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Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor, Senior IT Architect and Event Content Manager for [IBM Systems for IBM Systems Technical University] events. With over 30 years with IBM Systems, Tony is frequent traveler, speaking to clients at events throughout the world.
Lloyd Dean is an IBM Senior Certified Executive IT Architect in Infrastructure Architecture. Lloyd has held numerous senior technical roles at IBM during his 19 plus years at IBM. Lloyd most recently has been leading efforts across the Communication/CSI Market as a senior Storage Solution Architect/CTS covering the Kansas City territory. In prior years Lloyd supported the industry accounts as a Storage Solution architect and prior to that as a Storage Software Solutions specialist during his time in the ATS organization.
Lloyd currently supports North America storage sales teams in his Storage Software Solution Architecture SME role in the Washington Systems Center team. His current focus is with IBM Cloud Private and he will be delivering and supporting sessions at Think2019, and Storage Technical University on the Value of IBM storage in this high value IBM solution a part of the IBM Cloud strategy. Lloyd maintains a Subject Matter Expert status across the IBM Spectrum Storage Software solutions. You can follow Lloyd on Twitter @ldean0558 and LinkedIn Lloyd Dean.
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I've gotten suggestions to upgrade the memory and disk storage, and how to fine-tune the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Others suggested replacing the OS with Linux, and to use the Cloud to avoid some of the storage space limitations.
But first, I have to mention the latest in our series of "Enterprise Systems" videos. The first was being [Data Ready]. The second was being [Security Ready]. The now the third in the series: the 3-minute
[Cloud Ready] video.
So I decided to try different Cloud-oriented Operating Systems, to see if any would be a good fit. Here is what I found:
(FTC Disclosure: I work for IBM and own IBM stock. This blog post is not meant to endorse one OS over another. I have financial interests in, and/or have friends and family who work at some of the various companies mentioned in this post. Some of these companies also have business relationships with IBM.)
Jolicloud and Joli OS 1.2
I gave this OS a try. This is based on Linux, but with an interesting approach. First, you have to be on-line all the time, and this OS is designed for 15-25 year-olds who are on social media websites like Facebook. By having a Jolicloud account, you can access this from any browser on any system, or run the Joli OS operating system, or buy the already pre-installed Jolibook netbook computer.
The Joli OS 1.2 LiveCD ran fine on my T410 with 4GB or RAM, giving me a chance to check it out, but sadly did not run on grandma's Thinkpad R31 with 384MB of RAM. According to the [Jolicloud specifications], Joli OS should run in as little as 384MB of RAM and 2GB of disk storage space, but it didn't for me.
Google Chrome and Chromium OS Vanilla
Like the Jolibook, Google has come out with a $249 Chromebook laptop that runs their "Chrome OS". This is only available via OEM install on desginated hardware, but the open source version is available called Chromium OS. These are also based on Linux.
Rather than compiling from source, Hexxeh has made nightly builds available. You can download [Chromium OS Vanilla] zip file, unzip the image file, and copy it to a 4GB USB memory stick. The compressed image is about 300MB, but uncompressed about 2.5GB, so too big to fit on a CD. The image on the USB stick is actually two partitions, and cannot be run from DVD either.
If you don't have a 4GB USB stick handy, and want to see what all the fuss is about, just install the Google Chrome browser on your Windows or Linux system, and then maximize the browser window. That's it. That is basically what Chromium OS is all about.
Files can be stored locally, or out on your Google Drive. Documents can be edited using "Google Docs" in the Cloud. You can run in "off-line" mode, for example, read your Gmail notes when not connected to the Internet. Music and video files can be played using the "Files" app.
If you really need to get out of the browser, you can hit the right combination of keys to get to the "crosh" command line shell.
Like Joli OS, I was able to run this from my Thinkpad T410 with 4GB of RAM, but not on grandma's Thinkpad R31. It appears that Chromium requires at least 1GB of RAM to run properly.
Android for x86
While researching the Chromium OS, I found that there is an open source community porting [Android to the x86] platform. Android is based on Linux, and would allow your laptop or netbook to run very much like a smartphone or tablet. Most of the apps available to Android should work here as well.
