Simple tools

 •  Filed under Posts, Tools

A week ago I finally got round to doing some little jobs around the house and one of them was taking a couple millimetres off the top of a door so that it would shut correctly. As it required only a small amount off the door, I opted against using a power tool.

When Jennifer's parents moved to Canada over a decade ago, her Dad left some tools for me that he didn't want to take with him. One of them was a plane that belonged to Jennifer's great-grandfather. For those that don't know, a plane consists of a block with a projecting steel blade. It is used to smooth wooden surfaces by gradually removing shavings away from the surface of the wood.

Intrigued as to whether it was still working I dug it out from the toolbox and started working on fixing the door. Surprisingly the blade of the plane was still sharp enough to take just enough wood off the top of the door for it to close properly again. This plane is at least 30 years old and still works. It got me thinking about the choice of tools that programmers have when it comes to working with code and how long these tools last.For some years now, the text editor has been my choice of tool when working with code. I used TextMate for Ruby coding for about four years before I switched to Sublime. Yes, the keyboard shortcuts might have changed, but essentially, these two are the same tool. Just plain old text editors.A text editor is such a simple tool to use and many of the more popular text editors have a history that goes back at least five years. Look at Notepad++, jEdit and others. They've all been around for years. Even at over 20 years old, Vim is undoubtedly the first choice of text editor for many programmers.

The other choice developers have is an integrated development environment or IDE for short. These are the power tools of the software development world. IDEs are development tools that are designed to aid developers by providing built-in shortcuts that increase programmer productivity, but where they fall short is that they are tied to the programming language or platform they were designed for.

Being tied to a few programming languages or a platform is very restricting. Inevitably IDE's get releases every couple of years to take advantage of the latest new features from the programming languages and frameworks they were designed for. Re-learning the ins and outs of these news tools every couple of years is the kind of time I'd rather not waste. These tools are too complicated in my book.

That's the beauty of simple tools like our plane, like our text editor. They last a long time. Just like the plane made fixing the door a simple task to do, the text editor makes working with code a simple task. You just have to know how that programming language works in order to make the best use of your chosen text editor.

There's a lot to be said for the simple tools we use.