Notes

Windows

January 20, 2019

It has been six years since I last used Windows for any remotely serious software development. I've used Ubuntu, Arch, or FreeBSD since. But eventually I spent so much time working around common workplace tasks that I decided to put Windows 10 Pro on my work laptop.

Windows Subsystem for Linux

Introduced in 2016, this technology allows Windows to run unmodified Linux binaries. The core feat being syscall translation.

It works nearly flawlessly. This means I can do all my Go, Node, PostgreSQL development on Windows without a virtual machine using bash, tmux, git, emacs, etc.

I've seen a few minor exceptions over the course of regular software development in WSL:

More generally, Linux programs are heavily file-oriented. And Windows I/O is not designed well for that. In the worst cases (installing/adding Node packages) it can take minutes to do operations that would take Linux seconds.

Vagrant

Vagrant-Windows interoperability is abysmal.

As noted above, you cannot manage Hyper-V from vagrant within WSL. So you're stuck using Powershell. Even then, managing synced files from vagrant is a nightmare. The default sync method requires you to sign in using your Windows Live username and password on every reboot. But Node package installation attempts some file operations that are not supported over the default synced, network filesystem.

When I switched to rsync vagrant wouldn't reliable sync when the virtual machine went down and came back up.

After hours of trying to get some files synced with vagrant I gave up.

Hyper-V

Hyper-V's GUI is much more complex/feature-complete than VirtualBox. It even provides a Ubuntu-quick-install that I used to jump right in. I don't recommend using this though because it gives you no option but an 11GB hard disk. I didn't realize this until I went through an hour or two of post-install customization only to run out of space. Too lazy to boot into a live CD to grow the root filesystem I reinstalled with a more suitable 64GB drive and went through the hour-long post-install customization process again.

Networking in Hyper-V is more complex/feature-complete than VirtualBox as well. To access a Hyper-V machine you must create a new virtual network interface manually and associate it. Static IP address appear to be controlled at the host networking level (e.g. Control Panel) instead of within the Hyper-V interface. This highlights how these virtual interfaces are first-class, but overcomplicates the process of getting started.

Ultimately I gave up on a static IP address and decided to reboot less frequently.

Performance-wise Hyper-V machines are exactly as expected: excellent.

Misc

Docker support on Windows needs work. It took me a while to understand how Docker interacts with the WSL filesystem and what I needed to do to allow Docker to mount. The complexity is similar on macOS when you want to mount privileged directories like /var, but the experience is worse on Windows.

Apparently Windows does have tiling window managers, but I have not tried one out yet.

Powershell, a language with real types, is pretty compelling. But I have not spent enough time with it to be efficient. And since WSL is mostly good enough I don't really plan to.

Windows doesn't allow you to delete any files that are "in use". This is kinda cool except for that the errors you get when trying to delete files that are in use are useless. They are even more useless when you get the plain "could not delete directory" when you try to delete a directory with some file inside it that is in use. I had to start deleting files within by hand until I found the one I realized was in use.

Conclusion

If you have never run Linux or FreeBSD, don't use this post as an excuse not to. You should run Linux or FreeBSD for the experience. But if you've reached diminishing returns in your Linux/FreeBSD use, Windows as a development environment has come a long way. It may be the best platform available for software development, the profession.

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