recently? The original wireless connections had latency often worse than dialup (300+ milliseconds, a third of a second), and not much more bandwidth, but when I tether through my Galaxy Nexus, which is 3.5G, I get quite good latency in the U.S. South, perfectly workable. It's not quite as good as a wired connection, but it definitely won't make you want to bang your head on the nearest hard surface. I haven't tested for a few months, so of course the exact numbers have escaped my aging brain, but I think it added about 25 to 30ms to my normal ping times. Not quite as good, noticeable if you're a fast typist, but not painful.

Think of how wonderful that guy's environment could be if he could run whatever he wanted, without having to ask permission.

As is, he's basically able to take a command line with him anywhere, which is pretty cool. And this, I think, is the real promise of ubiquitous networks, being able to, in essence, make your own cloud, be your own server. The only reason he has to do it with Linode is because home bandwidth in the US is shitty.... once we can routinely get tens of megabits of upload speed, we'll be able to just run our own clouds from our houses, without having to worry about Google or Linode getting their grubby little fingers all over it.

I learned my lesson about shared hosting probably, um, maybe ten years ago? It was soon after Linode started, I was a relatively early customer there. I had a small instance, running my own, hand-written firewall scripts, which I had had logged in to take a look at, planning to make some change that I've long, long forgotten. In looking through it, I discovered that someone had added a couple of lines, giving unrestricted access to a class C network I didn't recognize... and which, when I did a whois lookup, claimed to be owned by the FBI. That changed to be anonymous some time later, but when I first looked, the firewall script had been modified to give full access to a network that WHOIS said was the FBI.

What I suspect must have happened was that someone did something bad with one of the instances, and the FBI got a warrant for 'the machine', which allowed them to search my virtual hard drive, and modify it so they could more easily do surveillance. I, of course, wasn't doing anything but hosting mail and DNS, but felt really violated, and left Linode shortly thereafter.

I now make a point to only put data I care about on a machine I own. Assuming they bother to get a warrant, at least they'll have to get a warrant to come after me specifically, and not just the shared machine that also happens to host a bad guy.

It's a good thing they were so clueless back then. Nowadays, I suspect they'd probably insert a custom rootkit-style kernel module, or they'd make alterations in the host OS that I could never possibly see as a guest. So I'll stick to hardware I own, or at least am renting exclusively. I've already been burned once.

The law does not recognize virtual machines as being separate, so your ability to protect yourself against unwanted searches is very weak if you're on shared hardware.
posted by Malor at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Man discovers Unix & falls in love. At night the iceweasels come.
posted by deo rei at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's weird how the iPad seems friendlier to code writing than to writing — the text editing and terminal app choices are far ahead of the word processing options.

Depends how you're writing, of course. You're right that there's something...off about current iPad word processors. But there is an embarrassment of Markdown-based plaintext writing applications out there that are wonderful for writing and handle the document formatting internally.

Personally, I do most of my writing in Byword on my iPad and don't miss having a laptop at all. It killed me when I started my biostatistics course this semester and discovered that Byword doesn't support MathJax (and none of the iPad editors do properly, as far as I can tell), so I couldn't use it to take notes.

I recently went out of town for a conference and decided to leave the laptop in my hotel room rather than drag it down to the show.

The main reason I bought my iPad was for conferences, yeah. I was tired of an aching shoulder and looking around for a chair near a power outlet. But yes, it can suck if you're not given a table.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2012


Bizarre. I can't personally see it, as a programmer myself...

1. There isn't enough screen real estate.

Most programmers crave huge screen real estate. I'm not nearly as bad as they are - I did development this summer with a laptop - but I felt much more comfortable when I got back to my monitor.

2. Keyboard!

I type exceedingly fast - I've had people complain that I type faster than they can read.

The Apple Wireless Keyboard is crappy. I've used it before, and it's slow to type, and has a tendency to move around when you start battering at the keyboard really fast. It also skips the occasional keystroke when you're typing up a blaze... maddening!

