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Ditch Windows, Become a Polyglot

It took me a while to realize it, but Windows has been a disease to me, or perhaps more analogously a drug addiction. Ever since I was a kid I used Windows. Well, I guess I played around in Norton Commander, which was nice at the time, as a way to easily navigate the file system in a terminal window, or DOS.

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Nicolás Bevacqua
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Early on, like most self-taught developers, I met Pascal, a language designed to teach, and I was stoked. Soon enough I was browsing the web, learning about Java applets, which were crucial to placing those prized visitor counters, tic-tac-toe challenges, and enough calculators for your website.

Hosting was fun, we had FTP, GeoCities, Angelfire, and many other words-that-don’t-make-any-sense-next-to-each-other services. Oh, life was so simple back then. A few marquee and blink tags was all we needed to promote our sites. There was no need for CSS, that’s why it didn’t exist. A few <center> tags here, a few thousand <table> elements there and we had a perfectly fine website and nobody complained about it.

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In retrospect, no one visited it either, being completely honest to ourselves. Eventually my understanding of the web evolved, and I started reading about PHP on my spare time. You mean I can let people (well, just myself again, really) log in to my site?? Just like the big names? Whoa. And so we learned PHP, until one day I became tired of that nonsense, and I decided I was going to write games. Turned out designing games in VB6 wasn’t very reasonable either, and On Error Resume Next didn’t seem to be helping me out a lot. I managed, anyways. I read about game development, followed tutorias, and soon enough I was setting up my first game loop, complete with a menu screen and a 2D tilemap, as well as a few frames worth of characters. I clearly didn’t have what it took to design these graphics, though, but sketching them in paint seemed to suffice, at that time.

Looking back, I immensely regret not being more careful about backing up my code as a child, I would have all this awesome code that never saw the light of day. Only had I learnt about version control sooner, but that was the price of the few kids around who loved to spend his time typing things into a keyboard.

Windows, windows, windows

I never really paid any attention to Linux as a kid, and I definitely couldn’t afford a Mac at the time. I had heard about LInux, but I was under the impression that the terminal was all there was to Linux. I didn’t want to go back to a DOS-like interface, DOS sucked. So I was stuck with Windows, and programming in PHP, I didn’t know any better.

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Later on, I became friends with the owners of a game I played on a daily basis (the game server was a fork of an open source project called RunUO). Almost as a matter of fate, they explained that they had a falling out with the programmer they had, and asked if I could take a look at one of their scripts, because they had been meaning to put together a quest, but they had no idea what they were doing. I didn’t even know about C#, but I gave it a shot. Over time, I ended up becoming a contributor to the project, and at one point, I even learned that people could, you know…, get paid for coding in C#.

I started working with the language I dearly loved, and I couldn’t have been happier. I worked with C# for years, and I had spent a few years on my own working on the RunUO project. As I worked, I moved closer and closer to the web I loved so much when I was younger, but this time I came prepared, it wasn’t merely FrontPage anymore, C# was the real deal!

Still, the command-line was a complete stranger to me. cmd, which comes bundled with Windows, is absolutely god-awfully useless if you want to get anything done solely typing into it. When I actually had to start using a terminal (not by choice, but simply because there weren’t any good graphical git interfaces), I started out with bash, and used that for a while before moving to PowerShell. I was so repelled by the command-line, that I thoroughly enjoyed moving my mouse around, right clicking on things, and picking options out of a menu.

C# taught me a lot about architecture, and application design in general. However, as the architecture fanatic I ended up becoming, my heart was always with the web. I started moving towards the front-end, and preoccupying myself with the web matters again. Little did C# do for me to become an avid terminal user, but that was about to change.

A New Order

Around a year ago, I bought a variety of books (reviewed in this article) on UX, architecture, and best practices, one of those books completely changed me as a developer. Among other valuable insights, the authors prompted me to get out of my comfort zone, and learn a new language. I picked Node.js, even though I had no idea what it was, i sure sounded interesting. I decided to start working on something with it right away, and this blog became my pet project.

Learning Node has been a wonderful experience for me and it has now become part of my daily work, much like C# did before. A tremendous difference, however, is that Node isn’t biased towards Windows at all, which forced me to actually learn what happens under the covers when you compare it against the abstractions C# does for us. These abstractions, even though powerful, end up obscuring fundamental aspects of our programs, and hindering the sustained learning of those of us with a thirst for knowledge.

When I first started working with Node, still the Windows-infected user that I was, I dreaded the idea of typing into the command-line. I already was a PowerShell (PS) user by then, but using it for dealing with git was enough, thank you. Setting up PS is unfortunately pretty much as good as it gets on Windows, and yet a complete nightmare for any Windows user, completely unaware of what the command-line even is. Why do I have to type node app into my command-line?

As time went by, and I started using more and more npm modules written by complete strangers, the open-source community started becoming a whole different level of appealing to me, I needed to get involved. Yet, a lot of the packages I was trying to use weren’t careful enough to conform with Windows’ upside-down OS design, and I started becoming disenchanted about Windows, even though I had recently acquired an early RTM version of Windows 8, and loving it, if only that stupid command-line behaved…

Then I got a job working on Node, even though all I had to show for was this blog, and my hand was forced. I just had to pick up my old, 2008 era MacBook Pro and work there, rather than my PC. The reason was, simply enough, I just couldn’t get the application to work on Windows. I moved on, and soon afterwards it start becoming apparent what I had been missing. I started using the terminal more heavily than I had ever done on Windows, and I was loving the idea of being able to do anything, without having to download yet another program for it (that’s the important part, all of this came bundled with it, I didn’t have to download a thing, it was just another part of the OS). Before I even realized it, I was curling, greping, seding, and piping my way around the command line greatly improving my productivity. I thoroughly enjoyed installing packages right from the command-line with npm, as opposed to having to click through things with NuGet in the case of C#, dealing with unreasonably case-sensitive commands in PS, and barely even knowing about alternatives to compile than pressing F6 on the Visual Studio IDE.

The difference between Windows and everyone else, is that you won’t really learn much about development, other than what Microsoft imposes on you, and even if you had that craving of learning just about anything, you wouldn’t be aware about this constraint. I sure as hell wasn’t.

I’m not saying that I’ve learnt it all, extremely far from it, but ditching Windows opened my eyes to an endless world of possibilities I didn’t even know existed before. Besides, being able to pass environment variables to processes like PORT=3000 node app in your terminal is too good to pass up.

A couple of days ago, I decided to install Ubuntu on my PC. One of the first things I did was create a file where I’d place all the steps taken to set up my environment, and eventually I created a repository on GitHub so i wouldn’t have to repeat myself when installing Ubuntu again. This has never been a_ feasible option_ for Windows, at least not for me.

It might’ve taken me 25 years, but you can be damn sure the change was worth it.

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