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Why Web Developers Don’t Need A Mac


As Web developers, we never stop hearing about the Mac. A lot of people love to talk about their Macs, but despite the “elite” status of the Apple computer, is there any need for a Web developer to splash money on one? A few weeks ago, Mark Nutter wrote here on Smashing Magazine in favor of swapping your PC for a Mac, and while some of his reasons are good, there are plenty of reasons to stick with (or switch back to!) Windows.

This article explores the best aspects of the Windows PC and, more importantly, the different apps that Web developers can use to become more efficient in their work. Every piece of software mentioned here is free to use.

Developer Tools Link

Notepad++ (code editor) Link

After looking at many text editors, Notepad++ is by far the best I’ve found. On top of the standard features you would expect from a great text editor, you can extend its functionality by installing any of the free plug-ins that suit you.


Some of the things that really make Notepad++ shine:

  • FTP Synchronize
    Allows you to connect to a server by FTP and edit files in Notepad++. Then when you save the file, it is automatically uploaded back to the server. No more saving files in an editor and then firing up a separate FTP client! Bonus: the FTP sync has “Keep Alive,” which pings the server at regular intervals to stop the connection from being closed.
  • Document Compare
    Open two versions of the same document and the differences between them are automatically highlighted. Great for finding out where a coding change has gone wrong!
  • Code auto-completion
    Auto-completion is a fairly standard feature, but with Notepad++ the code libraries can be downloaded from the website and updated manually. Keeping up to date with changes in the languages is easy then, and you can even write your own library file.
  • Panel Views
    Allows you to see two files at once, side by side. Hugely useful if you have a large monitor and want to make better use of all the space.
  • Ctrl + D to duplicate a line
    It may sound simple but is surprisingly useful. As an example, it took two seconds to write out all the <li></li> tags for this list!

Texter (text expander) Link

Texter is a free app from Lifehacker. It allows you to type a few characters, then hit Tab and have those characters replaced with a string of text. This is great for a lot of computer tasks (answering email most of all!), but the real advantage for developers is that Texter lets you specify key presses. For example, {HOME} is interpreted as pressing the Home button.

Take the following hot string:


When coding, I type the text of my paragraph, then add a space, press “p” and hit tab. Texter automatically puts the <p> at the start of the line and </p> at the end.

That’s just one example. I have about 35 different strings saved for use in coding, so the number of possible uses is huge.

WampServer (Apache, PHP and MySQL) Link

Installing a Web server on your local PC is great for development because you can test everything easily and instantly. No waiting on Web servers and dodgy Internet connections. WampServer packs an Apache, PHP and MySQl install all into one simple executable file, so your server will be up and running in five minutes tops.


Clipboard Manager Link

Clipboard Manager is a sidebar widget for Vista. It displays a snippet of the most recent items that you’ve copied. If you click one of the snippets, it is brought to the top of the clipboard, so when you hit Ctrl + V, you’ll paste that instead of what you copied last.


This is extremely useful when you are working on a document or script for re-arranging chunks of the page or copying properties from one object to another. Clipboard Manager cuts down drastically on the amount of time spent re-copying the same snippet again and again.

AutoHotkey (write your own shortcuts) Link

AutoHotkey allows you to create your own hot keys or remap existing ones. The scripts can be either extremely simple or quite complex. The Quickstart Guide walks you through everything you need to know.

One of the hot keys I use most is simple: pressing Caps Lock + W to close the current window. Anyone who is used to using Ctrl + W to close a tab in FireFox will find this very handy!

; Close Active Window
Capslock & w::
WinClose, A

Syncback (automatic back-ups) Link

Everyone’s hard drive fails eventually. Online tools like Mozy and Dropbox are ideal for backing up critical files that you’re currently working on, but backing up everything on your hard drive to one of these tools just isn’t feasible for most people.

Syncback is a free tool from 2BrightSparks that automatically backs up all your files to an external drive. (A paid version is available as well, but the freeware is more than enough.)


You select which folders to back up, set when you want back-ups to take place and let Syncback do the work. Back-ups can be done manually or automatically, and only files that have changed will be copied, so it is very efficient after the first run. It will even email you a report if any errors occur during the backup, such as certain files not being able to be copied.