I have a MacAlly keyboard that's probably 20 years old. I've been given others, still on this one. Every six months I put it in the sink and wash it. It can take it...

3. Latency.

As others have commented, how does he do this all over SSH - when there will be significant delays between typing and seeing the keystroke?! I do do programming right on my server - because I'm slack - but it drives me nuts and I don't do it for anything that's not a toy.

4. Setup.

How, exactly, does he balance the monitor and put the keyboard somewhere when he's out in a field somewhere? I can just whip out a laptop and I'm going...

5. Size.

Is his size really so much better than a laptop?

...

More power to him, but I'd never work that way.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:30 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


entropicamericana: “This is a hoax. I know this because I have been repeatedly told the iPad is merely a content consumption device.”

Well, I know it's a hoax because he says that Windows 8 is awesome and swears that he can't wait to switch from an iPad to a Microsoft Surface.

I mean, seriously?
posted by koeselitz at 8:35 AM on September 19, 2012


I type over 100wpm on a real keyboard (closer to 40 on the N7) and have little trouble with latency on a 3G connection. EDGE was..."fun", of course. Typing things wasn't so much an issue, it was the editing that was nearly impossible thanks to the good half second latency.
posted by wierdo at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2012


I had a big power and network outage a few months ago, lupus_yonderboy, and logging in over SSH to update DNS records to route around the problem was pretty painless over 3.5G. It's not quite as good as wired, but like I said a couple comments ago, it added maybe 30ms to my overall ping, which slows responsiveness a little, but is pretty workable if you're a good typist.

I haven't actually experimented, but at a guess, I suspect the annoyance threshold for me is about 150ms, and the pain threshold is 300ms... and I was getting ~110ms to the West Coast from the East, so I was pretty content. If the server had been nearby, where I didn't have to cross the country in addition to the wireless network, I doubt I've have noticed the latency at all.
posted by Malor at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2012


It looks like he is writing Python, but it would be nice to do something like this for a compiled language. I haven't done any tests but I can imagine that compiling C++ on my laptop burns up the battery. It would be cool to submit my code to a "staging" remote build machine and get a binary, or even binary diff, back from the network.
posted by scose at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2012


Oh, hey. I did this TWO years ago, with a cheap tiny netbook instead of an iPad. I wrote a script that started an EC2 VPS instance and VNCed into it, full-screen. I was endlessly amused that my colleagues would look with disdain on my $200 netbook, not knowing it could have up to 16 cores and 24 GB of RAM (depending on the instance type I started up).

After a couple months of doing this, I decided my time was worth more than money and got a giant honking laptop.
posted by miyabo at 8:45 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean, to flesh out my skepticism:

from article: “For a while now I’ve been telling people that Microsoft will become the new cool, the inventive underdog, and I still believe that. Windows 8 may be a huge gamble for Microsoft, but Windows 8 RT is a clear win for me. Microsoft understands the keyboard. I can start, switch and control apps without leaving the keyboard. The device even comes with one.”

This guy uses a wireless keyboard with his iPad. This means that he's not content with the touchscreen keyboard provided, for whatever reason. My initial guess would be that the feel of typing on a screen is a little tiring – I like it more than almost anybody I know, but even I can't type for more than half an hour on my iPad touchscreen without getting a bit fatigued and slowing down.

So why so much faith in the vaunted Microsoft Surface built-in keyboard? It is by far the most chimerical and vaporish part of the device; as I recall, at the demo of the Surface people weren't even able to try the keyboard at all. I have strong doubts that it's going to live up to the hype they tried to build up for it. I actually anticipate it being worse than the iPad's touchscreen keyboard; at least it won't use up screen real estate, but I don't think it's possible to build any kind of satisfying mechanical keyboard in the dimensions they've constrained themselves to.
posted by koeselitz at 8:46 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use an iPad during travel and have done some light programming and configuration edits, but given the salary of a full time programmer I can't see using an iPad as a dev tool as a good investment. Any way you slice it, it is of limited utility for programming work. I look at my dual 24" display right now and I have umpteen tabs in browsers open in various reference pages and various windowed displays of in-progress documents. I can't imagine how I would task switch among the various things I do in a given day on an iPad, but I can see how I could tend a specific task.
posted by dgran at 8:53 AM on September 19, 2012


This guy uses a wireless keyboard with his iPad. This means that he's not content with the touchscreen keyboard provided, for whatever reason. My initial guess would be that the feel of typing on a screen is a little tiring – I like it more than almost anybody I know, but even I can't type for more than half an hour on my iPad touchscreen without getting a bit fatigued and slowing down.

