Carving Out A Workspace On Apple Silicon

Feb 17, 2021, 4:24 PM

Last month, I mentioned my particular computer trouble, in that my trusty iMac Pro has been afflicted by an ever-worsening fan noise problem. I'd just been toughing it out, since there's never a good time to lose your main machine for a week or two, and my traveler MacBook Escape wasn't up to the task of being a full replacement.

After about a month's delay, my fresh new M1 MacBook Air arrived a few weeks ago and I've been putting it through its paces.

The Basics

As pretty much anyone who has one of these computers has said, the performance is outstanding. For the most part, even with emulation, most of the tasks I do during the day feel the same as they did on my wildly-more-expensive iMac Pro. On top of that, the fact that this thing doesn't even have a fan is both a technical marvel and a godsend as far as ambient room noise is concerned.

For continuity's sake, I used Migration Assistant to bring over my iMac's environment, and everything there went swimmingly. The good-citizen apps I use like MarsEdit and Tower were already ported to ARM, while the laggards (unsurprisingly, the ones made by larger companies with more resources) remain Intel-only but run just fine in emulation.

Hardware

For a good while now, I've had the iMac screen flanked by a pair of similarly-sized but far-inferior Asus screens. With the iMac's lovely screen out of the setup for now, I've switched to using those two Asus screens as my primary ones, with the pretty-but-tiny laptop screen sitting beneath them. It works well enough, though I do miss the retina resolution and general brightness of the iMac.

The second external screen itself was a bit of an issue. Of themselves, these M1 Macs, either for good reason or to mark them as low end, support only two screens total, the laptop screen included. So I ended up ordering one of the StarTech DisplayLink adapters. I expected it to be a crappy experience overall, with noticeable lag, but it actually works much more smoothly than I'd have expected. Other than the fact that it doesn't support Night Shift and some wake-from-sleep slowness that I attribute to it, it actually feels just like a normally-attached monitor.

I also, in order to regain my precious Ethernet connection and (sort of) clean up the dongle situation, I got one of these Anker USB-C docks. I've only had it for a day, but it seems to be working like you'd want so far. So that's nice.

Eclipse and Java

Here's where I've hit my first bout of jankiness, though it's not too surprising. In general, Eclipse and Java work just fine through emulation, and I can even keep running tests and web servers using the libnotes.dylib from the Notes client as I want.

I've found times where tests lag or fail now when they didn't before, though, and that's a little ominous. Compiling locally with NSF ODP, which spawns a sub-process that loads the Notes libraries, usually works, though now I've set up another Domino server on my network to handle that reliably.

I've also noticed some trouble in one of my Eclipse workspaces where it periodically spends a long time (10+ minutes) "Building" without explaining what exactly it's doing, and this is new behavior since the switch. I can't say what the core trouble is there. It's my largest active workspace, so it could be that file polling or other system-call-intensive work is just slower, or it could be an artifact of moving it from machine to machine. I'll probably scrap it and make a new workspace with the same projects to see if it alleviates it.

This all should improve in time, though, when Eclipse, AdoptOpenJDK, and HCL all release macOS ARM ports. IntelliJ has an experimental ARM port out, and I'm curious how that does its thing. I'll probably spend some time kicking the tires on that, though I still find Eclipse's UI much more conducive to the "lots of semi-related projects" working style I have. Visual Studio Code is in a similar boat, so that'll be good for the JavaScript development I do (under protest).

In the mean time, I've done some tinkering with how I could get a fully-native Eclipse environment running and showing up on my Mac, including firing up the venerable XQuartz to run Eclipse as an X client from a Linux VM in the basement. While that technically works, the experience is... well, I'll charitably call it "not Mac-like". Still, it's kind of neat and would in theory push aside any number of concerns.

Docker

Here's the real trouble I'm butting my head against. I've taken to using Docker more and more for various reasons: running app servers with a Domino runtime, running Domino outright, and (where my trouble is now) performing cross-compilation and other native-specific compilation tasks. For example, for one of my clients, I have a script that mounts the project directory to a Docker container to perform a full Maven build with NSF compilation and compile-time tests, without having to worry about the user's particular Notes or Domino installation.

However, while Docker is doing Hurculean work to smooth the process, most of the work I do ends up hitting one of the crashing snags in poor qemu, which crop up particularly with Java compilation tasks. Since compiling Java is basically all I do all day, that leaves me hoping either for improvements in future versions or a Linux/aarch64 port of Domino (or at least libnotes.so).

In the mean time, I'm making use of Docker's network transparency to run Docker on an x64 VM and set DOCKER_HOST locally to point to it. For about half of what I need, this works great: I can run Domino servers and Notes-enabled webapps this way, and I just change which address I'm pointing to to interact with them. However, it naturally removes the possibility of connecting with the local filesystem, at least without pairing it with some file-share jankiness, so it's not a replacement all around. It also topples quickly into the bizarre inner Docker world: for example, I wanted to set up Codewind to work remotely, but the instructions I found for getting started with your own server were not helpful.

Future Use

Still, despite the warts, I'd say this laptop is performing admirably, and better than one would normally expect. Plus, it's a useful exercise in finding more ways to make my workflow less machine-specific. Though I still bristle at the thought of going full Eclipse Che and working out of a web browser, at least moving some more aspects of my workspace to float above the rough seas is just good practice.

I'll probably go back to using the iMac Pro as my main machine once I get it fixed, even if only for the display, but this humble, low-end M1 has planted its flag more firmly than a MacBook Air normally has any right to.

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