Do I Need Another Mac?

I’ve been using my iOS devices nearly exclusively, since the iPad Pro 12.9" debuted. Honestly, I’ve been really happy and don’t really have any plans to switch. I developed websites on the iPad, I administer servers, perform any administrative tasks for my day job on the iPad and nearly everything else on my mobile devices.

I do keep a Mac Mini running at home as a backup server, which I have no plans to change. Once a week I’ll make sure all my software is up-to-date, or I might use the desktop to quickly look something up if my iPad is still in my bag. Other than that, I rarely use the Mac.

Lately, I have been wondering what my next setup might look like. I plan on doing more design/development work in the future and testing in multiple browsers/viewports is a necessity. I could have multiple devices and screens littered across my desk, or I could get another *nix box and a nice wide screen to fill with the various windows I need. The former is a bananas solution to a simple problem and the latter, well makes a lot of sense for someone who grew up around traditional PCs. So another Mac then?

Not necessarily.

I wonder, if I’m comfortable working on command line tools, in editors like Vim (NVim) and using SSH (or Mosh) to tunnel into servers, do I need something as heavy duty or expensive as a full blown desktop PC? I wonder if a cheap single board computer, like the Raspberry Pi 3 B+, running Linux might be enough to run a single browser window with Browserstack loaded. Not exactly what I first imagined, but not far off what I actually need to get that work done.

My 90’s computer era conditioned brain is like, “Yo, just use a computer.” But on the other hand, compute power seems to be limitless and the same appears to be true of connectivity these days (in certain parts of the world, with certain levels of access and privilege, etc.). A lot has changed since the megahertz wars.

It used to be true that if I wanted to run multiple VMs I’d need a powerful base system: multiple cores, heaps of RAM and a power hungry graphics card as well. Actually it still is true, if I want to do all that in my office that is. Today, it’s possible to leverage modern infrastructure to get these intensive tasks done on someone else’s iron.

I am drawing a lot of inspiration from the cloud and “serverless” models of distributed computing. At home, I could have a small legion of computing devices that are, on their own, less capable than one Intel powered laptop, but massively more flexible and cheap. Connected to a service like Browserstack, a $35 computer could give me access to multiple VMs in real time.

I think that's it, honestly. I’ll order a Raspberry Pi and see whether I can make it work. If not, I’m only out a bit of change and I’ll buy that shiny Mac I really don’t need but desperately want 😬


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