The real deal breaker in my experience is that there's no good way to make up for the lack of meta-keys on the touchscreen keyboard. The floating keys that iSSH provides aren't really usable when you're trying to work at anything approaching the speed at which you can work on a keyboard with meta-keys.
posted by invitapriore at 8:54 AM on September 19, 2012


> but it would be nice to do something like this for a compiled language.

For any non-trivial compiled program, you're probably out of luck, because the iPad simply doesn't have the horsepower to do a good job on compilation.

The difference between this 8-core machine with an SSD and my laptop is significant - compilation on the laptop is slow enough that it almost forces a context switch, which is very destructive to workflow. It has to be even worse on an iPad.

I can't imagine that anyone would be compiling on the iPad - you'd be editing and compiling on some fast machine in the cloud.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:55 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


sigh. I guess I'm an old fart. I read about 4 paragraphs of that and didn't understand a single thing. Except that he was sitting next to a fountain.
posted by Uncle Grumpy at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


But the fact remains that if you need to add an external keyboard Wacom tablet to get your work done, by definition, the iPad desktop computer is not sufficient to get your work done.
posted by mph at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2012


damn dirty ape: "No, in this case its an expensive SSH client for someone who lives and breathes the command line. Joe User isn't switching to vim and mutt."

The articles are interesting for what he's doing, and I think there's a model here for some people. But O'Connor admits to what you're suggesting: "In short, it’s a seamless transition from my MacVim envionment. If I were developing OS/X apps with Xcode, or used Eclipse or Visual Studio regularly this change would probably have killed me."
posted by boo_radley at 9:06 AM on September 19, 2012


For any non-trivial compiled program, you're probably out of luck, because the iPad simply doesn't have the horsepower to do a good job on compilation.

In all of the *nix environments that I've worked in, you never do any compilation on your local machine. You edit locally but compile on a shared build server. The code sandboxes all live on network drives (NFS, AFS, etc) so your editing host and your build hosts can all see the same source tree.
posted by octothorpe at 9:09 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


> but it would be nice to do something like this for a compiled language.

For any non-trivial compiled program, you're probably out of luck, because the iPad simply doesn't have the horsepower to do a good job on compilation.


I think the idea was to do this - use a thin client - with a compiled language. At which point the iPad isn't doing any local computation, it's all happening on a server somewhere out there.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:09 AM on September 19, 2012


Given how new, slimmer hybrid hard-solid state drives are coming out, we may see more and cheaper ultrabooks. Don't write out the traditional laptop/netbook form factor just yet. Having a built-in keyboard goes a long way.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:12 AM on September 19, 2012


The thing just needs Bluetooth mouse support already for fuck's sake.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:18 AM on September 19, 2012


invitapriore: "The real deal breaker in my experience is that there's no good way to make up for the lack of meta-keys on the touchscreen keyboard."

Do jailbroken iPads not have something like Hacker's Keyboard for Android? I don't have a problem of missing any needed keys with that keyboard, just the usual gripes about typing on glass.
posted by wierdo at 9:35 AM on September 19, 2012


This guy uses a wireless keyboard with his iPad [...] So why so much faith in the vaunted Microsoft Surface built-in keyboard?

That's not the point that he's driving at. It's not the quality of the keyboard that he is so concerned with, it's the operating system's acceptance of the keyboard as a means of controlling applications/programs (whether it be starting, stopping or switching between them). Basically he doesn't want to have to touch the screen to make those things happen.
posted by MUD at 9:38 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the fact remains that if you need to add an external keyboard Wacom tablet to get your work done, by definition, the iPad desktop computer is not sufficient to get your work done.