Windows Live Writer (blog posting) Link

Not every developer needs this, but many of us have our own blogs now. Windows Live Writer is a free tool to help you write blog posts.

The main advantage of this is that it accesses your website and re-creates your design in the program. You can then write your post directly onto the website background, so you can see everything about your post’s presentation and fix it easily.


Image source

Is that image too big? Or that paragraph too long? Seeing it for yourself is the best way to catch these flaws.

The Best Parts Of The Mac Link

OS X does some things very nicely. Thankfully, the best bits can all be re-created in Windows free of charge.

The Dock → RocketDock Link

The Dock is probably the most distinctive Mac feature. The large icons and easy access to them appeal to a lot of people

RocketDock brings the Dock to Windows beautifully. Drag and drop to re-arrange, position on any side of the monitor, minimize windows to the dock and more. The demo video from its website below shows RocketDock in action:

Quicksilver → Launchy Link

Launching applications from your keyboard is an extremely fast way to work. Mac users use Quicksilver for this, but Windows users can use Launchy. Launchy can be set to index only programs or include files as well. You also choose which directories it indexes. One of the best uses for it is to set up a directory of utility scripts that you can execute from a few quick keystrokes in Launchy.


For example, iTuny is a set of free scripts to control iTunes from Launchy. Now, if I want to skip to the next song, I hit Alt + Space to bring up Launchy and type “inext” to launch the iTunes Next script from iTuny. You can set up scripts for whatever you like, including shutting down and locking your machine.

Leopard Stacks → Stand-Alone Stack Link

Stacks are a great way to easily access your most commonly used files and programs.


Standalone Stack allows you to create your own stacks in Windows, either in the taskbar or on your desktop. And you can display the files in either a list or a grid, just like in Leopard. For anyone using Rocketdock, you can install the Stacks Docklet from Matonga to get stacks into your dock.

More Control Of Your Machine Link

Custom Visual Styles Link

VistaGlazz allows you to control the appearance of your Vista installation. You can create your own custom styles or download them for free. One of the best sources of styles is DeviantArt (which has some OS X styles, though they’re not as polished as the Vista versions!).

Another popular application for theming is WindowBlinds from Stardock, but you need to pay for it. You’ll find plenty of themes for it on DeviantArt as well.

More Hardware Options Link

Macs come with very few variations in hardware. You have a small selection and just have to choose whichever one is closest to what you need. Because anyone can develop hardware for Windows, the selection is much greater. And because of this competition between manufacturers, companies are forced to offer good value for your money.

That doesn’t just mean better specs for about half the price. Check out this new multi-touch HP laptop, which comes in under the cost of any MacBook. Search around and you will find the perfect machine for your needs.


Huge Range of Devices Link

On top of the core hardware, you have thousands of peripherals to choose from. For graphics designers, that means a massive selection of tablets. But there are a lot of other devices as well, right down to your mouse. I have a five-button mouse and just hit the extra buttons on either side for small tasks like going backward and forward in a Web browser and Windows Explorer. For developers who have to give regular presentations to clients, this nifty wireless mouse/remote control is ideal.


Conclusion Link

There are a lot of good things about the Mac, and it’s hard not to get a little excited about them each time you watch one of Apple’s big developer conferences.

What you have to remember is that at the end of the day, the operating system is a means to an end, not the end itself. Whichever system you choose should make your daily work (and play!) easier and more efficient. Windows combined with the great free software and tips I’ve found online allows me to work exactly the way I want. I wouldn’t dream of going back to a default Vista installation with no extras: the customized installation is worth so much more to me than either Windows or OS X on its own.

We would love to hear what aspects of your operating system made you choose it (but not the flaws in the other one that made you not choose it!) and how you use it to work at your best.


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Michael Martin writes about Web design, WordPress and coding at Pro Blog Design. You can subscribe there for advice on making the most of your blog's design, or follow him on Twitter.

  1. 1

    Macs never have been the preferred choice for web development.

