Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Steve Coast
Image by Christian Petersen.

Steve Coast

Founder, OpenStreetMap

Posted in developer, linux, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Steve Coast and I'm a Principal PM Architect at Microsoft. I also founded OpenStreetMap.

What hardware do you use?

I have a Lenovo X201 laptop, 2010 MacBook Pro, Samsung Series 7 Slate, Samsung Focus, iPhone 4 and an iPad 3.

My desktop is some Dell thing with 4 gigantic monitors I scavenged.

On a daily basis I use all of them. I often carry 3 or more computers around. It feels completely ridiculous. I remember when starting OpenStreetMap that to be effective I needed to carry at minimum a digital camera, a GPS device, iPod and a phone. Today those are all the same device. I'm looking to a future where all of the above is one device too.

And what software?

Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.7.4, Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS 5. I use VirtualBox to carry Ubuntu around with me. I back up everything in 3 places automatically, partially with BackBlaze. I love Mathematica and Evernote.

I try very hard not to use the Internet. Synchronous communication is terribly wasteful when it's just you and the Internet, reading news or Reddit. I have a script which mails to Instapaper the Hacker News front page twice a day. From there I can just tap on things and read them later, at any time, with Instapaper on my iPad or Windows Phone. That means plane flights, queuing and other apparent wastes of time can be used to catch up on old Hacker News.

I use the library a lot. King County in Washington State has the most traffic of any US library, or so they claim. I refuse, typically, to buy Kindle or other books with a zero resale value. I'm keenly aware that the same information can be had in multiple forms. For example a book can be Kindle, Nook, Hardback, HB 2nd hand, Paperback, PB 2nd hand, Library, audio book (, Library audio book. I don't care how I get the information, therefore I may as well have the lowest cost access. My Amazon Wishlist is sufficiently long that there is always something interesting about to pop out of the hold queue I have at the library. King County will even lend you certain books to your Nook or Kindle.

Perhaps if the state didn't compete in the book industry there would be even more efficient access; Netflix for books.

Another common hack I use is to hire people on oDesk and other freelancing sites for various tasks. There is no programatic way to shift my Amazon Wishlist to my local library. I could spend hours figuring it out, do it manually or just pay someone $1 in the Philippines to do it for me. Typically the latter option is the most efficient for all kinds of tasks. I experimented with having an hourly admin in Texas reply to all my email. Unfortunately the higher cost of having someone speak English natively outweighs the efficiency of not having to touch email today. The calculus will change over time.

What would be your dream setup?

Today an ultrabook or MacBook Air but with a touch screen are the closest to what I want. There will be a point sometime between 2014 and 2016 where SSD & processor speeds, sizes and costs are where I need them to be for the amount of data I (will) have. 128Gb is not enough. Today 8Gb RAM in my MacBook is not sufficient to run a couple of virtualized operating systems plus some heavy lifting computing applications. I would happily run any OS with the ability to access the other two via VirtualBox or similar.

The need will continue - just look at how painful it is to use Rails on a Mac. That's why I have Ubuntu in VirtualBox. Similarly Windows Phone development is a pleasure but you need Windows in place. I find PhoneGap most fun on a Mac. I want it all in one, with all my data wherever I am with an unreasonably long battery life, a touch screen and a pony.