Call for information - What assumptions can I make about Unix users' access to Windows?

Steven D'Aprano steve+comp.lang.python at
Sat Nov 8 01:28:52 CET 2014

Paul Moore wrote:

> To that end, I'd like to get an idea of what sort of access to Windows
> a typical Unix developer would have. I'm particularly interested in
> whether Windows XP/Vista is still in use, and whether you're likely to
> already have Python and/or any development tools installed. Ideally, a
> clean Windows 7 or later virtual machine is the best environment, but
> I don't know if it's reasonable to assume that.

I don't think that there is such a beast as a "typical Unix developer",
since Unix covers such a wide range. In very rough order of decreasing
market share, there is Linux (not actually a form of Unix, but in practice
people gloss over that technicality), Apple OS X, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, various
commercial Unixes which still exist, and so on. They tend to attract very
different sorts of people, although if they had anything in common it would
probably be a dislike or rejection of Windows, so you can probably safely
assume that the average Unix/Linux/Mac user has little access to Windows.

Speaking for myself, I have effectively no access to Windows. Once a year I
manage to borrow a laptop with Windows 7 so I can do my taxes, but it has
no development tools on it. I also have access to a Windows 2000 VM for
work purposes, but I don't have admin rights to it and it too has no
development tools on it.

> Another alternative is to have an Amazon EC2 AMI prebuilt, and users
> can just create an instance based on it. That seems pretty easy to do
> from my perspective but I don't know if the connectivity process
> (remote desktop) is a problem for Unix developers.

If it uses a standard protocol like RDP or VNC, there shouldn't be a
problem, most Unixes have clients for these. I use rdesktop to talk to the
Win2000 VM at work all the time, and I can even do so over an ssh tunnel if
I need to access it from home.

If it uses some secret or unusual proprietary protocol, forget it.

If remote access requires a specific Flash or Java app in the browser, it
may or may not work, but probably won't. Flash support on Linux is better
than it was but still mediocre. Since Flash these days is mostly used for
two things (crappy games and obnoxious adverts) most Linux folks I know
simply don't bother with it unless they use Chrome, in which case they get
it whether they want it or not.

Java is probably a bit better supported, but it can be annoying to set up.
It took me about a day to get my bank's Java app working in Firefox, and it
wouldn't work at all in other browsers or with the standard version of Java
provided by my Linux distro. I had to replace my system Java with Oracle's
Java, symlink it to an alternate location, and have my browser lie about
what it is in the user-agent.


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