While it might be interesting to debate whether a mouse is a more or less inadequate substitute for a graphics tablet than an on-screen keyboard is for a physical one, I'm not sure what your point is.

For anyone who needs a graphics tablet to get their work done, yes, by definition, a desktop computer as sold is insufficient to get their work done. However, since no one goes around claiming that desktop computers are "not serious devices for work", it wouldn't be a controversial point.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2012


Don't write out the traditional laptop/netbook form factor just yet. Having a built-in keyboard goes a long way.

Form factors are part of a dialectic in personal computing, but they are not, themselves, the "synthesis" part of the process: The synthesis is the overall state of personal computing.

I'd argue that Apple carved out a place for the tablet by figuring out its most comfortable contexts (the couch, bed and breakfast nook), and that's what made it seem "new" to a lot of people even though PC manufacturers had been trying to carve out a business context to much less profound success for over a decade. Apple didn't bring us the tablet ... it brought the tablet into a place nobody had really had success pushing it, and it is enjoying its most success answering the needs of people who want it for those contexts. It also so happens there is a small but noticeable market of much more technically inclined users who like using it out of those target contexts.

Because the tech press loves to speak in maximalist terms, not dialectical ones, and because netbook sales have seemed to drop off as the iPad rose, once the narrative stopped being "omg how bad is Apple going to look when this flops" and became "the iPad is displacing traditional computers" (or the more coy "is the iPad displacing traditional computers?"). It didn't become "the iPad is displacing a piece of the traditional computer lineup in a particular market segment" (people who bought netbooks because they were cheap, easy to carry around, and offered the right amount of power for the jobs people wanted to use them for).

Personally, I would never write off laptops with keyboards. I commented in another post about all the ways I use an iPad for "content creation," much of which is essential to my work as the technical lead for a small Web publishing company and previous work as an editorial manager/writer. In the context of vacation trips, weekend getaways, visits to the coffee shop and breaks from my desk (where I've got a pair of big screens and a "real computer") the iPad has mostly displaced my MacBook Air. But for another technical lead or editorial manager who didn't have the money for both devices, I think deciding to pass on the MacBook in favor of the iPad would probably be a weird choice they'd come to regret.

If, for instance, I ever travel to the main office over on the other coast, where I'll be working away from my nice home desktop setup, the iPad will be the optional thing in my carryon (though I'll probably take it because the battery life is better foar a coast-to-coast flight in coach and I like watching Netflix in my hotel room at night). My MacBook will be essential because it has seamless access to remote filesystems, I can test my code right there on it, and endure a lack of connectivity provided my Dropbox was in sync when I was last under a cloud.

To my way of thinking, the real synthesis here isn't "iPad displaces netbooks or laptops and ushers in a new era of people awkwardly balancing tablets and bluetooth keyboards on their laps with weird keyboard cases while the Ubuntu users hold swapmeets to keep their netbooks running for a few extra months," it's "iPad moves into some spaces netbooks had filled for some people, laptops remain a better option for some."

Right now, the "controversy" is fanned because form factor and computational/display hardware are joined, so we talk about winners and losers. What would happen if computational/display hardware lived in one place that acts as the brains for the full range of form factors on the market today? That could be either smartphone-centric, or it could be cloud-centric.

My personal prediction is that in 15 or 20 years, we'll be carrying one computing core that wirelessly deals with a full array of display, input and storage form factors ranging from the core (which is your phone/pocket computing device) through dumb netbook/ultralights, on up to desktops and all the way through to your 72" t.v., maybe with a dash of distributed computing thrown in for corporate environments where the receptionist's device running just iCal and reading Facebook can spare some cycles for the developer pool.
posted by mph at 9:52 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Basically he doesn't want to have to touch the screen to make those things happen.

