This post is about a simpler side of computing. Eschewing the glitz of graphical user interfaces to better focus on the tasks at hand. Conserving resources by paring back the frills.
Before the netbooks came along I had an Atari Portfolio. A tiny little computer, famous for a brief appearance in one of the Terminator movies. Much of my New Book of Old Hymns was typed on its tiny keyboard and transferred via the serial port. It took 3 AA batteries. The LCD screen was readable in daylight. It had no backlight to sap the batteries. It also held addresses and phone numbers. There were games available. It was great, while it lasted.
The Portfolio was sold via eBay to someone in south east asia. Then came the Eeepc. It was a great idea, but the first one bought for me I ended up taking back to the shop. The special version of Linux was difficult to modify. The idea of paying full price for a new PC was too much. It was about a year later I bought a half price pink version on Oztion.
Now as the left touchpad button is flaking out another tiny computer is on the horizon. Here is a little of what I learned along the way.
Debian GNU/Linux has a long history as far as linux distributions go. Some of the programs go back to when RAM was measured in Mb or even further back. Some of these are still maintained and used today. When trying to fit a modern linux installation on a 4Gb solid state hard drive these can be a godsend.
Forget those shiny skins and tiny buttons on xine and mplayer. C* music player can organise playlists as well as help you find your way around recordings. It uses vi-type keyboard commands – a little off-putting for the uninitiated. There is a fair bit of learning to do before the program is comfortable to use – maybe if I had more mp3s on this little computer I would learn quicker. In this screenshot you might spot some files from the wonderful Audio Sancto.org.
The famous email reader. It has been a reliable program over the years. There are lots of wonderful things you can get it to do. The Little Brother’s Database can be set up to keep track of email addresses for you through mutt.
The screenshot shows some saved emails from the Gregorio mailing list – handy for typesetting for gregorian chant.
Midnight Commander – File browser. Actually, I don’t use this that much. Good old ls, cd, mv, cp are so much quicker. But on a big computer the file browser is very handy to have, so makes sense to have one on the console too. The screenshot shows my home directory on the left and the Desktop directory on the right. Always needs tidying up.
Of course, the thing I got the Eeepc for was editing text files. So here is the text editor I have gravitated towards over the years. A happy balance between functionality, usability and hard drive footprint. This screenshot shows a prayer for a marriage gleaned from Homeschool Freebie of the Day
A console web browser lets you see the text of webpages. For web designers it is handy to have a text based web browser to check if your page is still readable without the pictures. This screenshot shows the front page of Google.com.
It was relatively recently I looked into rss feed agregators. Watching my mother go through the blogs she keeps up with got me thinking this was what I was missing. And yet, I still don’t find the time to read even the headlines!
Google reader really palls on a 7″ screen. Like mc, I don’t use canto much. But it is there. The screenshot shows a listing from my sister’s blog alexeclark.blogspot.com.
Other handy command line programs include
- twidge – for using Twitter without getting distracted by the pretty colours.
- bsdgames – which include console screensavers
- cacaxine – the console version of the movie player xine – in ascii!
- clive – a program for downloading youtube videos
These screenshots were taken using a terminal emulator in an x windows environment. I am also typing this entry in a graphical web browser called Midori. The graphical user interface is still very handy, especially for previewing pdf files made by LaTeX.