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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Comparing Macbook Pro to Windows 10 based laptop for software development

My post from a few years ago about Why I hate Mac and OSX is by far the most read post I have ever posted on this blog (Somebody cross-posted it to an OSX Advocacy forum and the flame war was on). So it has been a few years, both OS X and Windows has moved on since 2009 and hardware has improved tremendously. I have also started a job which more or less requires me to use a Mac laptop so I have recently spent a lot of time again working with a Mac so I figured I would revisit the topic of what I prefer to work with.

The two laptops I will be comparing specifically is a Dell Precision 7510 running Windows 10 vs a current 2015 Macbook Pro running OSX El Capitan.

Before I start the comparison I'll describe what and how I use a computer. I'm a software developer that has been working with this for decades. I prefer to use my keyboard as much as possible. If there is a keyboard shortcut, I will probably use it pretty quickly. I tend to want to automate everything I do if I can. I have great eyesight and pretty much the most important aspect a laptop is that it has a crisp high resolution screen (Preferably non glossy) which to me translates to more lines of code on the screen at the same time. So with that in mind lets get started.

Screen

This one is fortunately easy. For some bizarre reason OSX does no longer allow you to run in native resolution without installing an add-on. Even with that add-on installed the resolution is paltry 2880 by 1800 in compared to 3840 by 2160. That means that on my DELL I can fit almost twice as much text on the screen. Also Mac's are only available with a glossy screen which is another strike against it. I don't really care at all about color reproduction or anything like that, and even if I hear that the Mac is great at that (And so supposedly is the DELL) but don't care about that at all.

Windows used to have pretty bad handling of multiple screens before Windows 10, especially with weirdly high resolution. This has gotten a lot better with Windows 10. That said OSX has great handling of multiple screens, especially when you keep plugging in and out of a bunch of screens, things just seem to end up on the screen they are supposed to be when you do. Windows is much less reliable in this sense. That said, the better handling of multiple screens are nowhere near weighing up for the disaster that is the OSX handling of native resolutions or the low resolution of the retina display.

Winner: Windows

Portability

The PC is as a friend of mine referred to it "a tank". It is amazing how small and light the Macbook Pro is compared to everything that they crammed into it.

Winner: OSX

Battery Life

I can go almost a full day on my Mac, my PC I can go a couple of hours. No contest here, the Macbook Pro has amazing battery life.

Winner: OSX

Input Devices

Let me start off by saying that the track pad on the Mac is fantastic. Definitely the best I have ever used on any computer any category. That said why can't you show me where the buttons are (I hate that), the 3D touch feature is completely awful on a computer (I don't really like it on a phone either, but there it has its place). I started this review by saying that I use a lot of keyboard and when it comes to productivity there is absolutely no substitute for a track point. This is that weird little stick in the middle of the keyboard that IBM invented. The reason why it is superior is that when I need to use it I never have to move my fingers away from their typing position on the keyboard so I don't lose my flow of typing if I have to do something quickly with the mouse.

In regards to keyboards both Macbook Pro and the DELL Precision laptops have great keyboards. However, for some weird reason Macbook's still don't have page up and page down keys. And not only are there no dedicated keys for this, there isn't even a default keyboard shortcut that does this (Scroll up and scroll down which are available are not the same thing) so to get it at all you need to do some pretty tricky XML file editing. You also don't have dedicated keys for Home and End on a Macbook Pro. And given that there is so much space when the laptop is open not used by the keyboard on a 15" Macbook Pro I find it inexcusable.

Winner: Windows

Support

With my Windows machine (And this is true for pretty much any tier 1 Windows laptop supplier) I call a number or open a chat and 1 to 2 days later a guy shows up with the spare parts required to fix it. With Apple I take it to the store and then they usually have to ship it somewhere, it takes a week or two... If you are lucky. For me that would mean that I can't work for those two weeks if I didn't have a large company with their own support department to provide me with a replacement to help out where Apple falls short.

Winner: Windows

Extensibility

I can open up my PC and do almost all service myself. Dell even publishes the handbook for doing it on their support site. Replacing the CPU would be very tricky because I think it is soldered to the motherboard, but everything else I can replace and upgrade myself. I also have 64GB of memory, two hard drives and if I want to upgrade a component in a year or two it wont be a problem. The Macbook Pro has Thunderbolt 2 which is great (Although the PC has a Thunderbolt 3 port), but that is pretty much it in regards to self service upgrades.

Also my PC beats the Mac on pretty much any spec from HD speed, size, CPU, GPU, memory.

Winner: Windows

Price

Everybody talks about the Apple tax. I don't find that to be very true. A good laptop (Which don't get me wrong both of these are great laptops) costs a lot of money. And my PC cost quite a bit more than the Macbook Pro did. Granted it has better specs, but I don't think there is really any difference in price when you go high end with a laptop purchase.

