Re: new laptop

Subject: Re: new laptop
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: Amy Sennesh Vastola <asv -at- nycap -dot- rr -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Dec 2007 06:51:46 -0700

Amy Sennesh Vastola wrote:
> Hi, I have been lurking, reading the digest for about one month. I am a
> tech writer returning to IT after a hiatus doing other things. Will
> probably work on a contract basis at least to get started again.
> I am wondering if a Windows system is necessary for contracting. The
> Adobe TW suite only runs on Windows, but my comp. sci. major son is
> urging me to get an Apple or run Linux on a Dell (Dell will be selling
> laptops pre-loaded with Ubuntu, according to an article on
> and just use some emulation software as needed that can
> simulate Windows within another operating system. Anyone have any
> experience with a non-Windows laptop? I would love to escape from
> Windows, but need to be practical.
> Amy Vastola


That's actually an excellent idea that your son is proposing, for
a number of reasons. The advantages are pretty significant for
virtualization in general, and roughly equivalent on either Mac or
Linux. (I have a bit of a bias against Windows in general, but
most of these cases are also applicable to virtualization on Windows--
the exceptions should be obvious.)

Virtualization software (emulation software, but more) has really
matured in the last couple of years, and Moore's Law has ensured
that most reasonable systems can run the host OS plus a guest fairly

I use a Mac full-time at home, with Parallels for virtualization,
running Linux, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Solaris guest OS

Specific advantages include:
* Ability to configure a system once, then "snapshot" it to preserve
the state. E.g., configure a Windows VM as you want it, then
snapshot it. When the inevitable happens and you're faced with
"it's time to reinstall", you can just revert to the snapshot and
continue as you were.
* Ability to do writing or software development in any needed
environment, without reinstalling.
* Ease of getting screenshots, even of bootup processes, without
* Crashes in software under development don't bring everything else
* Right tool for the right job, always.

Additionally, many developers find a virtualized environment ideal,
not only for the reasons above, but also for the ability to set up
a full network of systems right on a laptop, then to take that to
the coffeeshop or whereever. E.g., a friend of mine was developing
some network transport utilities, and did his development on a
Macbook Pro, running Solaris, Linux (2 varieties), and Windows
(3 varieties) in virtual machines with their own private network. He
effectively had a computer lab in his hands, and when he found a
bug that hung one of the "systems", he could just click a button
to reboot the virtual machine (and revert to the previous
snapshot), rather than going into the lab to physically powercycle
the system. It was tremendously efficient.

If you choose to go this way, don't scrimp on hardware. Put as much
memory in the laptop as you can--4Gb isn't excessive. Get a good
display with high resolution. You'll need lots of disk space,
because you'll have to have multiple operating systems (plus your
music collection, etc ;-).

If I were purchasing today for your needs as you describe them,
I'd get a MacBook Pro, 15", with 4Gb of RAM and a 160Gb hard drive,
which would run around $3000. Before you choke, consider that you'll
also have to add ~$100 for the virtualization software, plus
license costs for Windows. ;-) Additionally, you'd probably want a
large (24") LCD to plug into when you're at home. In my experience,
VMware Fusion is currently more polished and generally better than
Parallels on Mac, but both are thoroughly functional.

On the other hand, you'll save on the costs of test systems, and,
if you use the virtualization environment effectively, you'll save
a ton of your time (thus allowing more billable hours and fewer
"futzing with my computer" hours).

If you're on more of a budget, get a good quality (business class)
laptop, running Windows XP (not Vista--you can use the extra power
more effectively in running virtual machines than in running Vista
proper), with as much RAM as possible and as much disk space as
you can. VMware Workstation would be good in this case.

If your technical skills are strong and your tolerance for being on
the bleeding edge high, you can save a bit more by getting a loaded
laptop (see the theme here?), and running Linux on it, then using
Xen or another of the open source virtualization products on it,
and repurposing the Windows license that it'll come with (XP if
you can manage it) to use in a virtual machine on the system. This
option is quite functional and reasonable, but will likely negate
some of the "not futzing with my computer" savings. It's really
a "pay me now, pay me later" question--just a question of when
and where you want to pay.

I'm pretty technical, and have frankly thought for the last 20+
years that I enjoy mucking around with systems. Using a Mac during
the last year has taught me that I really don't like messing with
systems--I'm good at it, but don't enjoy it. Suddenly having things
"just work" has been really liberating. Virtualization lets me
muck around when I want to, on things I want to, but without the
"if I don't get this fixed now, I don't meet my deadlines"

My 37 cents,
ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com

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new laptop: From: Amy Sennesh Vastola

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