Unfortunately, the project has focused only on selected hardware:
ASUS Eee PCs/Laptops
Viewsonic Viewpad 10
Dell Inspiron Mini Duo
Lenovo ThinkPad x61 Tablet
I tried running the Thinkpad x61 version on both my Thinkpad T410 and grandma's Thinkpad R31, but with no success.
Peppermint OS Three
Next up was Peppermint OS, which claims to be a blend of Linux Mint, Lubuntu, and Xfce, but with a "twist" of aspiring to be a Cloud-oriented OS.
Rather than traditional apps to write documents or maintain a calendar, this OS offers a "Single-Site Browser" (SSB) experience, where you can configure "apps" by pointing to their respective URL. For documents, launch GWoffice, the client for Google Docs. For calendar, launch Google Calendar.
Most Linux distros have both a number and a project name associated with them. For example, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS is known as "Lucid Lynx". The Peppermint OS team avoided this by just calling their latest version "Three" which serves as both its number and its name.
The browser is Chromium, similar to Google Chrome OS above, and uses the "DuckDuckGo" search engine. This is how the Peppermint OS folks make their money to defray the costs of this effort.
Peppermint OS claims to run in systems as little as 192MB or RAM, and only 4GB of disk space. The LiveCD ran well on both my Thinkpad T410, as well as grandma's Thinkpad R31. More importantly, when I installed on the hard drive, it ran well.
The music app "Guayadeque" that came pre-installed was awful. It couldn't play MP3 music out-of-the-box. I had to install the Codec plugins from various "ubuntu-restricted-extras" libraries. I also installed the music app "Rhythmbox", and that worked great. Time from power-on to first-note was less than 2 minutes! However, the problems with the Guayadeque gave me the impression this OS might not be ready for primetime.
I contacted grandma to ask if she has Wi-Fi in her home, and sure enough, she doesn't. Her PC upstairs is direct attached to the cable modem. So, while the Cloud suggestion was worthy of investigation, I will continue to pursue other options that do not require being connected. I certainly do not want to spend any time and effort getting Wi-Fi installed there.
This week, I am in beautiful Sao Paulo, Brazil, teaching Top Gun class to IBM Business Partners and sales reps. Traditionally, we have "Tape Thursday" where we focus on our tape systems, from tape drives, to physical and virtual tape libraries. IBM is the number #1 tape vendor, and has been for the past eight years.
(The alliteration doesn't translate well here in Brazil. The Portuguese word for tape is "fita", and Thursday here is "quinta-feira", but "fita-quinta-feira" just doesn't have the same ring to it.)
In the class, we discussed how to handle common misperceptions and myths about tape. Here are a few examples:
Myth 1: Tape processing is manually intensive
In my July 2007 blog post [Times a Million], I coined the phrase "Laptop Mentality" to describe the problem most people have dealing with data center decisions. Many folks extend linearly their experiences using their PCs, workstations or laptops to apply to the data center, unable to comprehend large numbers or solutions that take advantage of the economies of scale.
For many, the only experience dealing with tape was manual. In the 1980s, we made "mix tapes" on little cassettes, and in the 1990s we recorded our favorite television shows on VHS tapes in the VCR. Today, we have playlists on flash or disk-based music players, and record TV shows on disk-based video recorders like Tivo. The conclusion is that tapes are manual, and disk are not.
Manual processing of tapes ended in 1987, with the introduction of a silo-like tape library from StorageTek. IBM quickly responded with its own IBM 3495 Tape Library Data Server in 1992. Today, clients have many tape automation choices, from the smallest IBM TS2900 Tape Autoloader that has one drive and nine cartridges, all the way to the largest IBM TS3500 multiple-library shuttle complex that can hold exabytes of data. These tape automation systems eliminate most of the manual handling of cartridges in day-to-day operations.
Myth 2: Tape media is less reliable than disk media
For any storage media to be unreliable is to return the wrong information that is different than what was originally stored. There are only two ways for this to happen: if you write a "zero" but read back a "one", or write a "one" and read a "zero". This is called a bit error. Every storage media has a "bit error rate" that is the average likelihood for some large amount of data written.