Winner: Tie

Productivity

For me productivity is synonymous with simplicity and predictability. Specifically I move around a lot of different applications and I need to be able to get to them quickly, preferably through a keyboard shortcut and I want to do it the same way every time. With that in mind OSX is an unmitigated disaster in this area. First of all, you have to keep track of if the windows you want to get to is in the same application or another one. And if it is another application, you first have to swap to the application you want and then after that you need to use a different keyboard shortcut to find the specific window in the application. I do like that you can create multiple desktops and assign specific applications to specific desktop (Predictable!). However then when you go full-screen with those windows they move to another desktop and this desktop has no predictability at all of where it is placed in comparison to other ones, it is strictly the order in which they are placed. Going on, I still don't understand how OSX still doesn't have a Maximize window button that takes the window and just makes it fill the screen. There are some third party tools that helps you a bit with this madness (Like being able to maximizing windows without going full-screen for instance). And regrettably in my opinion this is an area where OSX is moving backwards where the original Exposé was actually pretty good compared to the current mess. Also I don't like having the menu bar at the top of the screen because it means that it is usually further away from where my mouse currently is which means it takes longer to get there.

Meanwhile Windows 10 in this area took a huge leap with the snapping of windows to the side and allowing you to optionally selecting another window to see on the left. And you can easily switch to any window quickly using one keyboard shortcut same as always

A side note that doesn't affect me much but it does kind of need to be stated is that unsurprisingly Microsoft Office 2016 is just so much better on Windows than OSX.

Winner: Windows

Development Environment

In regards to development environments everything Java is available for both platforms so this comes down to comparing Visual Studio to XCode as far as I think. And obviously this comes down to whether you are developing in Swift or C# but since Visual Studio has recently moved more and more into the multi platform arena this is more of a real choice every day.

XCode has improved in huge leaps and bounds since the original versions I worked with (I started working with it around version 3). However there is simply no contest here. Visual Studio is the best development environment that I know. Both when it comes to native features, and the 3rd party extension system that support it is simply amazing. The only one that might possibly come close as far as I am concerned is IntelliJ.

Winner: Windows

Command Line Interface and Scripting

This is also a very easy call. OSX is Unix based, has a real shell, PERL and SSH installed by the OS. Sure Powershell is OK, but I just don't like it. I would argue that I think the terminal emulation in Putty seems a little bit better than Terminal, but on the other hand it doesn't have tabs and it also isn't installed by default.

Winner: OSX

Software Availability

This is a tricky category because there is obviously a lot more software available on Windows than OSX. However I find OSX has a lot of really good software that isn't available on Windows in similar quality. So I'm going to call this the only tie.

Winner: Tie

Reliability

You would think that this is an easy win for Mac. And for normal non power users I would say that is absolutely true. It is harder for a non technical user to mess up an OSX system than a Windows system, no question about it. I however tend to tinker with stuff that normal people wouldn't and I can say that I have managed to mess up my Mac several times to the point where it will not boot and I have to completely reinstall the OS. However, I have done the same thing more times on Windows than on OSX I think. I also am a little bit worried about Apple's general stance on solving security issues in a timely manner, something that Microsoft is actually really good it. That said, even though this is not as much of a slam dunk as you would think I still have to give this to OSX.

Another thing I would like to add in here is that pretty much every PC that I have bought there have been some part of the hardware that did not quite live up the expectations. On my previous laptop DELL Precision m4800 it was the keyboard (In 2 years I replaced it 6 times), on this one I am still working with support on fixing some flakiness with the trackpoint. I have never had similar issues with any Apple computer (Although I did have an iPad 4 where the screen just shattered when I placed it on a table for no reason).

Winner: OSX

Conclusion

If you travel a lot and need to work on battery a lot I think you might want to give the Macbook a go. It's pretty neat.

That said the clear winner for me when it comes to both productivity, usability and just raw performance is going to be a Windows machine when it comes to doing software development. The beauty with Windows is that since there are so many of them you can usually find one that fits you exactly (There are obviously PC:s that are very similar to the Macbook Pro, for instance the bezel-less Dell XPS 15 looks pretty sweet if you are looking for a PC equivalent of a Macbook Pro).

Winner: Windows

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How I studied for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam

I recently took (and passed) the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam and figured I would share how I studied for this test. When I took the associate level of this exam I only had 3 days to study and very little existing experience with AWS before hand and that is definitely not how I would recommend taking these exams. For the professional level exam I had around 3 months of time from the time I started studying to when I had to pass the exam or my associate level exam would have expired.

If you are studying for the associate exam I think the study guide below would probably still work (Although it might be a bit of overkill), just skip the professional level white papers and courses on Linux Academy and Cloud Academy.

Full disclosure, I work for Amazon Web Services as of a couple of months, but the opinions expressed in here are my own.

Prerequisites

Here are the things you should already have done and know before you start thinking about this exam.

