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When You Absolutely Have To: Rails Development in Windows

Try as I might to avoid it, there comes the inevitable point in a project when I have to start doing browser compatibility. Plenty of people use VMWare Fusion or Parallels to run Windows and OS X side by side, but I find them both slow and unreliable when it comes to real testing scenarios, which leaves me with the necessity of creating a Windows development stack for Rails. After some considerable looking, I’ve settled on what I consider to be the “best” tools for the job – though they still fall short of the OS X equivalents.

  • Ruby/Rails: I use the full recommended Ruby distribution as opposed to InstantRails or similar to provide maximum flexibility and customization. I also use the MySQL Community Server for the database portion of my development stack.
  • Version Control: TortoiseSVN is a very easy to use SVN front-end, but my fingers have long since learned the console commands and continue to crave them, so I use the Apache 2.0 binaries for Windows to allow me to use SVN from the prompt.
  • Console: An absolutely indispensable application for me is Console. This open-source app provides tabbed command prompts in a much prettier interface with a number of other incredibly useful features. I highly recommend it.
  • Editor: This isn’t a slam dunk, but the closest thing to TextMate in Windows is, well, the app that was created to be TextMate for Windows. E Text Editor is very good (though in my opinion still too buggy to be called a 1.0) and comes the closest to approximating my Mac development environment. The heavier IDEs such as NetBeans and Aptana With RadRails are also viable options, but I like the speed and simplicity of E.
  • Debugging: Since the reason I end up in Windows in the first place is usually IE compatibility, I need tools to approximate the incomparable FireBug. For markup inspection, the most-helpful-least-hurtful I’ve found is Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar. Javascript debugging, the most heinous of all tasks, is made much less painful by the Microsoft Script Debugger. Don’t let the “Windows NT 4.0 and later” fool you, this is the most useful thing I’ve managed to find to get some kind of control over IE Javascript debugging.

These aren’t by any means the only tools available, and your needs/mileage may vary, but after finally getting this stack together I can develop in Windows without going into fits of hyperventilation and frustration. If you have your own indispensable tools for Rails development in Windows, I’d love to hear about them!

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