This is one area where Android kind of kills the iPad, provided you have a decent Bluetooth keyboard. I rock this setup at work to get around harsh internet restrictions and I don't have to touch the screen at all (including waking up/putting the device to sleep) to anything. If I want to just pick it up and use it as a 7" tablet then there it is.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:56 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or an Asus transformer. The clip-on keyboard is very sweet and they've had mouse support (wired, usb dongle or bluetooth) since day 1.
posted by bonehead at 9:59 AM on September 19, 2012


While it might be interesting to debate whether a mouse is a more or less inadequate substitute for a graphics tablet than an on-screen keyboard is for a physical one, I'm not sure what your point is.


My point is that using a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad is treated like cheating by people who are hung up on winning the "can't use for content creation" point, as if personal computing has never, ever involved using devices outside whatever came in the box with your traditional PC. Or as if using a computer has ever been anything but a series of tradeoffs.

However, since no one goes around claiming that desktop computers are 'not serious devices for work', it wouldn't be a controversial point.

The people who go around claiming that iPads (and tablets of their sort in general) are "not serious devices for work" are demonstrably wrong (or forgetting to say "for me" when they make these assertions), so it seems weird to voluntarily agree to their narrow framing when we're discussing the utility of a tablet for content creation/doing "serious" work.
posted by mph at 10:06 AM on September 19, 2012


mph: "My point is that using a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad is treated like cheating by people who are hung up on winning the "can't use for content creation" point, as if personal computing has never, ever involved using devices outside whatever came in the box with your traditional PC. Or as if using a computer has ever been anything but a series of tradeoffs."

The difference of course being that nobody raves about the portability of a desktop computer. That's the point of the objection you so casually dismiss. If you've got to carry a keyboard anyway, a netbook is more versatile for the weight/bulk of the gear you're carrying. Will a tablet by itself do in a pinch for most tasks? Sure, but that's making do in a pinch.
posted by wierdo at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


In 1993, I had a dial-up shell account that had a complete tool chain for GCC, complete with my choice of vi or emacs "development environments." They had something similar to GNU Screen, too, that let me wrangle multiple login sessions.

I rocked that thing from a Mac Portable. I was cloud-computing cool before Kurt Cobain died, apparently.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:34 AM on September 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


>Given how new, slimmer hybrid hard-solid state drives are coming out, we may see more and cheaper ultrabooks.

I was just at the computer store and got to play with the new Zenbook Prime. The 13" model I was looking at was $1000. About $200 cheaper than the Macbook Air of similar size. Of course, unlike the MBA, it comes with a Windows license, native right-click, hdmi/vga, etc. I could really see myself giving up on both my laptop and tablet for this thing.

I have no idea how the market will react to all these new types of devices and if Windows8 will hit some kind of magic tablet/laptop sweetspot, but I'm very tempted to get an ultrabook at this point and leave the tablet for couch/bed duties.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:58 AM on September 19, 2012


People still think there's no right-click support on Mac OS?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:34 AM on September 19, 2012


Apparently (I haven't seen anything from Apple, only third parties), the new lightning connector might be able to act as a USB host, which means a new rev of the iPad might be able to use standard USB peripherals. A lot of mights there, but such capability could alleviate some of these problems.
posted by bonehead at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2012


There are a couple of ways a tablet/keyboard combo is more versatile than a netbook... laptops/netbooks have always been an ergonomic nightmare and hard to use without craning your neck. Along with one of these things you could actually have a pretty good setup. (Yes, of course portability suffers if you need a stand, too. But you're getting a result better than you can with a netbook.)

And you still have the option of grabbing the tablet in your hands for reading or web browsing. I've read PDFs with my netbook held open like a book. It's pretty bad.

Now if only the Asus Transformer had a USB port so I didn't need to use Bluetooth. The world keeps getting close to my perfect device, and then screwing it up in some crucial fashion.
posted by Zed at 11:41 AM on September 19, 2012


If you've got to carry a keyboard anyway, a netbook is more versatile for the weight/bulk of the gear you're carrying. Will a tablet by itself do in a pinch for most tasks? Sure, but that's making do in a pinch.

