Real life gets crazy sometimes, and blogging outside of the quick and sometimes poorly-thought-out rant takes time, so I haven’t been updating here anywhere near as often as I’d prefer.
So I thought I’d pound out a few quick paragraphs on what I have going on lately in terms of technology… what I’m running where and why.
Computers and operating systems
Right now in my house I have (not counting my wife’s iMac) two laptops and a desktop machine that are in regular use. All three are running Linux in some fashion, and all three get a different sort of load.
Laptop 1: The Old Toshiba (a.k.a., “Vectra”)
This poor old thing is one I have had for almost six years now, and it’s gone through the wringer at times — it’s the one I was using for much of the testing I was doing to write reviews here.
Well, its hardware specs are still the same as before (Pentium 4 Hyperthreading 3.06 GHz processor, 1.5 GB of RAM), and anymore I’m basically using it like a big, 15″, seven pound netbook.
Since around May I’ve had Peppermint OS on it, and that’s lightweight and speedy enough so that when my wife (who works out of town during the week) uses it on weekends for surfing the web and email, it handles it well enough that its aging hardware doesn’t really matter much.
I also use it as a spare laptop for any time I have any of my tabletop roleplaying game buddies over who didn’t bring one of their own (that particular game in question makes use of a few online tools, so a laptop is pretty handy during play).
This is the other obvious strength of Peppermint in that with a clean, fast, and simple LXDE interface, anyone who sits down at this computer can use it without any real instruction.
Laptop 2: The System76 Darter Ultra (a.k.a., “Thuron”)
My other laptop I bought back in April of this year is pretty much my main computer I use from day to day. It’s beefy compared to my other machines (since it has an Intel Core 2 Duo P9700 2.80 GHz processor and 6 GB of RAM in it), so it runs even a rather heavy-ish Linux Mint 9 without any trouble, but it’s only a 12″ screen, so it’s small and extremely light like a netbook.
It shipped with Ubuntu 9.10, but when Linux Mint 9 came out, I elected to wipe it and start fresh (I prefer to partition things my own way anyway).
It’s a great little laptop, I’m definitely a fan of System76 because they went out of their way to make sure I got what I wanted, and the price was right where I needed it at the time. In fact, I liked the product and my whole experience with them so much that when it came time over the summer for my Aunt Jean to buy a new laptop, I pointed her toward System76, and she got an awesome Pangolin Performance machine that’s so nice it made me jealous!
Desktop/Server: The Home Built Athlon 3500+ Box (a.k.a., “Azalin”)
This machine serves a lot of purposes, but I’ve gotten my money’s worth and then some out of it. I ordered it piece-by-piece back in March of 2005 and built it myself, and that’s mainly why I’ve managed to keep this box useful for this long.
It’s got a 2.8 GHz AMD Athlon-64 3500+ processor in it and earlier this year I bumped it up to 4 GB of RAM.
Like my Old Toshiba Laptop (above), this machine has seen its share of operating systems, from Slackware 10.1 through 12.2, to Linux Mint 7 (Main Edition), Peppermint OS, and now it’s running Linux Mint 9 Fluxbox Edition.
I use “Azalin” as a server and a desktop machine, so it wears a lot of different hats.
As a server, I am hosting my virtual Windows XP machine on it (in VirtualBox) when I need XP for something (which, admittedly, is rare these days), and I also have FreeNX installed on it, so it can act as an easily configured and maintained Linux terminal server of sorts. That way I can log into it graphically from anywhere I have an internet connection (and the NX Client installed/available) and so can anyone for whom I set up an account.
Up until recently I was running Sockso on Azalin as well, with which I was able to stream my entire music collection to any computer in my house, and to any computer I was on outside my home network, as long as I had an internet connection. Since I only recently redid everything on Azalin with Mint 9 Fluxbox Edition, I haven’t gotten around to setting up Sockso again, but I will be doing so shortly, it was just too convenient.
In short, Azalin is sort of my own private cloud.
In addition to all of this stuff, Azalin is still a very usable machine as a desktop workstation, and I’ve always loved Fluxbox, so I find Mint 9 Fluxbox Edition to be perfectly suited to this computer’s multiple and varied roles.
