Moving to Linux: Working with the Netbook
During my last post, I listed some of the virtues of the netbook. But due to the (comparatively) underpowered and compact hardware, it is almost a certainty that the netbook won’t be your only computer. As I’ve developed a set-up for using the Wind alongside (or, literally, in front of) my desktop, I thought I’d share some of these tools and strategies.
Before we start, let’s figure out what each of these things does well, or at least better than the other.
- On a desktop, the wide screen is clearly the biggest advantage.
- Also, the keyboard is likely to be better than the one on the netbook (unless you’re using an HP Mini).
- Graphics– and animation-intensive applications and/or web pages are likely to run better on the improved horsepower of the desktop.
- Although the desktop is bound to have more storage, there is something to be said for keeping certain types of information in one place. For example, I keep my tree-based note-taking application (BasKet, more on this later) exclusively on the Wind.
- I also find it easy to really focus on a particular task when working on the Wind. Perhaps it’s because of the small screen size, and therefore the fact that I can’t have multiple windows open with lots of lights and whistles going off.
So, based on this assessment, I came to the conclusion that I wanted some type of set-up that would allow me to access both the desktop and the Wind at the same time. Here’s the tools I use to do just that:
- SSH/SFTP: The Secure SHell, or SSH, is one of my most used applications. I use it to remote into the desktop (which functions for me largely as a server as well) to perform maintenance, install new software, and (via the Secure FTP compatibility), move files back and forth between the two machines. Lastly, SSH will allow me to open an application that’s only installed on the Wind on the display for the desktop. For example, I have the Quanta web IDE installed on the Wind, but I can open it on the desktop through an SSH tunnel.
- SVN: Where I’ll use SFTP for a one-off movement of files, when keeping all of my “working files” organized, I use the version control system called Subversion. Originally designed for managing code, it works very well as a simple-to-set-up document management system. Additionally, it also works through an SSH tunnel, so I can securely access files on my home desktop anywhere there’s Internet access.
- x2x: Finally, possibly the most useful tool in my arsenal is x2x. This “software KVM” allows you to share a keyboard and mouse between two machines with two separate displays (so, I guess it’s really a software “KM”). The effect of this is that I can use the desktop keyboard, and when I move the cursor past the bottom of the screen, control “jumps” to the Wind, and I can use the larger keyboard and mouse to work there.
Based on the above, here’s how I generally use the two machines together.
- I leave my e-mail client and IM window open and tiled on the Wind. Using the smaller screen is useful for things that you need to monitor, such as e-mail, IM, or RSS/news feeds.
- I’ll open non-processor-intensive applications such as text editors/word processors remotely from the desktop (i.e. open the copy of the application that’s installed on the Wind so that it displays on the larger screen of the desktop).
- Twice per day (usually, the start and end of the day) I’ll sync (in SVN parlance, “update” and/or “commit”) changes to files on the Wind into the SVN repository.
- I open windows such as web pages that I’m reading in-depth and development apps on the desktop.
With these two machines connected via the tools above, I have a very functional set-up when sitting at the desk that allows me to unhook the Wind with a minimum of fuss. Drafting on the go and doing layout/coding when “docked” has become my preferred method for working. With the Linux toolset, it’s easy!