According to the latest [LTO Bit Error rates, 2012 March], today's tape expects only 1 bit error per 10E17 bits written (about 100 Petabytes). This is 10 times more reliable than Enterprise SAS disk (1 bit per 10E16), and 100 times more reliable than Enterprise-class SATA disk (1 bit per 10E15).
Tape is the media used in "black boxes" for airplanes. When an airplane crashes, the black box is retrieved and used to investigate the causes of the crash. In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off. The tapes in the black box sat on the ocean floor for six weeks before being recovered. Amazingly, IBM was able to successfully restore [90 percent of the block data, and 100 percent of voice data].
Analysts are quite upset when they are quoted out of context, but in this case, Gartner never said anything closely similar to this. Nor did the other analysts that Curtis investigated for similar claims. What Garnter did say was that disk provides an attractive alternative storage media for backup which can increase the performance of the recovery process.
Back in the 1990s, Savur Rao and I developed a patent to help backup DB2 for z/OS by using the FlashCopy feature of IBM's high-end disk system. The software method to coordinate the FlashCopy snapshots with the database application and maintain multiple versions was implemented in the DFSMShsm component of DFSMS. A few years later, this was part of a set of patents IBM cross-licensed to Microsoft for them to implement a similar software for Windows called Data Protection Manager (DPM). IBM has since introduced its own version for distributed systems called IBM Tivoli FlashCopy Manager that runs not just on Windows, but also AIX, Linux, HP-UX and Solaris operating systems.
Curtis suspects the "71 percent" citation may have been propogated by an ambitious product manager of Microsoft's Data Protection Manager, back in 2006, perhaps to help drive up business to their new disk-based backup product. Certainly, Microsoft was not the only vendor to disparage tape in this manner.
A few years ago, an [EMC failure brought down the State of Virginia] due to not just a component failure it its production disk system, but then made it worse by failing to recover from the disk-based remote mirror copy. Fortunately, the data was able to be restored from tape over the next four days. If you wonder why nobody at EMC says "Tape is Dead" anymore, perhaps it is because tape saved their butts that week.
(FTC Disclosure: I work for IBM and this post can be considered a paid, celebrity endorsement for all of the IBM tape and software products mentioned on this post. I own shares of stock in both IBM and Google, and use Google's Gmail for my personal email, as well as many other Google services. While IBM, Google and Microsoft can be considered competitors to each other in some areas, IBM has working relationships with both companies on various projects. References in this post to other companies like EMC are merely to provide illustrative examples only, based on publicly available information. IBM is part of the Linear Tape Open (LTO) consortium.)
Myth 4: Vendors and Manufacturers are no longer investing in tape technology
IBM and others are still investing Research and Development (R&D) dollars to improve tape technology. What people don't realize is that much of the R&D spent on magnetic media can be applied across both disk and tape, such as IBM's development of the Giant Magnetoresistance read/write head, or [GMR] for short.
Most recently, IBM made another major advancement with tape with the introduction of the Linear Tape File Systems (LTFS). This allows greater portability to share data between users, and between companies, but treating tape cartridges much like USB memory sticks or pen drives. You can read more in my post [IBM and Fox win an Emmy for LTFS technology]!
Next month, IBM celebrates the 60th anniversary for tape. It is good to see that tape continues to be a vibrant part of the IT industry, and to IBM's storage business!
In preparation for my [upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand], I decided to upgrade my smartphone. My service provider T-Mobile offered me the chance to try out any new phone for 14 days for only ten dollar re-stocking fee. For the past 16 months, I have used the Google G1 phone. This is based on a storage-optimized Android operating system, based on open source Linux, with applications processed in a storage-optimized virtual machine called Dalvik, based on open source Java. According to Wikipedia, Android-based phones have #1 market share [outselling both BlackBerry OS and Apple iOS phones]. There are over 70 different companies using Android, driven away from the proprietary interfaces from Apple, BlackBerry and Microsoft.
