We have a situation where developers connect to their development boxes via Citrix terminals (that are installed on their laptops), which brings them into a Gnome session (e.g. Linux), where they do all the coding.


Until now developers had Internet Access from those Citrix environments + installed Firefox browser. Starting right now the Internet Access [from that environment] is taken away.

Developers still however have the access via their IE9 browser (strictly IE9) from their laptops.

This of course makes the whole development process a lot less productive. At the same time, it is extremely difficult to come up with a solid explanation, reasons on why the productivity suffers from switching environments (on the same laptop) in order to use the Internet.


I'm turning to SO community to help us find those reasons that can convince decision makers to give Internet Access back to developers [from the system they develop on].

  • 4
    You've perceived that your management's decisions have made you less productive, and you want us to tell you why they've made you less productive? Obviously, this isn't answerable. Voting to close.
    – user16764
    Jun 13, 2012 at 23:44
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    No internet access ? Citrix ? Remoted development environment ? Run while you can!
    – user7071
    Jun 14, 2012 at 0:04
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    @JarrodRoberson, don't rush into conclusions, if it was not serios I would not ask. user16764, no need to be a jerk. If you ended up in this situation and had a "yes/no" choice, you would choose "no", and I would ask "why not?" => the answers to this is what I am looking for.
    – tolitius
    Jun 14, 2012 at 0:14
  • 2
    If you can't articulate this as a serious impediment, what makes you think random people on the internet that don't work there can? Rocket Surgeon is right, there are way more other problems here that are WTF than what you are complaining about!
    – user7519
    Jun 14, 2012 at 1:01
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    @user16764 Don't vote to close this question just because you think you're not capable of providing an answer. This is a great question and brings up an often overlooked topic of context switching. Something that's easily dismissed by pointy haired managers just as you have now.
    – Lord Tydus
    Jun 14, 2012 at 1:48

5 Answers 5


Here's one possibility as to why this makes such a difference. This experiment hit the media a few months ago:

Study: Walking through a doorway wipes out memory

It talks how a doorway acts as a sort of mental reset button. Most people have had the experience of walking into a room and forgetting what they came there for. The controlled study shows that it's a real phenomenon, not merely attributable to age or poor memory.

It may be that by having to switch contexts, from your remote Citrix environment to your local laptop, you are, in effect, walking through a virtual doorway. It may be having the same effect as a physical doorway, compartmentalizing your memory and causing you to forget what you came to the browser for.

This forgetting, in turn, might lead you to do other things people do with browsers (check Facebook, check e-mail, read random news sites). In the meantime, the doorway effect works in both directions: You eventually return to the Citrix environment and forget what you were working on there.

  • 2
    +1 for context switching. We store data in our human memory, only we have less registers than the computer. Data is lost from our brain as we switch contexts.
    – Lord Tydus
    Jun 14, 2012 at 1:29
  • a "non obvious memory loss" may very well be it. And it explains why it is somewhat hard to pinpoint. Switching out from a virtual environment does seem like a "mental obstacle" (e.g. going some place else and pausing all the "mental threads"..) could be for this very reason. Unfortunately "psych of things" is rarely taken seriously, not just by management, but also by developers, which can be seen from some comments/answers here and of course from experience. It takes a certain depth to appreciate and respect our brains.
    – tolitius
    Jun 14, 2012 at 14:42

I cannot see how this would make a great deal of difference in your productivity. (Other than the obvious having to use IE9 instead of Firefox).

Instead of having multiple windows open inside your terminal window, you have the terminal window and browser open.

If you have multiple monitors, then this may actually make your productivity better (terminal on screen 1, browser on screen 2).

If you are sure it has caused a drop in productivity, then you need to be able to prove this. Track your working habits, note down things which are slowing you down.


I'd like to add onto Kyralessa's answer.

We store data in our human memory, only we have less registers than the computer. While we are looking at the data it is FRESH in our minds. If we must switch screens, the data is lost from our mind and we have to spend time reloading it into our brain.

Speeding up the context switch to the new screen (in this case the browser) could allow you to remember your data longer. If switching out of the Citrix environment is a chore (takes more than 0.25 seconds) then it's going to be harder to hold onto the data in your mind.

