Must-Haves For The Linux Road Warrior

Wednesday Aug 23rd 2006 by Rob Reilly
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Network-centric services are connecting users to some truly valuable data. For the price of a computer, a network connection, and a browser, you can find information on just about anything, from anywhere on the planet.

Network-centric services are connecting users to some truly valuable data. For the price of a computer, a network connection, and a browser, you can find information on just about anything. Punch a few keywords into a search engine and out spits a wealth of valuable content about Linux, some obscure song, or even current tractor pulling technology.

Increasing numbers of people also do business using laptops while camped out in airport lobbies, hotel rooms, and Panera Bread.

The marriage of network-centric services, powerful notebook computers, and readily accessible broadband (both wired and un-tethered, fee based and free), gives the modern road warrior unprecedented access, formerly possible only over corporate pipes. And it keeps getting better.

Today, we'll delve into a couple of "services" that will take your network connected journeys beyond "oh-so-last-week's" simple browser-based experience.

Faced with the prospect of paying three or four dollars a minute to call home while on business in South Korea, I looked into using Skype on my HP Pavilion Linux laptop. Skype is a voice over IP program that lets you talk to another Skype-equipped user anywhere on the globe for free.

You can also call from a Skype-enabled computer in the US to any domestic land-line phone (in the US or Canada), for free until the end of the year.

I wanted to keep it real simple. I found that I could call from Seoul to my home land-line, using SkypeOut, for around 2 cents a minute.

I simply loaded Skype on my Linux notebook, bought some minutes on the Skype Web site, and started talking. Mac and Windows users will also find versions for those platforms.

A basic set of ear-buds and a small handheld microphone were all I needed to make calls. And, they packed into the laptop bag easily. The sound quality was very good. I started out with a USD 10 credit. Over the course of several days, I rang up about an hour of talking... for the travel budget-busting price of around US$1.60.

You'll probably want to make sure that Internet access is included with your room, if staying in a hotel. More than a few hotels still charge a daily fee for network access. You can also look for free WiFi hotspots. I haven't seen much voice quality degradation, even using skinny old 802.11b WiFi. For that matter, I've even made calls from my HP iPAQ (equipped with Skype) and 802.11b. I'm sure people wonder, when they see me talking to my PDA.

I've had absolutely no problem with making calls through firewalls and access points.

Another thing to keep in mind are the time zones. I made sure to call home early in the morning, in Seoul, so as to catch my wife and kids before they settled in for the evening back in the US.

Prior to my family's recent yearly summer pilgrimage to visit Pappy in Southern Indiana, I discovered the Linux version of Google Earth.

With this client/server application you can look at landmarks, roads, and zoom along you're route, with satellite photo precision.

For my trip to Indiana, I set a push pin (a handy Google Earth feature) at my home location (from) and one at my father-in-law's house (to). The route was then automatically spelled out in a list in the left hand window. Without any input on my part, it mapped out the exact route we traveled last summer. Granted, it's all interstate and four-lane highways. Nonetheless, I was impressed, even when it got down to the street level. Once the route was mapped, I clicked the "play tour" arrow and started flying over my route. The animation gives you the feeling of flying along in a helicopter, at about 2500 feet.

I also used the program it get a birds-eye view of the Nashville Zoo and find out how far off of I-24 I'd have to go. You need to stay on schedule, on road trips... you know. The accuracy of the ruler function seemed to be good down to a couple of feet, although most portable professionals probably won't use that level of resolution. Choose the multi-path tab and you can measure from stoplight to stoplight, if you want.

Google Earth can also find businesses in the US, although the algorithm seems a little flaky. Sometimes I'd get a items in the list that were totally unrelated to what I was looking for. No doubt this will get better over time, as the database is expanded and refined. The Linux version is a beta release, with the production release coming out shortly.

In another case, the application quickly found my hotel (the CoEx Intercontinental), in Seoul, but couldn't find one of the robot companies that I visited, while in town.

Google Earth works anywhere you have a broadband connection. For businessmen that want to know the "lay of the land," it's a great tool to take along.

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.
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