Armin Ronacher's Thoughts and Writings

Going back to Windows

written on Saturday, March 21, 2009

I was using my Macbook Pro for all of my development work lately. However for various reasons I decided to buy a desktop computer again and use that as main development system. Because you can only have Macs in either in crippled, in a monitor or incredible expensive a Mac was out of the question and I assembled a nice computer for about 600€.

Because I'm kinda annoyed by the bad state of the Linux desktop lately I decided to give Windows Vista a try. Now. I'm not going to defend my decision here (I already got enough discussions about why I'm using Windows again) but to share my experiences with configuring Windows to work more like I was used to work the last few years.

More UNIX love

A lot of the stuff I learned to love depends on some sort of UNIX environment. There is a UNIX subsystem in Windows, but that's not what you want to use. A better choice is cygwin which installs a GNU user land with all the stuff you want on your system. I also added C:cygwinbin to my PATH.

The latter has the advantage that you can use (non-symlinked) executables that come with cygwin from the normal Windows shell. This is great for a couple of reasons:

  • You can use ssh and use that as ssh executable in hg
  • If you're accidentally writing ls it will still work like you think it would.

This also makes the make command and the compilers available. If you're using a Windows Python installation (like I do) make sure to add the Windows Python path before the cygwin Python which is installed by default.

Configuring Version Control

I'm a vim user, so I installed vim. However the version control systems I installed (hg and subversion) decided that it was a better idea to use the windows notepad. That's easy to fix however. Here my .hgrc which sets the editor to vim and the ssh executable to the one from cygwin:

editor = vim
ssh = C:\cygwin\bin\ssh.exe

For subversion support I had to set the SSH_EDITOR variable to vim in the computer properities.

Configuring SSH-Agent

The next thing I wanted to continue using was the ssh-agent. That tool keeps your SSH passwords for your keys in memory so that you don't have to enter them over and over again. This is especially useful when using hg or svn with the ssh protocol.

Modern Linuxes automatically configure the ssh agent to start up with your X11 server and give you a nice UI prompt the first time the key is unlocked. Unfortunately you can't have it that nice in Windows, but it's not that far from it. All you have to do is to create a script in C:cygwinhomeUSERNAME that with this code in it:

export SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/tmp/.ssh-socket
ssh-add -l 2>/dev/null
if [ $? = 2 ]; then
  ssh-agent -a $SSH_AUTH_SOCK 2>/dev/null | sed 's/^echo/#echo/' >/tmp/.ssh-script
  . /tmp/.ssh-script
  echo $SSH_AGENT_PID >/tmp/.ssh-agent-pid

Afterwards create a new Link in your autostart folder that points to C:cygwinbash.exe start-ssh-agent.exe and let it execute in C:cygwinhomeUSERNAME. Now you can start up your command line and enter ssh-add the next time you login and it will prompt you for the passphrases of your keys.

Keyboard Layout

I use the German Windows keyboard layout ever since I use computers. It may not be the best one, but I got used to it and I want to continue using it. The only thing that was different on Linux was that the accent keys were not dead and produce a backtick without having to wait for a second key press. Also I had typographical quotes on my keyboard. Fortunately you can have the same on Windows by creating your own layout using the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator. Here the one I created: Deutsch - Verbessert.

The Good

For a fair comparison I briefly installed the development version of Ubuntu on this machine as well. I was kinda surprised how fast the Windows desktop is. On OS X / GNOME you get used to a sluggish user interface and it's really an interesting experience going back to Windows because of that. The thing I was expecting to miss the most here are virtual desktops. Turns out that I don't really miss those, but I will probably buy a secondary screen to move X-Chat / Thunderbird / foobar onto it.

It's interesting how many things you're not missing until you rediscover them. foobar 2000 was one of those, NetBeans the other. I was using NetBeans on ubuntu too, but the user experience was that the GUI was incredible slow. Eclipse was even worse. And the same thing happened on OS X as well. I don't know what the developers are doing that these two IDEs suck that much on non-Windows platforms, but the experience on a Windows system is great. I also just rediscovered the awesomeness of Visual Studio and really have to wonder how I managed to stick to MonoDevelop for that long.

The Bad

Unfortunately there are some bad aspects too. The worst is probably that a lot of the Python libraries I was using so far have a bad Windows support, including mine. Fabric for example didn't even import on Windows when I was trying it. The other negative experience was that countless open-source zealots treat you like an outcast if you're working on Windows.

Anyhow. Works for me now and on the upside you can expect improved versions of the pocoo libraries regarding Windows-compatibility now :-)

This entry was tagged windows