Better yet is finding a way to have 2 monitors. Every programmer who has experienced 2 monitors can tell you the huge productivity boost it gives. A pointy-haired boss would see it as a waste of money and request developers maxize the window they are currently viewing or spend time re-sizing windows. While your doing that, you loose data in your mind.

Two monitors allows VERY FAST context switching where you can reload data into your mind with the glance of an eye. Being forced to maximize windows on a single monitor is a slow gross-motor operation.

Speed of the context switch matters. If you can speed it up to eye-glaces then great! If you are forced to use 1 monitor then you must have the fastest switch to a new window.

  • 1
    People should start using 'multiple monitors' as a term instead of dual/two. I can assure you 3 monitors is even more productive than two. That being said, I think the importance of pure context switching might be somewhat overrated - imo it's only in combination with working in an unorganized fashion that kills perfromance. With unorganized I mean too much windows open, not knowing how to use alt-tab/taskbar/shortcuts to the fullest etc. You could be surprised if you see how many people using a computer daily have no clue of all the OS's nifty features for speeding up work. I'd say about 90%.
    – stijn
    Jun 14, 2012 at 7:38
  • @stijn: amen to that, back in the day I used to work with editors that only let you see 1 full-screen code window at any time, no outline, no intellisense, no nothing, and my productivity was really rather good - strange that all the productivity aids we have today just act to distract us.
    – gbjbaanb
    Jun 14, 2012 at 10:05
  • @stijn. Fast context switching is not overrated. The situation you describe is one where you're not switching contexts. If context switching is present (regardless of the merits of a single context) then you want that switch to be as fast as an eye-glance.
    – Lord Tydus
    Jun 15, 2012 at 23:32
  • I fail to see how alt-tab or any other way to switch between applications is not context switching, while switching between citrix and another application as you describe is context switching?
    – stijn
    Jun 16, 2012 at 8:08
  • @stijn. Yes, alt-tab is a context switch. Never said to the contrary. Even the dual monitor eye-glance is a context switch, just faster and allows you to more quickly see 2 sets of data.
    – Lord Tydus
    Jun 16, 2012 at 13:15

I have a similar setup - our development lab cannot be connected to the internet (details not important, not a technical issue and nothing I can do about it so please please please take it as stated and don't got there with comments). I have a desktop system with internet access.

Pros - I have 3 screens - 30" + 19" development and 24" wide screen for desktop. boss would never give me 3 off one box, and the insane amount of screen real estate really is useful.

Cons - Cut and paste between boxes does not exist. File transfer is difficult (I manage to burrow in with a couple of ssh tunnels, which may or may not be legit, so I eeor on teh side of asking forgiveness.....

Impact on productivity is neutral - learn to work within the environment you have. It will take less time than fighting the boss over it. I suggest you recite the poem about wisdom, serenity and courage.....

  • To solve copypaste issues, start using Synergy (in case you don't run OSX or something exotic) - it has enough small fallrate to keep it running for days without noticing problems. As with file transfer - ask a nearest sysadmin to figure it out for you (and may it become a corporative note on file sharing stndart), there should be a solution.
    – kagali-san
    Jun 14, 2012 at 6:44
  • @kagali - A sysadmin won't be able to help - the problem is commercial/political not technical.
    – mattnz
    Jun 14, 2012 at 20:42

Depending on how your environment is configured I'm not convinced you do. Albeit it may take some changes on how you work I would be suspicious of the fact that it has a heavy impact given that you do have internet access on your local machine. A second monitor would be helpful because then you could refer to the 'research' in the browser on one and the remote machine in the other.

Personally I use a remote environment at the office (RDP) and although we have internet access on the remote machines I rarely use it. Really the only time I do use it is when I need to install some utility and I'm to lazy to transfer it from my local machine to the remote machine.

The one caveat to this thought is that you do need copy/paste to work between the local machine and the remote machine. A way to transfer files would also be necessary.

Update: Another thought that occurred to me is that this is a fairly common issue when working in sensitive / secure / classified environments (either corporate or government). I've even worked in an environment where the extreme was taken and all internet access required going to a physically different computer on a physically separate network. In that case file transfers from the 'internet' was difficult to get approved. It was painful to develop under that (extreme) situation but doable.

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