If you are in mobile development, particularly Android development, you probably heard or used Genymotion’s simulator.
Genymotion is a company (and product) that run Android OS on a virtual machine to simulate android runtime with some basic apps the naked OS comes with. By default, it doesn’t have Google services and APIs installed or enabled but it can be installable on top of the naked Android OS you install from the images you can pick and download from genymotion’s repository easily.
These days, the official android emulator is not bad at all, but back in the day, it was terribly slow and difficult to do certain things. It was also designed solely for Android app developers who can do stuff from the command line to supplement android emulator. In those days genymotion was a superior simulator that was everybody’s first choice of running android apps while developing because of those reasons.
Aside of android app development, I extensively used genymotion to do my mobile web tests in native chrome for android and few other browsers. Today there are many services we can use in the cloud and test our web work in so many real devices and OS/browser version variations that this use case is no longer valid. But I still like the idea of an easy to configure and run android environment when I need. And for this purpose, I suggest Genymotion be one of the best solutions out there. They changed their licensing model a lot, so I don’t know what’s the latest but I was able to use genymotion (and still is) use freely for personal use cases (which is all of my use cases are personal projects and stuff).
For some time, I also used genymotion experimentally to run a custom size tablet, installed google services and APIs, and google play so I was able to install the apps I use on mobile platforms that have a nicer user experience than their desktop or browser counterparts. If you don’t mind spending a lot of RAM, this can be an interesting option to run mobile apps on your desktop. Not super intuitive to navigate with mobile gestures with a mouse and trackpad, but one can get used to it very quickly.
I used windows from it’s 3.1 version to pre-vista years – early 2000s. Then switched fully to be linux person for years in between before switching to mac around 2007. Since then have been apple fanboy, owning, using and geeking about apple hardware and software. But coming from other OSes, I’m not like people started their computer journey with easy-to-use apple devices. So I know there is more out therefor having more “control” and “customization” on your digital everyday space. I also worked as custom computer/hardware builder for years in my early years of converting my hobby to my profession. I also wasn’t too distant to “what in computer” question.
iPad Pro experiments
Years after living comfortably in apple ecosystem, after starting to experiment with extreme portability of a powerful device like ipad pro (see https://mfyz.com/digital-nomads). Seeing its limitations, there was always a geeky desire to own/create a super-portable work environment with me at all times. I achieved this to a degree in my experiments with various devices in last decade. Closest I got was with ipad pro with some outside help.
At the end of the day, it’s still not fully fledged operating system that responds to what I need. I talked about this in my recent articles and me trying to find alternative solutions that will work with iPad.
Microsoft doing things right lately
I also mentioned this in my previous writings that I occassionally finding myself browsing and configuring microsoft’s Surface Pro. I really believe microsoft started to do a lot of things right in it’s recent years management as far as company strategy, it’s investments on -especially- on open source community. Now I see they are doing some good things on the hardware front. I still find the quality is not match with apple hardware but I definitely see the lack of craftsmanship on all brands producing hardware that is designed to run windows operating systems. Among them, microsoft’s own hardware definitely stands out. Of course with price. But if you are using your computer exclusively for work and if your work requires exclusively a capable computer, then money is not a problem. It’s an investment. Powerful, better, comfortable, better…
I really like Surface family devices. Both surface book and surface pros are nicely designed, well built and some configurations are really powerful machines that has the best portability/mobility factor.
An alternative path for me: Give Windows10 a try for 10 days
I found myself occasionally bid on pre-owned surface pro devices on ebay. But I never went too high to pay also because I still hesitated how comfortable I would be living on Windows10. I was wondering that question more than paying for pricy experiment to get a surface pro and see it myself. Instead, I bought an external SSD that I really like and got windows 10 pro license for dirt cheap and hit the road to install the windows 10 on the external SSD. Because the SSD is crazy fast through thunderbolt port I use on my macbook pro, I didn’t feel a thing in performance as if I installed windows 10 on macbook pro’s internal hdd. This gave me great comfort that I can restart on mac, unplug ssd and live my macOS life if I decided that windows 10 is not for me. So how did the experiment go?
Migrating my work life from macOS to Windows 10 was very easy
I thought I would have to re-adapt almost all apps I use every day. Result was different, I was already spending most of my time on team coordination, meaning communication tools we use were the primary tools I had to see if I get same precision on macOS. Almost all the apps are browser or electron based apps like Slack, Trello, Jira… So almost zero difference happened on this side. Only thing was bummer is that there is no great email client as you have many on macOS. Outlook is probably “the best” email client on windows. And even with outlook, there were so many holes you have to fill. I’ve been using spark on macOS for many years now and I was super excited to see they are working on windows version. Although nothing in the horizon yet. So it may be years until that happens.
Development environment was much better and faster than I expected. I really loved the idea of subsystem. Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) that had almost all distributions to be installed and run within a virtual machine that is managed by windows OS itself. Brilliant.
So you have pretty much ubuntu subsystem running on windows almost without any issue. It went great to set up my zsh scripts, aliases, nodejs, python and other packages super fast. Until I realized, when running some apps like visual studio code, started from command line that runs separate nodejs threads inside WSL that may not be 100% optimized to run with the local filesystem. Windows is continuously working on to improve this as well as vscode team (Microsoft again) also has some remedies in vscode to overcome the integration painpoints. But I hit a weird high cpu usage issue that was discussed online, and looks like closed/solved in github issues but still receiving comments from people like me reporting the issue still exists. All in all, great development set up with little shortcomings that can be addressed or adapted easily.
I also found most of the tools I use that were already open source tools that were pretty much cross platform OR tools that commercial but had cross platform client apps (like TablePlus for database client).