Since I was already familiar with the Android operating system, I chose the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant. I liked my G1, but it had only a small amount of internal memory to store applications. The G1 supported an external Micro SDHC card, but this only was used for music and photos. There was no way to install applications on the memory card, so I found myself having to uninstall applications to make room for new ones. By contrast, the Vibrant has 16GB internal memory, plenty of room for all applications, and supports Micro SDHC up to 32GB in size. My model can pre-installed with a 2GB card, of which 1.4GB is consumed by James Cameron's full-length movie Avatar. On the G1, swapping out memory cards was relatively easy. On the Vibrant, you have to take the phone apart to swap out cards, so I won't be doing that very often. I will probably just get a 32GB card and leave it in there permanently.
(FTC disclosure: I work for IBM. IBM has working relationships with Oracle, Google, and lots of other companies. IBM offers its own commercial version of Java related tools. I own stock in IBM, Apple, Google. I have friends and family who work at Microsoft. My review below is based entirely on my own experience of my new Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant phone. Samsung has created different models for different service providers. The T-Mobile Vibrant is an external USB storage device with telephony capabilities, comparable to the AT&T Captivate, Verizon Fascinate, or Sprint Epic 4G. The majority of mobile phones in the world contain IBM technology. This post is not necessarily an endorsement for Samsung over other smartphone manufacturers, nor T-Mobile over other service providers. I provide this information in context of storage optimization, state-of-the-art for smartphones in general, and disputes related to software patents between companies. I hold 19 patents, most of which are software patents.)
When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, it inherited stewardship of Java. Java is offered in two flavors. Java Standard Edition (SE) for machines that are planted firmly on or below your desk, and Java Micro Edition (ME) for machines that are carried around. Most Java-based phones limit themselves to Java ME, but Google decided to base its smartphones on the more powerful Java SE, but then optimize for the limited storage and computing resources. These two levels of Java have radically different licensing terms and conditions, so Larry Ellison of Oracle cried foul. On The Register, Gavin Clarke has an excellent article with details of the Oracle-vs-Google complaint. Daniel Dilger opines that Oracle [might kill Google’s Android and software patents all at once]. Fellow blogger Mark Twomey (EMC) on his StorageZilla blog, argues that [it's not about Android phones, but Android everything].
My Vibrant is roughly the size of a half-inch stack of 3x5 index cards in my hand. In my humble opinion, the problem is the grey area between mobile phone and the desktop personal computer. Laptops, netbooks, iPads, tablet computers, eBook readers, and smartphones fall somewhere in between. At what point do you stop licensing Java SE and start licensing Java ME instead?
Let's take a look at all the stuff my new Samsung Vibrant can do, and let you decide for yourself. I have 140 applications installed, which I can access alphabetically. I also have up to seven screens which I can fill with application icons and widgets to simplify access. The screen measures about 4 inches diagonally. Click on each image below to see the full 480x800 resolution.
Each screen has five rows. On my first screen, I have the first two rows related to photography. This includes a camera, camcorder, bar-code scanner and visual search engine (Google Goggles). I am not happy with Flickr Droid app in uploading photos, so I might need to find another app for that. Other reviews I read complain that the Vibrant's camera does not have am LED flash for night time shots, and that there is no forward facing camera to do Skype or FaceTime-style videoconferencing. I think it is fine the way it is. An interesting feature of the camera app is that it uses the volume up/down buttons to zoom in and out.
The next two rows related to books and documents. In addition to both Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook eBook readers, I have Dropbox to make it easy to transfer files between all my machines, a camera-scanner that generates PDFs, and ThinkFree, which appears to be based on OpenOffice open source software to create, view and edit WORD documents, EXCEL spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
My second screen is for music and video entertainment.
The top row is consumed by a single widget for [Pandora], an internet radio station, not to be confused with the Pandora moon that the movie Avatar is based on. I-heart-radio, Slacker, and Last.fm are other internet radio stations. Be careful when roaming in another country, as the $15-per-MB transfer fees can really add up. While the Galaxy S has a built-in FM radio, T-Mobile has decided to disable this feature in its Vibrant model, in favor of internet-based radio stations.
I am glad the Samsung Vibrant uses the same 3.5mm combo audio jack that I mentioned in my blog post about my
[New ThinkPad T410]. This allows me to use the same headset for both my laptop and my cell phone.
