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TIMO ZIMMERMANN

balancing software engineering & infosec

An iPad Pro, a netbook and a webkit bug

posted on Dec. 6, 2020, 10:22 p.m. in hardware, ios

As regular readers know I am working a lot on remote machines. Lately my goto editor for this is Visual Studio Code. Using code-server allows you to run VSC on a server and access it via browser. Feels like a pretty neat concept accessing a web app via browser with all the Electron based apps companies force us to use these days.

Sadly a bug was introduced in webkit which shipped with an iPadOS release around 13.x (IIRC 13.4) which messes with scroll events. So you cannot scroll in code-server anymore.

The 12.9“ iPad Pro is technically the perfect device for me to work on a remote server. I have it with me anyway, battery lasts most of the day, LTE is integrated and the Magic Keyboard is great. But not being able to scroll is a bit annoying and I cannot get used to the vim bindings.

Good old Acer Aspire 1410 to the rescue. A smaller screen, the touchpad sucks, the keyboard is far worse, it got a anemic, 11 years old dual core CPU designed to produce zero heat and deliver no performance paired with 2GB memory. Paired with a five year after market SSD and Debian with the MATE Desktop Environment it is worse than the iPad in every single aspect. Maybe not the desktop environment, I am really fond of Gnome 2 and it is still my favorite one on Linux. But while it is really bad all around, it can scroll in code-server.

https://share.screamingatmyscreen.com/blog/iPad-netbook.jpg

Dusting off the Acer, putting in a SSD and trying if it holds up was a test; while I do not want to work on code outside of my office it does happen once or twice a year. I was playing with the idea of getting a cheap 200€ Chromebook as temporary device for these occasions. (Well, not right now with the pandemic and all, but a good Cyber Monday deal is always appreciated.) But it turns out that the Acer is good enough as thin client for code-server, no need to spend any money or use a Google product.

Technically I could just stop here, but I have to admit the overall experience is not that great - especially the constantly blowing fan trying to keep the netbook cold enough to not get even slower. And while I like code-server, its plugin system and the first class LSP support, I did the only reasonable thing. Configure neovim with 70 LOC and call it a day.

https://share.screamingatmyscreen.com/blog/Neovim.jpg

Turns out despite some small annoyances (and the general annoyance of using a horrible Acer notebook) configuring vim and editing some code feels like coming home. It just works. It is fast. It did not change in any significant way since I used it for the first time many, many moons ago. And it never messed up data, other than VSC / code-server. If you are looking for an SSH / mosh client for iOS / iPadOS I would suggest giving Blinkshell a shot.

All in all, this was a nice experiment and detour to some old hardware that has served me very well throughout the years. The Acer is, as expected, worse in every conceivable aspect than my current day tablet. But if my only requirement would be „I want to be able to use code-server“ it still is the better device than my 2019 iPad Pro. I have to admit this made me chuckle a bit.