While I’m always tinkering around with alternative browsers (like Midori, for example), I’m still using Firefox as my primary browser. That might change down the road (in part based on how good or bad Firefox 4 turns out), but for now it’s the browser that does most of what I want in the most stable and least annoying fashion.
As of about 8 or 9 months ago, I decided to just ditch mail clients entirely, instead relying on Mozilla Prism apps to be a portal into my webmail accounts. This has actually been a big step forward for me, I think, namely because I don’t have a cumbersome, flaky, and frustrating fight on my hands on every machine I typically use when it comes to configuring and struggling with one mail client or another. I finally just had enough of that, and since then I’ve not missed any mail client one bit. If you haven’t checked out Prism yet, you should, it’s very handy.
Because my wife is away during the week, we keep in touch with Skype, which works on her Apple MacBook Pro she keeps with her as well as on my Linux Mint 9 installation on my System76 laptop.
For music I’ve mostly been using Clementine, which I still love, but recently I’ve also discovered (thanks to my getting caught up on my issues of Linux Journal that had piled up a bit) a nifty and robust command line based player called “MOC – Music on Console“. Fast, lightweight, intuitive (for a command line based app), I think I’m going to give this a try on my older machines and see how well it performs. If you like nerdy CLI-only apps and are a music lover, don’t skip this one, it’s worth a look!
For office type apps, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve moved on from OpenOffice.org and instead have embraced LibreOffice. While right now it’s nothing functionally that OpenOffice.org wasn’t, it’s got one thing going for it that Oracle couldn’t quite manage with OpenOffice.org: A bright, exciting future. I’m pretty stoked to see what the new Document Foundation has in store for LibreOffice, and with the grand plans they’ve already announced, I’m sure we’re going to see some good strides forward in the next few years.
One of the biggest discoveries I’ve made over the past several months has been Dropbox. Since it’s cross-platform, my wife (on her Mac and on my Old Toshiba Laptop running Peppermint) and I (on my other Linux boxes) use it frequently to handle our budget spreadsheet and other files, no matter where she is, at home or out of town like she normally is during the week (so I don’t end up spending my entire paycheck on juice and candy).
In fact, I found that Dropbox was working so well for me as a backup/synchronization system, I upgraded a few weeks ago to their $99.00 per year 50 GB “Dropbox Pro 50″ plan, which I think is a bargain. With that, gone are my struggles to keep files synchronized across all of my machines, and I feel a lot less worried about my data in case anything were to happen that would lead to my local computers being lost or damaged beyond repair.
Plus, since I can log into Dropbox from my phone as well, if I need to check out “grocery_list.txt” (a file my wife and I keep in one of our shared folders… yes, seriously), I can pull up that file while I’m in the store if I forgot to print it out while I was at work or at home. Life in the cloud, indeed!
Dropbox is one of those beautifully implemented, simple solutions to a lot of problems I didn’t fully realize I even had. This is another one of those things that falls into the “if you haven’t already, be sure you check this out” category.
Looking forward and wrapping up
Ahead of me I’m planning on finally getting a new machine to replace Azalin as my primary desktop machine, though I’m somewhat undecided as to what I’m going to do there. While I can happily build another desktop, I’m thinking I can do just as well (without really paying that much more) by buying one of the nicer machines System76 sells. I figure I can be quite happy with their hardware, and I like the thought of supporting a Linux based OEM that really seems to know what they’re doing.
At any rate, my new desktop is probably going to be a quad-core CPU, and I’m looking at 8 GB of RAM minimum with plenty of room for upgrading down the road. I figure I’ve gotten five and a half years of use out of my last desktop machine, so I’d like to get at least that much out of the new one, and I know that’s possible, technically.
At that point, I figure I still can get some use out of Azalin for some things… it will still make a decent file server, FTP server, ssh and FreeNX box going forward, and I think it can still act as a virtual host for at least one VM depending on my needs.
So that’s what I’ve got going on where technology is concerned these days. I just figured I’d do a “touch base” kind of post like this, just because I do always have something going on tech-wise, even if I don’t always have the time or energy to yammer about it here from week to week.