For those who use Microsoft Windows Media Player v10 or above, this phone lets you transfer over your songs, playlists and videos via the USB cable in PMC mode. The TED application shows 18-minute videos of lectures at conferences that focus on Technology, Entertainment and Design. MobiTV offers live streaming of popular Television shows, normally ten dollars monthly, but I got a free 30-day trial in the deal.
Screen 3 is focused on travel. I have a 30-day free trial of GoGo, the new Wi-Fi networks on various airlines. Hopefully, I will get to try this out on my upcoming flights. When GoGo is not available, the Extended Controls widget allows me to turn the phone into "Airplane mode", which would allow me to read eBooks and listen to pre-recorded music and videos stored on my phone. Most of the apps on Android are free, but Extended Controls, shown here in the top row, cost me money but well worth it. With this you can customize different size widgets with all the appropriate setting toggles you want. On this one, I can toggle Wi-Fi, Data transfer, GPS positioning, and Airplane mode.
Google Maps, Google Places and Google Sky Map are all well represented here. I also like TripIt, which is a free Software-as-a-Service for managing your trip itenerary, and syncs up with their online website. Currency and Language translation can help on international travel. The standard Alarm Clock also includes Time Zone conversion as well.
My screen 4 is my central home page. There are four buttons on the bottom of the phone: Menu, Home, Back, and Search. Hit the "Home" button on any screen, and it jumps immediately to Screen 4. From here, I can get to any of the other screens with just swiping my finger across the surface. Therefore, I chose to keep this screen simple.
For meetings, I have a big clock, and an Extended Controls widget to set my phone on silent/vibrate mode, and show my battery status. I put icons here for apps that I might need in a hurry, like Camera, Evernote, or Shazam. For those not familiar with Shazam, it will listen to the microphone for whatever song is playing in the background where you are, and it will identify the song's title and artist.
The "Starred" folder lists those five or so contacts that I have marked with a "star" to be on this short list. From here, I can call or send them an SMS text message.
Screen 5 is for office productivity. I have a 2x2 widget from Astrid to list my to-do items. I have a 1x2 widget showing my last call. My calendar syncs up with my Google calendar online.
The Locale widget allows me to change which on-screen keyboard to use. There is the standard Android keyboard which allows voice-to-text input, the Samsung keyboard that offers [XT9 mode], and the new ["Swype"] keyboard that allows you to write words quickly with squiggles swiped across the keyboard. The Swype is incredible accurate when I am typing in English. When I am communicating in Spanish, it gets in the way, spell-checking when it shouldn't.
Screen 6 is for my social media, news and search facilities. I have HootSuite Lite for managing my Twitter and Facebook posts. For news junkies, NPR, USA Today and CNN all offer mobile versions.
I have a selection of browsers, including Opera Mini 5, and Dolphin Browser HD. The latter offers a variety of special add-ons similar to Firefox on a desktop system. I also have specialty search sites, including the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Fandango for local movie times, and Dex for local phone listings.
Screen 7 is for system administration. The top row is another "Extended Controls" widget, this time to change between 2G and 3G networks, brightness setting, set the the time-out interval for when the screen should automatically shut off, and a "stay awake" to turn off the screen saver altogether.
I can do some really powerful things here. For example, I have an application to let me use secure shell (ssh) to access our systems at work. I also can "tether" my laptop to my Vibrant, for those few times when Wi-Fi is not available, to let my laptop use the phone's signal as a dial-up modem. It is slower than Wi-Fi, but might be just what I need in a pinch.
The bottom row is the same across all seven screens, which you can customize. I left the bottom row in its original default, with options to make phone calls, look up contacts, and send text messages. The bottom right corner launches a list of all applications alphabetically, to access those not on my seven main screens.
Just in case I switch to a local SIM card while abroad in another country, I asked T-mobile to unlock my phone, which they happily did at no additional charge. For example, while I am in Australia, I can either leave my T-Mobile USA chip in the phone, and pay roaming charges per minute, or I can purchase a SIM chip from a local phone company with pre-paid minutes. This often includes unlimited free incoming calls to a local Australian phone number, and voicemail.