I don't use my iPad "in a pinch." I get a lot done on it. My MacBook Air doesn't get much use at all anymore. If I had to choose one or the other for all time, I'm a conservative soul and I'd probably stick with the MacBook (as explained upthread) because it might some day need to stand in for a failed desktop machine. But for me and right now the MacBook is more a hot spare. If there's going to be any change in my hardware, it'll probably be toward ditching my iMac in favor of a decent laptop that won't come off the desk that often because I really like my iPad for consuming and creating both. I couldn't justify it solely as a way to read my feeds and watch Netflix.

But we've gone from "can't create content with it," a point I consider either dishonest or poorly expressive of a number of assumed qualifications, to "the netbook is more versatile for weight/bulk." No argument here in the generic, but the netbook is worse for me because I prefer to be able to take that keyboard and stick it in my bag or suitcase and forget about it when I don't need it. I hate balancing a dinky netbook on my lap with the attendant neck cramps and awkward bulk, and I went through two of them to finally figure that out. I also found that I tended to use them with more powerful machines on the back end for everything but web surfing and light editing (because their keyboards were abysmal compared to an Apple Bluetooth keyboard). For my mix of needs and use, the iPad strikes the better balance. Packing a good but separate keyboard is for me (and I suspect a few others) a superior tradeoff.

It just seems like a strange argument to be having at all: I'm a grownup, I've been using computers since Commodore PET and TRS-80 Model I days, continuously "creating content" with them since VIC 20 days, and I think I'm competent to pick tools I can be productive with. I can be (and regularly am) productive with an iPad for a bunch of "serious" work and I've explicitly rejected netbooks for the same sort of serious work because I've found a better blend of portability, network-based computing and versatility. Other people pick different tools with different priorities, and the cool thing is that the overall state of computing is such that there's an incredible, diverse selection of tools. netbook sales have slowed because tablets picked off part of their market, but I still see them sitting there on the shelves because they've got their uses and fans. 7" tablets appear to be scaring Apple enough to warrant getting into a market segment it disavowed, but 9" tablets continue to sell well. Digital ink Kindles and Nooks continue to sell in a market place with those same 7" tablets because some people just want an e-reader but otherwise turn to their laptop or desktop for a game or productive work. I'd say the Kindle is way better than the iPad for just reading books, but that doesn't mean the iPad can't be used to read books, and I'm pretty sure my current, three-year-old Kindle will be my last because the iPad is good enough to replace it (and has a Kindle app).

I think it'd be nice if we could have this discussion without buying into either/or framing, or the belief that there's some optimal state for everybody. There simply isn't. It's all about tradeoffs.
posted by mph at 11:43 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


People still think there's no right-click support on Mac OS?

The same people who think a twice-as-thick knockoff is of "similar size" to the MBA, apparently.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:43 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


People seem to think programming isn't creating content, because there's a network connection involved. I wonder how surprised those people will be when apps start offloading computation to cloud services, during usage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on September 19, 2012


>People still think there's no right-click support on Mac OS?

I have a Macbook and I had taping two fingers down for right-click when in Windows to right click. I want a native right-click on the right side of my touchpad like I'm used to. Maybe the newer macbooks do this, but mine doesn't and its annoying as fuck.


>The same people who think a twice-as-thick knockoff is of "similar size" to the MBA, apparently.

Stay classy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:47 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


He's using a 3G connection from his iPhone, so most of his reasons for not using a laptop sound weak. Is a Macbook air so heavy he couldn't climb a tree with it? Are you really going to use your iPad in the rain without damaging it? Are these rooftop terraces exclusive because they don't allow usb mice?
posted by Gary at 12:06 PM on September 19, 2012


Couldn't iOS' baked-in shortcuts be a real boon to a coder?
posted by sourwookie at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2012


his reasons for not using a laptop sound weak
He wants a machine that works all day without plugging it in. All apple laptops are out of the question. The battery life on ipads makes a huge difference to how you use them.

