Does a developer need a desktop? We explore the evolution of what qualifies and suffices as a "workspace."
When in 2010 a developer asked the Stack Overflow community what equipment they worked on day-to-day, the most popular answers involved a desktop machine and three large LCD monitors. Two at the very least. This represents a big step up from a decade previously, when most developers would have counted it a luxury to work on a single 19" CRT.
If the question were tried again today, the center of gravity of the answers would almost certainly have shifted towards the smaller and the mobile end of the device spectrum.
Personally, I have been mobile on laptops for a decade. By, say, 2006, the portable machinery had evolved to the point of being a true "desktop replacement." My current 2-year-old Macbook Pro laptop weighs nearly 6 pounds, but that's a fifth the the bulk of the last desktop I owned (to say nothing of the large CRT monitor), and it provides more than 20 times the processing power, memory, and disk space.
Jeff Atwood, of Coding Horror and Stack Overflow fame, write poignantly about the evolution of the laptops he has owned since the turn of the century, and ends on a wistful note:
I've waited 12 years for the PC industry to get its collective act together and, if nothing else, successfully copy Apple's laptop hardware designs. Now that they (mostly) have, I wonder: is it too late? ... I love this new laptop [an Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A], and in many ways it is the perfect ultraportable hardware I dreamed of having in 2003. But every time I power it up and use it, I feel a little sad. I can't shake the feeling that this might end up being the last PC laptop I ever own.
In the era of the tablet, the "phablet," and the smartphone, much of the time a laptop just feels too big and ungainly -- as Atwood puts it, "cracking open a laptop feels like a sizable commitment in time and space." And with the rise of the cloud and something approaching ubiquitous wireless Internet access, developers and others are probing the boundaries of how small and mobile a workspace can be and still let them do their work.
A year ago, Mark O'Connor committed to a working life in which his daily tools were an iPad and a server in the cloud (supplied by the cloud vendor Linode). Here are his progress report after a month and an update at the one-year mark. O'Connor has no real complaints and is loving the freedom of movement his working arrangement gives him. He is able to do everything he needs to, from conference calls to concentrated coding sessions to a number of personal projects. He does say he will be moving to a Windows 8 Surface tablet in the near future.
The prize for the most extreme example of cutting the cord may go to Benjamin Robbins. While not a developer, but rather a marketing executive, Robbins stays on top of a demanding round of collaborative work using a Samsung Galaxy Note 5.3-inch "phablet," a few accessories, and the cloud.