  2. 2

    I use a mac, im mostly a dev, but i do some designing from time to time. And i think the mac is way.. smoother to code on. Every tool you’ll ever need can be found for free, online.

    And OSX have some wonderfull editors, like Coda and TextMate. I wouldn’t mind working on the PC, but i love my mac way to much, so i wouldn’t change my home machine for that.. I think i made my point..


  3. 3

    Excellent post. I used a Mac at work for design and quickly found myself wondering, “All the hype, for THIS?!” I was thoroughly unimpressed and I would never trade my PC for a Mac. The advertising blitz by Apple is really impressive, but the truth is that both platforms have their advantages. To each his own, but I’ll stick with my portly, self-deprecating PC.

  4. 4

    Web developers dont use Macs because they have to – they use them because they want to and because, well, they are just better…

  5. 5

    It seems like majority of this article is trying to rationalize key Mac functions that can be “migrated” or done with another piece of software on a PC.

    Why not just buy a computer that does all of these things already without having to hack a PC. Apple does most of these things right out of the box and have been doing it the right way for years.

    Instead of saying instead of “item 1” on a Mac, use “Item 2” on a PC, the better argument would have been all of the things that a Mac cannot accomplish (even with extra software) that a PC can. The reason it wasn’t done that way, is because it’s all relative.

  6. 6

    i think you heart is in the right place here. I am a very avid mac user and developer but this is going to be a debate that lasts a long time. Honestly in my dev career I’ve used Mac, PC, and Linux to create great sites and apps and to me there is no difference in how it’s made, this is why we have web standards. I use a Mac because I have found niche apps that increase my workflow and productivity when compared to using PC or Linux. At the end of the day, each OS has amazing tools to use and the debate should be what the best or open source, it should be what is the easiest for you to create.

  7. 7

    Excuse me, but the article is nonsense. Are you telling us that you don’t need Mac because you can almost turn your PC into a Mac using a bunch of crappy utilities? If you want Mac, why don’t you buy it instead of trying this nonsense? Seriously, you are not getting anywhere close to the Mac by installing the apps you suggest. Anyone who worked on Mac for more than 1 hour will confirm…

  8. 8

    That’s a sad article. Keep trying there little guy.

  9. 9

    My preferred platform for web development is Linux (KDE). If you don’t like to use Vim (Vim), there is Kate which I believe beats Notepad++ and UltraEdit by far. And KDE has an awesome built-in clipboard manager.

    Unfortunately, I sometimes need the Adobe suite. At home I use VMware for that and IE testing, but at work I currently run Windows…

  10. 10

    Exactly – “should make your daily work (and play!) easier and more efficient”, not “more trendy”. Good one!

  11. 11

    Great article. It’s nice to see some balance to the mac-worship that’s been flooding Smashing over the last few weeks.

  12. 12

    really? The Best Parts Of The Mac??? Those aren’t the best of mac trust me! Have you ever tried all those on windows with 2Gb ram?
    PC is very nice for dev but mac also :)

  13. 13

    Macs come with very few variations in hardware.

    Time to wake up :)

    Hackingtoshes has been around for quite a long time now. I’m typing from one right now, and my AMD processor is doing it’s job beneath the desk.

  14. 14

    Nice post. I love notepad++. I like how you can set the background to black, with colored text. Really saves the eyballs.

    Its amazing how rarely a truly unbiased article like this (no opinions, just options) comes through. Apple’s computers may be good, but their advertising is better.

  15. 15

    I am a web developer and I use a mac, the text editors on windows are alright, but I prefer coda and textmate over all of them, plus the font rendering on windows hurts my eyes, it’s that bad.

  16. 16

    Samantha Armacost

    June 10, 2009 3:30 pm

    Notepad++ is the only reason I ever think longingly about getting a PC. That and being able to test IE instantly.

  17. 17

    It seems like majority of this article is trying to rationalize key Mac functions that can be “migrated” or done with another piece of software on a PC.

    Um… there’s only mention of three mac features that can be replicated on a PC. I would call that more of briefly touching on the subject, rather than a majority of the article.

  18. 18

    Any chance of a third article in this ‘series’ on using the operating system at the heart of the internet: Linux?

