“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe – Abraham Lincoln”
Developing good software requires to have the right tools and a good part of a job of a developer is to find what are the best tools for the job. It takes years of research and experimentation to assemble the right toolset. Obviously it starts with the operating system – my quest started with DOS, then OS/2 (the first OS I used that had multithreading) then Windows NT until daily BSOD made it unbearable. I switched for a few months to MacOS (when it was still non preemptive and so daily BSOD were simply replaced by daily freezes) to finally settle with Linux. That was back in 1999 and I never looked back – the number of available tools for developers was simply overwhelming.
In a way writing software on Windows is like working on your motorcycle in your living room. You certainly can, but it’s probably a better idea to do it in a workshop equipped with the right tools, most of them freely modifiable to fit your needs, and that exactly what Linux is. To push the analogy a little bit further, developing on MacOS would be like working on your motorcycle in an hotel suite.
Sure it was not an easy switch – I was still addicted to using IDE, which were simply nonexistent on Linux at the time, so I tried Emacs (I still have the GNU Emacs book) but then definitively switched to gvim. I also tried various Window managers – Gnome at the beginning, Enlightenment for a long time until I settled with Awesome, which give me a fast and minimal window system that can be totally controlled from the keyboard, like gvim (the mouse, like IDEs, are fine when learning. After some time you outgrew then and just want to be more productive, and they simply get on the way).
One of the most fantastic tool offered by the Debian GNU/Linux distribution was the packaging system. I still think that this is one of the most important tool I use today. Packaging software is a concern since a long time for me, and I started doing packaging back when I was developing for the AS/400, in the beginning of the 90s. The reason to do it at the time is exactly the same than now: Controlling the environment that is used to run the software I develop. I would say that half of the bugs found in a software comes from an environment that is different from the environment used by the developer during the testing (The famous “but it works on my computer”). Forcing the deployment of the software in a controlled environment cut down on the quantity of testing that need to be done and at the end on the number of bugs. All the teams I managed since 2000 had to follow this rule: Software does not exist until it is packaged.
Source control is another very important tool – after some painful experience with SourceSafe (a special hell should be reserved to whoever thought that locking source was a good idea), I used CVS, then Subversion, and for the last two years Git – which alone would justify switching to Linux – and with Gerrit as my current favorite peer review tool.
But all of this is merely choosing the right tool, not sharpening it.
Sometimes who cannot find the tool that you need. One solution is to write it from scratch because there is nothing like it (like I did for jarc), but that’s possible with any operating system. Often there is an existing tool that is close to what you need, but not enough to be useful. This is where using FOSS pays off, because now what a developer can do is to modify an existing tool so it fits its own needs – and this is what I really call sharpening the axe. Few years ago I worked intensively on multiple implementation of the TURN protocol, so my team wrote a Wireshark dissector for TURN. Now at Stonyfish were are working on an implementation of RELOAD, so we wrote a Wireshark RELOAD dissector, so we are distributing it as a plugin, so it can help other RELOAD implementers:
Wireshark dissector for RELOAD