In search of a better dev environment setup

Now my make-shift working area is no longer the dining table after the move, I am eager to set up a proper environment for learning and developing software at home.

My thought is to have one decent computer that powers a few virtual machines. I like the idea of virtual machines as opposed to physical ones, which are more costly and messy. And I was pretty determined to run a Linux distro as the host, because I want to live and breathe in it for a while, to bring my Linux skill to a similar level of my Windows knowledge.

I’ve learned a few things during my quest for a better computer configuration. At times, it was really frustrating.

  • SSD (Solid State Disk) is nice. It provided a tangible, fairly obvious performance boost to my system. I am no longer afraid of the previously daunting prospect of long running install and uninstall, such as SQL Server. Better yet, when I want to test something that can potentially have a negative side effect, I now would do it in a virtual machine. Before such test starts, I take a snapshot. Prior to SSD, it would take a long time to do a snapshot of the VM. With SSD, it is much quicker now. If the test didn’t go well, I would roll back the virtual machine to the state when snapshot was taken;

    Begin rant

  • So far I am disappointed with all Linux distro that I’ve tried. Part of it is understandable, as vendors will make their devices working on Windows as a priority. I remember clearly the frustration I had when trying to get dial-up modem work properly on Red Hat, and my struggle later with wireless card. But things like these are inexcusable:

    1. Mouse freezes up for no apparent reason. When that happened, I always had to do a hard shutdown. Yes, I’ve tried various ways to restart X, but a) it didn’t work; b) Even if it worked, I would not take it. Please spare me the lecture of always using keyboard all the time. This is the deal breaker for me;
    2. Sound card stopped working after some system update from Ubuntu’s repository;
    3. Wireless card is flaky. It does not work on a consistent basis, in other words;
    4. System updates broke my display driver. I was forced to use a lower resolution display than what the monitor is capable of. I think if I recompile, I could fix it, but I was so pissed off that I didn’t bother;
    5. I couldn’t enable file sharing. It told me to resolve some dependency issues, but there were none!
    6. Ubuntu comes with Firefox 3.0, and there is no decent way of upgrading it to Firefox 3.5, other than Ubunzilla, but I cannot install Ubunzilla because the aforementioned dependency issue! And if I use apt-get install firefox-3.5, why deliver Firefox 3.0, 3.1, and a beta version of 3.5?
    7. Could we please stop using code names like Hardy Heron, Intrepid Ibex, and Jaunty Jackalope? Use that internally is fine. Version number 8.04, 8.10, and 9.04 will do for the general public.

  • After my frustration with Ubuntu, I decided to try Fedora and suseLinux (both gnome and kde). Maybe I didn’t give them enough time, but I encountered mouse and windows freeze issue as well. Ditto for Kunbuntu.

    End Rant

So I came back to Windows. Now the host runs Windows 7 Enterprise with VMWare virtual machines running Windows XP and Linux Mint 7, which looks anesthetically pleasing to me, for now.

For virtual machine software, I am using VMWare Workstation 6.5. I’ve looked at and tested a few other choices: Xen, Microsoft hyper-v, Virtual PC, Virtual Server. And VMWare Workstation came out on top, in my personal opinion. I plan to give VMWare 180 bucks for a license.

PS. I tested VirtualBox before and was reasonably impressed. I really hoped I could use it at home. But it will not make the cut, I am afraid. Read Emilian’s great critique here. I just want to add, in addition to snapshot issues, I had trouble getting the shared folder working.

Should I try FreeBSD as host?

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