I've taken a lot of long international flights recently and the number of ipads being used is about 3 times the number of any kind of laptop.
posted by bhnyc at 1:41 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


For long battery life, it's not just any Apple laptop that's out of the question (as Apple laptops are fairly good compared to competitors here), but any speedy x86 laptop is pretty much out of the question. ARM (maybe Atom?) is the only sensible ways to go.

I've been programming like this guy, using my laptop as primarily a dumb-terminal plus web/email/presentations, for more than the past decade. I'm a big fan of it. I'm not sure I'm ready to go the iPad route, but I know at least one person who does, and that person is very happy, and productive in places that my MacBook Air is hard to use.

If you can't fit your computing problem onto a single computer, and it seems that even web programming is getting that way these days, then you need to go the dumb terminal route anyway. It presents enough mobility and noise advantages over a stationary workstation that I can't imagine ever sitting in front of a fixed computer ever again, unless it's to swap disks out of the JBOD.

Unix: giving you the future decades before you know what the future is. (Except for X11, what a load of horsecrap. Especially with modern drawing libraries like Cairo that use more than 256 colors and heaven forbid, an alpha channel, "network transparency" is a complete joke. Other platforms figured out much better remote graphics solutions, even if "figure out" means use VNC.)
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:09 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Battery life is a good point. Most of my experience with iOS devices is my phone, where heavy 3G usage or games can eat up the battery in a few hours. But an iPad ssh program over wifi is going to last a while.

But I suppose I'm getting hung up on the iPad part of the equation, which he says was the weakest link. His setup is an excuse to go think and code in more interesting places and break up his day with exercise. That part sounds great.
posted by Gary at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I picked up an Asus 1225B a couple months ago and have been blown away by the battery life. It's replacing the 9" eeePC that I used as my primary day-to-day machine (for doing things like writing a math phd and coding a lot). Yes, this was insane and you can probably discount everything else I have to say as a result, but it worked for me: it weighed 2lbs, cost $250, and was quite reliable.

The new 1225b is an 11", hypothetically an eee, but without any visible eee branding... I switched out the hard drive for an ssd when I picked it up (important for me because I tend to run long computations in my backpack while running around all day; don't want to subject a working hard drive to all that commotion). But yeah, the thing's been fantastic. I'm in rural Kenya right now, and the power was out all day yesterday and I got in a good six hours on the machine before having to go somewhere with a generator...

(Pro-tip: 3g internet is also the best option in rural Kenya. It's slow as fuck all, but unlike other options it actually works almost all of the time and is available everywhere.)
posted by kaibutsu at 3:52 PM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have the classical desktop web coding environment customized to my workflow. I have a new Mac mini and an old 30" Cinema Display. I set up my customized configuration of Apache 2/MySQL/PhP, and have all the tools like Dreamweaver 6, Coda 2, BBEdit, etc. So I fire it all up and then open Firefox with Firebug and other developer plugins. Then I surf the web instead of working.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:21 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The same people who think a twice-as-thick knockoff is of "similar size" to the MBA, apparently.

The Zenbook Prime (UX31A) is 0.71 inches thick, the 13 inch Macbook Air is 0.68 inches thick. It's about the same in other dimensions too (as in the ZP is smaller or equal) and weighs less. Not bad with a FullHD screen.
posted by markr at 8:04 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only reason he has to do it with Linode is because home bandwidth in the US is shitty....

Just want to point out that he lives in Munich, not the US.

You're right about the general state of US home broadband though.
posted by sparkletone at 8:05 PM on September 19, 2012


The thing that I get from this, though, is: sure, an iPad can work like this. So can anything with a monitor, a keyboard, a net connection, and ssh. But there doesn't seem to be any reason to prefer the iPad (which also seems to be his conclusion) over any of the other ways to do it, and maybe some good reasons not to.

While I do the ssh/screen thing when I don't want to drive into work or on weekends, it's still not quite the same as working on my workstation directly, where most of my code lives and runs. And of course if you need access to specific hardware then thats a different story (debugging code running on an embedded/mobile device, for example).

