Jonathan Blow criticises Linux dev tools

Windows has problems but lack of decent IDEs holds open source platform back, says Braid developer
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Linux as a games platform is being held back by chronic shortcomings with IDEs and debuggers, says Braid developer Jonathan Blow.

The award-winning developer of the time-bending platformer has tried Linux development in the past, but said he found the experience frustrating.

"The main reason is that debugging is terrible on Linux. gdb is just bad to use, and all these IDEs that try to interface with gdb to "improve" it do it badly (mainly because gdb itself is not good at being interfaced with)," wrote Blow in a post on Ycombinator.

"Someone needs to nuke this site from orbit and build a new debugger from scratch, and provide a library-style API that IDEs can use to inspect executables in rich and subtle ways."

While some offered a defence of the GNU Project Debugger (GDB), the majority of responses spoke of similar issues when trying to break away from a Windows-centric developer environment.

"Productivity is crucial," continued Blow.

"If the lack of a reasonable debugging environment costs me even five per cent of my productivity, that is too much, because games take so much work to make. At the end of a project, I just don't have five per cent effort left any more."

With Valve now offering Steam for Linux users, there may be more financial incentive to provide native professional-quality development tools, but this will take time and money that many developers can't afford.

But many developers feel they have more incentive to move away from Windows, and this could begin to turn the tide.

"That said, Windows / Visual Studio is, itself, not particularly great," said Blow.

"There are lots of problems, and if someone who really understood what large-program developers really care about were to step in and develop a new system on Linux, it could be really appealing. But the problem is that this is largely about (a) user experience, and (b) getting a large number of serious technical details bang-on correct, both of which are weak spots of the open-source community."

One of these technical details is the lack of an audio standard on Linux.

Blow points out that issues with OpenGL are now a "red herring", but so long as sound remains a problem, Linux is going to pose problems for serious game development.

"I would be very happy to switch to an open-source operating system," concluded Blow.

"I really dislike what Microsoft does, especially what they are doing now with Windows 8. But today, the cost of switching to Linux is too high. I have a lot of things to do with the number of years of life I have remaining, and I can't afford to cut 20% off the number of years in my life."