Unlocking the phone to use different SIM cards is different than "jailbreaking", a term that refers to Apple's products. For Android phones, jailbreaking is called "rooting", as the process involves getting "root" user access that you normally don't have. The only reason I have found to have my phone "rooted" was to take these lovely screen shots, using the "Screen Shot It" application. This is another application that I paid for. I used the free trial for a few screenshots first to check it out, liked the results, and bought the application.
So, this new smartphone looks like a keeper. I got a screen protector to avoid scratching, and a two-piece case that snaps around the phone to give it more heft. All my chargers are "Mini USB" for my old G1 phone, and this new Vibrant phone is "Micro USB" instead, so I had to order new ones for my car, my office, and for my iGo (tip A97).
This review is more to focus on the fact that the IT industry is changing, and what was traditionally performed on personal computers are now being done on new handheld devices. Android provides a platform for innovation and healthy competition. Let's all hope Oracle and Google can work out their differences amicably.
Continuing my coverage of the 30th annual [Data Center Conference]. here is a recap of Wednesday morning sessions.
A Data Center Perspective on MegaVendors
The morning started with a keynote session. The analyst felt that the eight most strategic or disruptive companies in the past few decades were: IBM, HP, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, Apple and Google. Of these, he focused on the first three, which he termed the "Megavendors", presented in alphabetical order.
Cisco enjoys high-margins and a loyal customer base with Ethernet switch gear. Their new strategy to sell UP and ACROSS the stack moves them into lower-margin business like servers. Their strong agenda with NetApp is not in sync with their partnership with EMC. They recently had senior management turn-over.
HP enjoys a large customer base and is recognized for good design and manufacturing capabilities. Their challenges are mostly organizational, distracted by changes at the top and an untested and ever-changing vision, shifting gears and messages too often. Concerns over the Itanium have not helped them lately.
IBM defies simple description. One can easily recognize Cisco as an "Ethernet Switch" company, HP as a "Printer Company", Oracle as a "Database Company', but you can't say that IBM is an "XYZ" company, as it has re-invented itself successfully over its past 100 years, with a strong focus on client relationships. IBM enjoys high margins, sustainable cost structure, huge resources, a proficient sales team, and is recognized for its innovation with a strong IBM Research division. Their "Smarter Planet" vision has been effective in supporting their individual brands and unlock new opportuties. IBM's focus on growth markets takes advantage of their global reach.
His final advice was to look for "good enough" solutions that are "built for change" rather than "built to last".
Chris works in the Data Center Management and Optimization Services team. IBM owns and/or manages over 425 data centers, representing over 8 million square feet of floorspace. This includes managing 13 million desktops, and 325,000 x86 and UNIX server images, and 1,235 mainframes. IBM is able to pool resources and segment the complexity for flexible resource balancing.
Chris gave an example of a company that selected a Cloud Compute service provided on the East coast a Cloud Storage provider on the West coast, both for offering low rates, but was disappointed in the latency between the two.
Chris asked "How did 5 percent utilization on x86 servers ever become acceptable?" When IBM is brought in to manage a data center, it takes a "No Server Left Behind" approach to reduce risk and allow for a strong focus on end-user transition. Each server is evaluated for its current utilization:
Amazingly, many servers are unused. These are recycled properly.
1 to 19 percent
Workload is virtualized and moved to a new server.
20 to 39 percent
Use IBM's Active Energy Manager to monitor the server.
40 to 59 percent
Add more VMs to this virtualized server.
over 60 percent
Manage the workload balance on this server.
This approach allows IBM to achieve a 60 to 70 percent utilization average on x86 machines, with an ROI payback period of 6 to 18 months, and 2x-3x increase of servers-managed-per-FTE.
Storage is classified using Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) best practices, using automation with pre-defined data placement and movement policies. This allows only 5 percent of data to be on Tier-1, 15 percent on Tier-2, 15 percent on Tier-3, and 65 percent on Tier-4 storage.
Chris recommends adopting IT Service Management, and to shift away from one-off builds, stand-alone apps, and siloed cost management structures, and over to standardization and shared resources.
You may have heard of "Follow-the-sun" but have you heard of "Follow-the-moon"? Global companies often establish "follow-the-sun" for customer service, re-directing phone calls to be handled by people in countries during their respective daytime hours. In the same manner, server and storage virtualization allows workloads to be moved to data centers during night-time hours, following the moon, to take advantage of "free cooling" using outside air instead of computer room air conditioning (CRAC).