Then again, I still don't even own a personal laptop (2 desktops, 2 tablets, 2 phones -- no laptop aside from my work one which is purely for work) since serious work to me requires a monitor and keyboard, and why use a laptop then? (having RSI makes this more of an issue, though)

Tablet + keyboard --- biggest problem to me is screen size. If I have to be mobile, I'd much rather have a ThinkPad X1 Carbon (like a MBA, but larger screen).
posted by wildcrdj at 8:53 PM on September 19, 2012


So he could have gotten a netbook or chromebook or nexus 7 which would have provided the same set of tools for less than half the price.

I think that "NOOOOOB" is the proper response to this.
posted by hellslinger at 10:45 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can't believe it's been A WHOLE YEAR since the original (starting) post
posted by floatboth at 4:24 AM on September 20, 2012


Shockingly it is also possible to use your macbook as a dumb terminal and SSH client, and it even comes with its own keyboard!
posted by edheil at 7:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So he got an iPad, and then got a keyboard so he could use his command line.

WTF is the point of that? You can get a netbook for less money. Even a used laptop could work. Tether it too your cellphone using wifi, and you can get the 'work anywhere' thing taken care of.

Secondly, if he'd gotten an Android tablet, he wouldn't have even needed the VPS. It has a Linux kernel and you can download terminal apps and run ordinary Linux programs right there on the device itself.

You could also just setup an old PC in your house to use as a server as well.

Doing this on an iPad seems like a pretty ridiculous way to go about doing this, overall. Sounds like silly apple fetishism, where apple users freak out at the idea of buying any hardware from any other company.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 AM on September 20, 2012


People seem to think programming isn't creating content, because there's a network connection involved. I wonder how surprised those people will be when apps start offloading computation to cloud services, during usage.
They... won't use those apps? And why would that happen anyway, unless you're doing something that requires that a PC can't handle, why would a developer want to pay for servers if they don't need too?
posted by delmoi at 11:25 AM on September 20, 2012


Delmoi, and others, miss the killer aspects, which are "access to the rest of the Apple mobile ecosystem" (which has nontrivial appeal) and "battery life." Netbooks and cheap laptops are vastly inferior on both points, generally speaking. Try watching video on your average netbook, for example.

I remain baffled why so many folks are made so angry by Apple, and by people writing about how they use their products.
posted by uberchet at 1:00 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last year I started this as an experiment, but it stopped being that a long time ago. Today the entire city is my office - its parks, its countryside, its cafes and its workspaces. I have worked on river islands, half-way up trees and on exclusive rooftop terraces.

Jesus Christ, it's like he's never heard of a fucking laptop before. I'm not sure I've read another piece that simultaneously conveyed both "smug" and "oblivious" so concretely.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:12 PM on September 20, 2012


10 hour battery life, man.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:16 PM on September 20, 2012


Zed: Now if only the Asus Transformer had a USB port so I didn't need to use Bluetooth.

Um. I'm typing this on a Transformer, and it has two USB ports. They're a little bit hidden, on the sides of the keyboard, but they're there...
posted by altolinguistic at 1:57 PM on September 20, 2012


USB ports on the dock don't help for what I was describing wanting to do, i.e., putting the tablet at eye-level and using it with a wired keyboard... but doing some reading, it seems I was out-of-date on bluetooth security and a bluetooth keyboard is probably acceptable. (Now if only the dock itself was bluetooth so you could drive the tablet with it without having to turn them into a laptop. kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.)
posted by Zed at 2:19 PM on September 20, 2012


Delmoi, and others, miss the killer aspects, which are "access to the rest of the Apple mobile ecosystem" (which has nontrivial appeal) and "battery life." Netbooks and cheap laptops are vastly inferior on both points, generally speaking. Try watching video on your average netbook, for example.
You can find laptops with pretty long battery life. And you can bring an iPhone if you really want to play angry birds or whatever at some point.
posted by delmoi at 8:07 PM on September 20, 2012


Laptops with battery life matching an iPad are typically much, much heavier, so you're missing the point again.
posted by uberchet at 3:28 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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