Not a new idea, not a bad idea

Pop quiz! What’s wrong with this picture?

Answer: There’s nothing wrong with it. Except that there isn’t anything running but htop and a few instances of ssh, plus the screenshot program and Debian’s underlying structure.

So what’s the point? The point is, on another tty I am typing this post. In other words, one of those tty sessions is running my regular system remotely, and this machine is just the intermediary.

That’s right: It’s a dumb terminal now. Welcome to 1978. πŸ™„

Innovative? No. Awe-inspiring? No. New and improved? No and no.

So what’s the point? Well, having that beat-up Toshiba Dynabook in the house has given me the chance to try a little something I mentioned a very long time ago, but haven’t really done.

There’s nothing that I do on a day-to-day basis that a much faster, much more powerful computer couldn’t do as a side gig while it handles something else.

All that’s needed to mesh the two is a simple network connection and an instance of ssh. So when the Toshiba arrived and proved unaccommodating in all the important areas (like keyboard and screen πŸ™„ ) I decided to give this a try.

Basically, I just mimicked the Debian installation on the Toshiba, then rsync’d the entire home directory from the Pentium to the Celeron.

I set up dropbear and got a wireless connection working, and now I’m done.

So what good is it? Let me start with the bad things, if you don’t mind.

First, I lose any practical access to the framebuffer on the Pentium, just because the system isn’t meant to work that way. So things like fim or fbv or fbi are not going to happen.

That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. I don’t miss it personally, but if you rely on something like the graphical version of links, that might be important.

Second, like the highly touted yet ever farcical cloud computing trend, you do need a functional network to do this. And that means your files aren’t local, unless you take the time to back them up over the network at some point.

In-house, that doesn’t bother me, but otherwise I wouldn’t really dig it.

And yes, I suppose this does increase the power consumption. So all you wannabe greenies out there who scold me on a regular basis via e-mail for not dumping my collection in a landfill can harass me about how I’m actually drawing 100W now, as opposed to 40W regularly. Shame on me.

On the plus side however, there are quite a few points of interest.

First, this places all the workload on the machine with the actual power in it. All the Pentium does is relay what is happening on the other side of the room.

And so I’m effectively taking advantage of their strong points. The 700Mhz Celeron can handle the grunting and grinding of actually saving and loading and writing and accessing.

And the Pentium, which has a lovely keyboard and proper framebuffer support, can show the action in glorious 800×600, with no impediment. Even if it lacks the processor wherewithal, comparatively.

In fact, as you can see in that picture, system demands are at an all-time low. Even Debian, which has a much higher memory profile than ConnochaetOS or my custom Crux systems, needs only 10Mb to keep itself happy.

And that means, to me, that there is the potential here to drop even lower on the scale of usability. Get out your 486: If you can connect it to your network and get a decent screen going, you can probably use it as a dumb terminal for your bigger one.

And I get the luxury of hardware the Pentium just doesn’t have, or can’t do because of this that or the other. I can run moc on the Celeron and control it from the Pentium, much like I did with mplayer here.

And I have USB ports that I can directly access, as well as a CDROM now. True, it’s not quite the same as actually having them on-board, on this machine, but the idea is there.

And although it’s a rarity, I could call this a sort of security measure, as a safer place to store data. Well, that’s what the cloud computer proponents say, anyway.

I don’t think I’ll keep this arrangement for long, but I will keep my eye open for very old, very low-end machines now, that I might use in this same capacity, just for fun.

And if I can get my hands on one of those ancient Librettos, I’ll be a true Internet hero. πŸ˜€

5 thoughts on “Not a new idea, not a bad idea

  1. Pingback: Bring out the rack! « Motho ke motho ka botho

  2. benj1

    “That’s right: It’s a dumb terminal now. Welcome to 1978”

    surely it’s a ‘net top’??

    Nice to see you’re ahead of google,microsoft,etc in technology fads.

    Or maybe its just proof that cloud computing is just hype and we’ve seen it all before.

    Perhaps you should do some 3d benchmarks see how fast they run.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      If I could find something in that general category, I would like to see that happen too. Some of the early, early Librettos would be perfect for that. πŸ™‚

  3. eric

    The modern day equivalent of a dumb terminal: an Android phone as your terminal. I use mine to connect to the big machine elsewhere in the house using SSH, running screen and emacs within screen…


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