Since 2007, IBM has been able to double computer processing capability without increasing energy consumption or carbon gas emissions.
It's Wednesday, Day 3, and I can tell already that the attendees are suffering from "information overload'.
Well, it's that Back-To-School time again! Mo's thirteen-year-old reluctantly enters the eight grade, still upset the summer ended so abruptly. Richard's nephew returns to the University of Arizona for another year. Natalie has chosen to move to Phoenix and pursue a post-grad degree at Arizona State University. They all have two things in common, they all want a new computer, and they are all on a budget.
Fellow blogger Bob Sutor (IBM) pointed me to an excellent article on [How to Build Your Own $200 PC], which reminded me of the [XS server I built] for my 2008 Google Summer of Code project with the One Laptop per Child organization. Now that the project is over, I have upgraded it to Ubuntu Desktop 10.04 LTS, known as Lucid Lynx. Building your own PC with your student is a great learning experience in itself. Of course, this is just the computer itself, you still need to buy the keyboard, mouse and video monitor separately, if you don't already have these.
If you are not interested in building a PC from scratch, consider taking an old Windows-based PC and installing Linux to bring it new life. Many of the older PCs don't have enough processor or memory to run Windows Vista or the latest Windows 7, but they will all run Linux.
(If you think your old system has resale value, try checking out the ["trade-in estimator"] at the BestBuy website to straighten out your misperception. However, if you do decide to sell your system, consider replacing the disk drive with a fresh empty one, or wipe the old drive clean with one of the many free Linux utilities. Jason Striegel on Engadget has a nice [HOWTO Erase your old hard disk drive] article. If you don't have your original manufacturer's Windows installation discs, installing Linux instead may help keep you out of legal hot water.)
Depending on what your school projects require, you want to make sure that you can use a printer or scanner with your Linux system. Don't buy a printer unless it is supported by Linux. The Linux Foundation maintains a [Printer Compatability database]. Printing was one of the first things I got working for my Linux-based OLPC laptop, which I documented in my December 2007 post [Printing on XO Laptop with CUPS and LPR] and got a surprising following over at [OLPC News].
To reduce paper, many schools are having students email their assignments, or use Cloud Computing services like Google Docs. Both the University of Arizona and Arizona State University use Google Docs, and the students I have talked with love the idea. Whether they use a Mac, Linux or Windows PC, all students can access Google Docs through their browser. An alternative to Google Docs is Windows Live Skydrive, which has the option to upload and edit the latest Office format documents from the Firefox browser on Linux. Both offer you the option to upload GBs of files, which could be helpful transferring data from an old PC to a new one.
Lastly, there are many free video games for Linux, for when you need to take a break from all that studying. Ever since IBM's [36-page Global Innovation Outlook 2.0] study showed that playing video games made you a better business leader, I have been encouraging all students that I tutor or mentor that playing games is a more valuable use of your time than watching television. IBM considers video games the [future of learning]. Even the [Violent Video Games are Good for Kids]. It is no wonder that IBM provides the technology that runs all the major game platforms, including Microsoft Xbox360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation.
(FTC disclosure: I work for IBM. IBM has working relationships with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. I use both Google Docs and Microsoft Live Skydrive for personal use, and base my recommendations purely on my own experience. I own stock in IBM, Google and Apple. I have friends and family that work at Microsoft. I own an Apple Mac Mini and Sony PlayStation. I was a Linux developer earlier in my IBM career. IBM considers Linux a strategic operating system for both personal and professional use. IBM has selected Firefox as its standard browser internally for all employees. I run Linux both at home and at the office. I graduated from the University of Arizona, and have friends who either work or take classes there, as well as at Arizona State University.)
Linux skills are marketable and growing more in demand. Linux is used in everything from cellphones to mainframes, as well as many IBM storage devices such as the IBM SAN Volume Controller, XIV and ProtecTIER data deduplication solution. In addition to writing term papers, spreadsheets and presentations with OpenOffice, your Linux PC can help you learn programming skills, web design, and database administration.
To all the students in my life, I wish you all good things in the upcoming school year!