  • You will need a broad general knowledge in IT. If you don't have it you can probably pass the associate level exam which is more focused on only AWS specific technology. For the professional level one you will need to have a broad general IT knowledge because they will assume you have a general understanding of how WAN routing, non AWS enterprise software (For instance do you know that Oracle RAC requires multicast and EC2 does not support that).
  • You need to have passed the associate level exam within 2 years.
  • I would highly recommend that you have been using AWS for a while. This will help you wrapping your head around some of the AWS specific concepts that other services are based on easier.

Study Outline

In short here are the things I did to study this.

  1. Start by reading all the recommended white papers listed at the official certification guide site. I would recommend reading both the professional and associate level ones, because everything you knew when you took the associate level exam you will still need for the pro level one.
  2. Sign up for Linux Academy and start taking the classes for first the associate level course and then the professional level course. Don't forget to take the labs as well. Don't take the final quizzes yet (The ones per section are fine though).
  3. Sign up for Cloud Academy and take their classes for associate level and professional level courses. Same thing here, wait with the final quizzes.
  4. Once I finished all the courses I read recommended the white papers again.
  5. Do all the final quizzes from both Cloud and Linux Academy and make sure you get a passing grade. If there are sections that you are weak in then go back and study deeper in those areas, both Linux Academy and Cloud Academy have a lot of content aside from the lectures they recommend for the CSA certification so you don't have to just listen to the same lectures over and over.
  6. Try the sample questions from Amazon, you should be able to answer these by now. If you feel like shelling out some money for trying the sample exam go ahead. I skipped this step myself.
  7. Sign up for the exam.
  8. Read all the recommended white papers again the day before the exam.
  9. Take the exam.

Additional things you might want to consider.

  • Amazon recommends you taking the Advanced Architecting on AWS class. I took this class about 8 months before I took the exam and even though it is a good class I don't think it is that useful for passing the exam.
  • Amazon sometimes have AWS CSA Professional Readiness Workshops and if you have the ability to go to one of these I would highly recommend it. I am not sure if these are held outside of AWS re:Invent conferences though. For the associate level exam I know these workshops are held quite often and they are great too.
  • Qwiklabs is a great resource for practicing your AWS skills. That said if you have your Linux Academy and or Cloud Academy accounts they have labs too that are included in your subscription. These labs are better though if you can afford them.

If you can I would also recommend to start a study group and get together once a week or so and do sample questions and discuss the answers from one of the sources listed above. I did this with some of my work colleagues and I found that very helpful.

Schedule

I would recommend that you plan that studying for this will take at least 2 months. I did it in roughly 3 months, but I only studied actively for about 4 to 6 of those weeks. When I studied I spent roughly two to four hours every evening. Unless you are already a whizz at AWS I doubt you can crank this into a few days, which is very doable for the associate level exam. Roughly I divided my time like this.

10%Initial studying of the white papers.
50%Watching the training videos on Linux Academy and Cloud Academy.
15%Taking labs.
10%Doing quizzes.
10%Additional revisions based on discovered deficiencies from the quizzes.
5%Re-reading the white papers (The second and third time I skimmed through them a lot faster than the initial deep read).

Taking the exam

Don't go until you feel you are ready, so don't schedule the exam until you feel done. At least where I live I could schedule the exam just one day out so you don't need to plan ahead for this.

I am usually a very fast test taker (I took the associate level exam in less than half the time. However time management is going to be important when you take this exam. When I took the test I finished all the questions with around 25 minutes to spare and at that point I had roughly 30% of them marked to be revisited. After going through them all again I had less than two minutes left of my time. It says that the test is 80 questions on the description, but I only had 77 questions in mine. I'm guessing number of questions vary slightly depending on how they are selected randomly.

Cloud Academy vs Linux Academy

Cloud Academy and Linux Academy have a lot of overlap and I recommend that you would subscribe to both of them for this. That said here are the advantages to each of them as far as I experienced it.

  • Linux Academy have more questions in the final quiz and vastly longer study material for the professional exam than Cloud Academy. The entire course in Linux Academy is around 30 hours long and the corresponding course in Cloud Academy is only around 3 hours. And this is not something that can be covered in 3 hours. Their associate level courses are much more on par.
  • Cloud Academy has a much better interface for doing quizzes and revisioning where after each question it tells you the answer and short extract of information about the answer with links to the AWS documentation.
  • Cloud Academy allows you to set the playback speed of the training videos which I like (I feel I can still assimilate information when playing these at around 1.5x speed and it saves time). Linux Academy also had occasional streaming issues in general for me requiring me to sometimes have to restart videos.
  • If you are a student or have an edu address Cloud Academy is a lot cheaper than Linux Academy with $9 per month. If you don't on the other side Linux Academy is cheaper than Cloud Academy with a factor of 2.
  • Both services are very easy to cancel once you are done with your studying in case you don't feel you need them anymore.

When all is said and done though I could probably have passed this with only Linux Academy, but Cloud Academy would not have been sufficient for me (Especially since the training material for the professional level CSA is so short). That said, I still think that the Cloud Academy course provides a valuable alternative to Linux Academy and especially if you can sign up as a student it is so cheap that there is pretty much no reason not to.