Sunday, August 14, 2011

Top secret productivity recipe

 With all the phones, tablets, netbooks, and other devices running around, the desktop is starting to decline. Many people do some or all of their work on a mobile device.

Everyone has their own system, and its not up to me or anyone else to tell you that it's right or wrong. However, those little phone screens and buttons just don't work for me. I have a laptop and I love it for the freedom and mobility it gives me, but after struggling with that touchpad and fumbling with those tiny Home/End/Delete buttons, I want to come back home to my ultimate productivity place. Here is the recipe:
  • Setup one fairly powerful, desktop computer with a large monitor, full size keyboard and mouse.
  • Install whichever Linux distribution you prefer.
  • Connect to network, update and install Secure Shell server.
  • Add essential supporting software you need to get your work done, Xserver, Python, Firefox and G++ are enough for me. 
  • Next, setup less powerful computers beside it with large monitors and keyboards, no mice. Someday I hope to build a few tiny computers just for that purpose. Right now I just have an old desktop I picked up for free, but sometimes I'll use my old laptop for a second one.
  • Install an extremely minimal Linux on each of these, just enough to connect to the network and use a Secure Shell client.

Now you have it! The extra computers act as terminals to the big computer, allowing you to use it's resources more effectively. I generally edit all my programs on one and test them on the other. It's even better if you use a console music player that supports multiple clients like mpd or moc.

You might wonder, why I don't just use multiple monitors. I could open a full screen terminal in one of them.

I could, but that would not be near as awesome :), and I would have to share one keyboard between the two screens. Besides, the terminals can perform automated tasks, be used as a guinea pig for testing unstable software and anything else I don't want to do on my main computer. 

There you have it, my secret recipe for being productive. I don't recommend it for everyone, especially new users. It's only good for people who know the command line and use it more than the GUI. However, I do insist that the desktop is way more efficient, besides being cheaper, more powerful and easier to fix. Happy birthday IBM PC!


  1. Actually you can (well I do) do something very similar but with a GUi as well using Synergy...

  2. Synergy looks very interesting. It wouldn't quite work for what I want though, (editing a file on one computer and executing it on another).

  3. While many are switching from desktops to laptops for most of their computer use, desktop systems are not dying out as some would have you believe. For one thing, processor speeds have not increased at all in the last few years, so folks are not seeing as much reason to upgrade their desktop computer. I use my desktop computer as a file server/repository, as well as the physical location for my printer, scanner, cable modem etc...Laptops and the hardware for them are more expensive than desktops and hardware.

    Tablets and smartphones are ok for entertainment, but you still need a full sized keyboard for any serious work.

  4. Personally I just use a tiling window manager (Awesome). I can split my stuff across as many desktops as I need, and should I need to view more than one thing at once I just merge them back together temporarily. Works great with widescreens and means I don't have to switch between keyboards or have insane desk space.

  5. Yeah, the reason I only have two computers Is because my desk is full, I have to set the second keyboard on my lap because there's no room for it.

  6. Synergy can do what you want, and more. Your main computer's keyboard and mouse can control the other computers, but the other keyboards and mice remain fully functional. Thus, you can still use the secondary computers's keyboards if you want--but you also have the option to keep your hands on the main keyboard/mouse to control the other computers.

  7. @Isaac

    Only my main computer has graphics and a mouse, and I only use them when I use the web or read a PDF.

    Plus, I can have other secondary computers set up elsewhere in my house or use my laptop.

    Call me old fashioned, but I like to have as few layers of software between me and the kernel as I can :)

  8. You can have your secondary computers set up anywhere and they can be laptops. I used Synergy for this purpose with laptops myself (main computer in the center and two ancient laptops to the sides).

    Like I said, the keyboard/mouse of the secondary computers also remain fully functional. Sure, you need to use X, but I find it's easily worth it for the cut/paste clipboard functionality and the ability to have multiple X term windows on each display. Even an ancient 100Mhz Pentium has plenty of power for IceWM and aterm.

  9. But where is the data stored? Can I edit program files on one computer and instantly run them on another without copying the data over? Yes all of my computer's can run X, though I have a couple 90's laptops that really lag when just using TWM and one Xterm, yet they are just as useful as my other computers when they ssh into my main one.

    Quite honestly, I like my current system and I'm probably not going to change it. Thanks for the advice though.

  10. The data is stored wherever you want. Just like your suggestion, you can ssh into whatever computer you desire. You can even use the lightweight computers as thin client X terminals.

    And I would suggest using IceWM and aterm rather than TWM and xterm. aterm is lighter and faster than xterm, and IceWM is more pleasant to use than TWM.

  11. Ah! A thin-client would be useful. I have been thinking about putting a GUI capable computer in my living room. A thin-client would be perfect. Thanks!

    I have used IceWM, but I like TWM. I don't need a menu or panel, and I never have more than three programs open in it so it doesn't get too crowded. I xterm because one comes up when I run xinit. Usually I don't need another one because I have the CLI computer available.

  12. I really like your post. Your posts are very interesting. You can use the above mentioned tips to increase productivity in your business. Thanks for sharing your secret idea with us. You guys are doing excellent work.