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For months now we've all been inundated with TV specials and articles online about the tough economy. As a contractor, I’ve experienced first hand what it's like to crunch a budget. Development, as a whole, is not a cheap career.
The tools that we require, even just to get started, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. A $3,000 MacBook, a few $1,000 IDE's and we're already halfway there.
What to you do if you’re a motivated nerd who’s watching their wallet?
Well, I'm about to show you how to set up an awesome .NET development environment for less than $500. How do I know? Why, I just did it myself.
So, this netbook craze is really huge. I honestly think that it's the direction that computing is going. Soon the days of desktop applications will be gone and replaced by super intensive web applications.
I feel like I love the Dell Outlet online – I got my super fast desktop from them. However, after speaking to their customer service representative I learned that you can't add RAM to their Mini Netbooks, and they only come with 1gb of RAM.
I did some research online. I read Jeff Atwood's post about the Acer he bought for his wife– he raved about the Acer Aspire One. I went online and I found the 10.1" Aspire One with 1.6ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, and 160g of space for $349 on Tiger Direct.
I chose the super cute white one (but of course you can get the ultra manly red or blue if you like). I also added 1GB stick of RAM for $24.99 to my cart because I know a development machine needs a little more power.
Three days later my machine was here, it's so tiny and I love it. I opened it up and I immediately notice a few problems. The keyboard is a smaller scale of the one I am used to. It's not impossible to type on, but it will impede my development. Having a separate keyboard will cause me to need a mouse besides the trackpad that comes with the laptop.
Another problem is the screen, it's not like I can't see, but 10" really isn't a lot of room to track all the applications you need to develop in. I have peripherals all over my house. If you need a wrench you’re out of luck, but a wireless network card or a usb headset? You’re golden. The external monitor, keyboard and mouse were all under one roof for me.
However, I did the math and a 20" refurbished monitor along with a cordless mouse and keyboard combo from Dell Outlet (accessories are new) comes to $199.98. Set those up and you won't be able to tell from your desktop, and you're completely mobile except for the monitor.
When you are on the go you’ll need to deal with your little screen, it's not too bad though. I'm typing on it now.
Loading Windows 7
My netbook came with XP loaded on it. Now, the reason it didn't come with Vista is the same reason most netbooks don't come with Vista: Vista is huge. It takes up 15gb of harddrive space while XP only uses 1.5. I'm not an XP fan myself, and the Windows 7 RC1 was just released to the public.
Windows 7 takes up about 6gb loaded, and that's a great size. Much smaller than vista. I'm the crazy adventurous type, so I immediately mounted the ISO on a USB drive. (To get around the fact that your netbook doesn't have a CD-ROM you can mount most ISOs - CD images – on a thumb drive. Mine was $20, you can get them anywhere. I snagged mine at Staples.)
I booted from the USB, formatted the existing OS, and loaded Windows 7. Here’s directions for installing Windows 7 with a USB drive. And here’s where to download Windows 7 RC. I find that most Vista drivers work fine in Windows 7, but I can't guarantee it.
Now for the important part, the software. I'm a .NET developer, and Microsoft offers free versions of all their big Express toolssuch as SQL Server Express, and Visual Web Developer Express, and Visual C# Express.
These versions come with most of the features that the paid ones do, just not the server licenses and extra tools.
The other day on the WAN party that I host weekly we were discussing how hard it is to become a developer without, at some point, pirating tools. It's expensive and many a college kid doesn't have two dimes to rub together. I know I didn't.
Free editions of expensive software is a great way to attract more kids to the field (as well as keep the pirates at bay) If you develop in another language you can get free tools like Eclipse Eclipse and Netbeans. MySQLis a great free database tool you can use.
So there you have it, all together: the machine, RAM, keyboard, mouse, monitor, USB key and several development tools have come to $568.98.
My little machine is fast and I have run into no issues yet. It's compact and lightweight, and the whole deal cost me a fraction of what someone would normally pay for a development environment. That, my friends, is fiscal responsibility.
Somewhere right now my dad is grinning ear to ear.