  19. 19

    Great post! I completely agree and as a mac hater I couldn’t be happier about this…. we need an article talking about linux now! ;)

  20. 20

    Developers don’t NEED a Mac & they don’t NEED a PC either. Everyone has their own preference & that’s all this really comes down to. I used a PC for the majority of my life. In the past I preferred Windows simply because I was comfortable with it. When my school gave me a Mac laptop a year ago I started using it for all of my design & development. As of right now I prefer using a Mac for all my design & development.

  21. 21

    I would never dream of developing on a mac again. I switched to a PC a year ago, and I love how the PC is so configurable, software and hardware. Mac users are so stuck in using what they are given, to me its all about customizations to make the environment suit you as perfectly as possible.

  22. 22

    Yeah, I suppose you could build sites and web apps with a Windows PC…and you could also use spray-mount to do your layouts. Hey! Here’s an idea you might be interested in. I’ll generate a bunch of content related to a specific geographic region and compile it all in the evening, then we can print them all out and hand deliver each copy to our users. I’ve even got a catchy name for the service…I call it “NewsPaper”.

    Care to invest?

  23. 23

    Having used Quicksilver and Launchy, Launchy gets nowhere close to the power of Quicksilver. Launchy is close, but still lacks a lot of functionality that Quicksilver provides.

  24. 24

    I dont find many people that “love” their PC but a lot of people “love” their mac.

    Basically this means people think it is cool/pretty/trendy/whatever and as someone who wants to do work and not pose I really couldnt gaf.

    Mac or PC does not matter anymore, if it ever really did.

  25. 25

    By installing Windows on my Mac (using Parallels in my case), I can test in all the major browsers on the two most common platforms. Can I do that (easily) on a PC?

    Beyond that, I just don’t want to fight with my computer. I just want to get my work done. I find that I fight much, much less with a Mac than I do with Windows. YMMV

  26. 26

    I used a mac at the office for a few weeks (after my pc had a major failure), and I tried just about every app I could get (without paying much) but I just could not create a nice, comfortable development environment. I really wanted it to work because my pc is so old, and I really do like the mac, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I’m back on the pc, and although it’s a little slow, it feels right.

  27. 27

    This post should have been labeled “How to hack your PC for features Mac’s have enjoyed for years”

    If you’re serious about design and development, you shouldn’t be worried about $500 for a quality machine. Keep on hackin’ it Windows!

  28. 28

    I’ ve been working with PCs and Windows since 1996. In 2007 I switched to Apple and will never go back again. I am know “everything” about Windows, because I had to fix it way to often. OSX is a very strong reason for me using a Mac. Windows Vista was the killer for the PC. I have been using XP when needing a PC.

  29. 29

    Well, as a web developer, I used to use Photoshop a lot on my PC. Now that I “converted” my PC to a Hackintosh, I find that Photoshop works *way* faster and smoother on OSX than on XP (with the exact same hardware configuration). The whole Finder / QuickLook / Photoshop bindings are imho nicer than on Windows. The file explorer of Windows is truly crappy when you compare it to file explorer in other systems (I regularly use Gnome and KDE also). BTW, you should have mentioned QuickLook in your article… it really is a killer system when it comes to quickly previewing a PSD.

    Also the Mac, as a Unix system, has native connectivity with Linux servers: especially, ssh works out-of-the-box here to remotely administrate a server. MacFusion is also very handy (especially compared to sftpdrive, which is expensive besides being quite unstable).

    As to the text editors, I personnaly prefer vim with some custom macros (like the one you gave as an example for Texter)… Macvim is truly outstanding (well, gvim works on Windows too). IMHO, “mouse editors” are far less productive than a keyboard-only editor like vim, once you took the time to master it. No need to take my hands off the keyboard when I need to quickly jump to a line, a keyword, find something…

  30. 30

    Great post, I didn’t know about some of this apps and they are really helpfull, like Launchy and Syncback.

    For #3, about Coda and TextMate, I’m a Windows user (I’m a gamer too) and I use e-text editor and I think it’s a great alternative for TextMate in Windows.


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