jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Development Environments and Software Quality

In OS X, there is a small collection of very high quality software. This is a fact, and there is really no debating it. Mac software that was developed specifically for the Mac is generally well crafted and performs as advertised, every time. In comparison, in Linux, there is a very large collection of freely available software of varying quality. Some of it is outstanding, check my last post on F-Spot for an example, and some of it leaves much to be desired.

I’ve found two genres of software that I’d become accustomed to on OS X that are either not available in Linux, or the existing versions are simply not “up to par”. The first group is that of off-line blog editors. I’ve been writing online since 2000 or so, and I’ve used several different methods of getting what I wanted to say onto a web server, everything from typing up my own html to online wisiwig text editors like what is included in Wordpress. However, since purchasing my first Mac a few years ago I’ve been spoiled by off-line editors like Ecto and the excellent MarsEdit. In comparison, I’m typing this up now in Drivel on Linux. First off, I really despise that name. Why would I want to call what I type drivel? Besides that, the editor is simply not as functional as MarsEdit, and I can’t seem to find any blog editor for Linux that is. From what I can tell, my best bets are Drivel, which is very “bare bones”; scribefire, a firefox extension that seems out of place to me; or an even more simple editor that lives in the toolbar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to the developers who make these tools available, but they are simply no match for MarsEdit.

The second genre of software is that of information gathering software. I’ve grown very accustomed to Yojimbo since it came out, and Evernote looks very nice too. Before that I used StickyBrain from Chronos, and there’s also Circus Ponie’s Notebook which is also excellent. There are plenty of tools available on the Mac to make managing your information easier. All of the software mentioned above allows you to add text, pictures, pdfs, and even music or video files. Each of the apps listed above goes for around $50 per license, and works beautifully. From my standpoint, they are well worth the investment for the time that they save me. So, I was quite surprised to find that similar software for Linux is just not available. When I asked, I was pointed towards BasKet, which looks promising, but is a KDE app, and I’m a gnome user. Then Tomboy, which is a great note taker and list manager, but not an all inclusive information “digital junk drawer” like Yojimbo. Then several desktop wiki type applications that still didn’t seem to fit the bill just right for what I’m looking for. It doesn’t look like there is any way for applications to handle media file types in Linux, something that Cocoa takes care of in Mac development.

So, why not? Where are these missing applications that thrive on OS X?

I’m tempted to say that the answer lies somewhere in the licensing restrictions of Linux with regard to the GPL, open source, etc… but I don’t think that’s it. I think it has more to do with the fact that the development environment in Linux simply doesn’t support the simple drag and drop of multimedia the same way that Cocoa does on the Mac. The Linux developers do a great job with what they’ve got, but “what they’ve got” is a mixture of C, C++, Mono, Python, PyGTK, etc, and it is no where near as clean and mature an environment as OS X. Mozilla and Firefox have proven that open source software can be just as high quality as any commercial software, so why hasn’t these types of applications appeared yet on Linux?

The answer, after pondering it awhile, seems obvious. The platform simply isn’t ready for it yet. Linux on the desktop is just now getting to the point where the average user can depend on it for day to day use, where Macs have been on people’s desks since the 80s. Linux simply isn’t mature enough to warrant the userbase that is going to demand the type of high quality, flexible software that I’m talking about.

Linux grows by leaps and bounds, year after year, so I’m certain that Linux’s final, mature state is not too far out in the future. When it does arrive, I wonder if there will be a market for high quality commercial software like there is on the Mac, or if it will continue to be completely open source and free. Time will tell, I suppose, and it’s too early to say just yet.

linux productivity mac