Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Pocket Linux Server I don't Really Need

For some time now I've wondered when I'm going to see a laptop type shell that I can slide my phone into. The shell would provide the screen and keyboard, but my Android device would be the brains. This would be the sort of next evolution in the phone as laptop replacement game.

Such a beast actually exists: the ClamBook. Other than the fact that you don't actually slide your phone into the laptop, it's exactly what I was imagining.

Recently though, the thought occurred to me that you could also do the reverse: use your phone as the input and output, and use a secondary device as the brains. Or, put another way: what if I had an itty bitty, headless Linux server that I could carry around. I could then ssh to it, and run more Unix'y things there, all without having to wrestle with the limitations of Android or require a proper Internet connection.

Turns out, such a beast actually exists here, too: I give you the TonidoPlug2.

This $130 device is billed as a compact Networked Attached Storage (NAS) device, or "personal cloud." But really, it's just a tiny Linux server that you can ssh to, and install any software you want on. At 5x3x1 inches, it's not something I'd want to carry everywhere, but it's still pretty dang compact. Toss in 1 Terabyte drive, and your cell phone suddenly becomes the portal to a pretty heavy duty device.

Another option, while not quite as robust, is to go the OpenWRT route, which effectively turns a wireless router into a tiny Linux server. While not quite as robust as a full Linux install, there are still a significant number of packages available to install. This platform can be remarkably cheap, say by using a $35 TP Link router (it's battery powered, no less). While not as powerful as the Tonido, it would give you that external server feeling without a separate network..

This technology really is amazing, and surprisingly quite affordable. Though, there's just one tiny problem: I don't actually need of it. At least not yet. But as soon as I outgrow the power of my Android device, I'll consider adding one of these guys.

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