Thursday, December 05, 2013

So Smart: The Galaxy S3 as Dumb Terminal

Before I went off to college and started my Computer Science degree I was such a naive little computer geek wannabe. I thought I knew the big rivalries: Microsoft Word vs. Word Perfect, Excel vs. Lotus and of course, Windows vs. Mac. As I got indoctrinated in the ways of Computer Science, I quickly learned that these were all but petty squabbles. The true debate was Emacs vs. Vi, and most importantly, there was no real operating system debate: you used Unix and you scoffed at everything else. After all, these new computers on campus were called "Work Stations" for a reason; real stuff got done there. The computer I proudly brought from home featuring the latest Windows 95 OS (or was it 3.1?) was little more than a toy when compared to the green screen terminals powered by Unix that were sprinkled throughout campus.

I promise, this trip down memory lane is going somewhere useful.

Learning Unix meant re-learning nearly everything I thought I knew about computers. I found myself asking a simple question over and over again: I know how do to task X on a Windows box, but how would I do it using little more than the Unix command line? For example, how does one format a document without Microsoft Word? (answer: TeX). Or work with numbers without Excel? (answer: awk and/or sc). Or read email without Eudora? (answer: emacs and Rmail).

Often, I learned that these command line tools weren't just acceptable replacements for the Windows program I was use to, but had features that would blow them away. TeX didn't just format text, it made my math homework look like it had been professionally typeset.

What does all this have to do with the modern age? Especially, in an age when I use all these same command line tools while still running Windows.

Well, my use-my-Galaxy-S3-as-a-travel-laptop-replacement-device effort is actually still going pretty strong. On weekends, when I'd usually bust out my netbook to do any work that needs to be done, I've been instead hunching over my Galaxy S3 and bluetooth keyboard. And while some of the tasks I'm tackling are taking longer to complete than on a standard laptop, I'm still quite amazed at what I can get done on this little Android device (like buying Chanukah presents, posting blog entries and reviewing hundreds of photos from my DSLR).

While the S3 is a remarkable computer (1.51Ghz, dual core with 1.5Gig of RAM - stats that were completely unimaginable in a desktop computer when I was in college), it has a number of high quality ssh clients which let me connect up to any Linux box on the net. These days I'm using JuiceSSH to do this, which works well with my external keyboard. And once a connection has been established, I gain access to all the computer power of that remote device. Yes, I've recreated the ultra powerful green screen dumb terminals of my college days.

But more importantly than that, I find myself asking that same question I used to ask all the time: how would I tackle X without a Windows, only using command line tools?

Consider this example: how would I manage Picasa albums or Blogger posts from the command line? Impossible? Not at all. Just use GoogleCL, the Google Command line tool set. I ssh'd to one of my servers, ran sudo yum install googlecl and a few moments later I had a remarkable level of access to these Google services from nearly any ssh capable device.

It sure is fun to be back to discovering command line tools I didn't know existed, yet have immense power.

I'm not sure how much longer my Phone As Laptop replacement (or, device convergence as my Dad so appropriately calls it) experiment is going to go on for, but it's expanding my horizons, which is always a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. The first Windows/UNIX comparison uses tasks: "format a document", "work with numbers", "read email"

    The second uses applications: "manage Picasa albums" "Blogger posts"

    Blogger posts are just documents, so the solution is still TeX. I manage my photos with "mv" ;)