Continuity is a lacking big on windows platform when you use other devices – not just iOS but also Android too. There is almost no connectivity between your mobile device (phone/table) and your desktop OS. Apple started this and after last few OS versions, they kinda perfected it to a level that we don’t see it until we lose it. For example, I got used to receiving my SMSes (not iMessage, the actual SMS I get from the bank) and only need to use my computer to check the SMS and copy paste the OTP I received from paypal when I’m trying to login on my mac. It’s a very subtle but became very important micro feature between my mac and iPhone to be communicating between each other smartly. There is also other things similar to this.
But I went back to macOS after 10 days
Why? Because I had to rewrite a lot of other things under the hood – like my keymaps, like a lot of shortcuts I learned, optimized and perfected over the years. I also don’t want to invest any time to research and re-learn new apps and new ways to do the same thing I’ve been doing in last 10+ years. Like sending email in few keyboard clicks.
I’m feeling less adventurous and more comformist on my wok setup. I don’t want to spend my precious time to learn the basics or re-adapt. But I’m ok to spend hours on improving my efficiency for doing X. Doesn’t matter what it is.
I can survive – I can buy a surface pro now
My primary work/life station will remain apple eco-system. But I know it’s not as difficult as I assumed to have same/very-similar tools to live life happy in windows even after spending a decade exclusively living on apple ecosystem. I know surface devices are the best portable devices designed until apple gives up the resistance of not having hybrid working OS that runs desktop-class apps on their ipads or have macbookpros to be more like 2-in-1 style devices.
Sometimes we need to take a screenshot of a long content mostly from scrolling applications. Most common example of this is full-length web page screenshot. There are chrome extensions we can use for taking full-length website screenshot. But there is not an easy way to take screenshot from other apps like native desktop apps or email content from mail clients.
XNip Screen Capture Tool
We can use Xnip Screen Capture tool that has all of the common screen capture software features and a feature We can use for taking long content screenshots called “Scrolling screenshot”
It’s is a freeware with upgrade ($2/yr subscription) but works perfectly for this purpose without the upgrade (it leaves watermark that can be cropped easily if needed).
I was very skeptical about styluses for many years, especially over a screen. Closest thing was Wacom’s Cintiq and that was a giant monitor. The reason that styluses weren’t compelling is because they were laggy and never felt great to draw on screen.
Even with Apple pencil, it is still not great. But very very close. I owned pretty much all iPad models and versions from the very first release (I got a limited edition back then). And I’ve used Apple Pencil from it’s first debut but wasn’t convinced and also rejected the new gadget because it wasn’t Steve Jobs way. But I can totally understand it’s value from the educational standpoint – not art (at least not yet). The first release wasn’t necessarily laggy but you can definitely feel it’s tech side of it. There is only one thing you’re looking at a pencil, and that is the feeling has to be real because you’re dragging a pointer on a virtual paper.
With the latest iPad Pro 10” version, with screen refresh rate going much faster, now you can definitely feel it’s very very close. With the software support and not being paranoid about hand touching screen while writing or drawing, it definitely gets very close to the real thing. Unfortunately I’m still seeing many of the drawing and note taking apps are having the lag it had from 60 refresh rate old screen. I don’t know why it still has that.
Notability is the one app that I’m feeling very comfortable to draw and create stuff with it. My use cases are still a lot of ideation, super low fidelity wireframing, some planning work. I love the output feels truely non-techy creation but it is in fact a digital creation.
Sometimes we udnerestimate the value of not having boundaries when we think. Even including the requirement of typing our ideas or words on a keyboard being a restriction to our mind. I started this back-transformation with using more and more moleskines than taking notes on my phone.
I like Notability app because it’s very simple and plain app with few extra features that I like. You can link your dropbox, google drive accounts to backup all notes in PDF format that becomes very handy when you want to draw some stuff and open in your computer very quickly.
Recently I have been having performance issues with few personal sites that I was hosting on my small Digital Ocean instance. I was using 2vCpu, 2gig ram instance costing me $10/month + 30gb disk for extra $3/month. To be honest this is a very very cheap personal server to have and host few sites as well as doing minimal software tests and playing a good proxy/vpn when I need it.
I have installed New Relic, Datadog, Pingdom and linked them to my personal slack account to have everything monitored and reported seamlessly. I’ve been getting CPU and occasional memory alerts mostly because of my wife’s blogs that is getting much higher traffic than my sites. Even with that traffic, it was making me feel the performance that I supposed to get from that server wasn’t as consistent as I wanted.
A new kid in the block
A few weeks ago I started going into cheap ssd vps hunt again and I saw many more players in the game including Amazon Web Services’ Digital Ocean killer. I compared many services and wanted to find something more stable and reliable. But I found a very very new and smaller company utilizing raspberry pi like ARM based hardware in greater scale for this small to medium size VPS services called Scaleway. Although the CPU architecture as “server” is foreign to me, I was getting curious. One of the differentiator factors for Scaleway is because of the initial and maintenance cost of the hardware, the costs of equivalent instances to be ~5 times cheaper. This means I can get 3-4 times more powerful machines with the same minimal monthly cost I’m spending for Digital Ocean or similar services. Scaleway is definitely pushing hard on the $5/mo SSD VPS game.
The main question was and remains “how reliable this new French startup for a permanent VPS need?”. This is obviously a risk but for me, it’s an easy risk to take because I mastered to set up and migrate web and database servers in many years with bare minimum servers as well as with cloud services like AWS or Azure.
So I took the risk and moved to Scaleway in 2 hours with 2x size instance with pretty much half of what I pay which is ~$5/month. It’s been 2,5 weeks and I’m seeing no hickups or any issues so far.