Considering a Plug Computer

My demands are simple: I want to be able to wirelessly accesss my files from both my PC and my laptop, at the same time. The hard drive containing the files need only be accessible from my home (not from the Internet), and a short range wireless would be best. I’ve kept an eye open for development in plug computer technology, and I wonder if it’s almost there for my use.

Plug Computing

When searching for information on plug computers, “Marvell” comes up repeatedly. Even typing “plug compu” into Google gives “plug computers marvell” in the suggestion dropdown. They must have been the first ones with the technology to really market it. Excluding Marvell from the search results brings up almost no results, leaving me with only Marvell and two sites (one being Marvell’s product) linked to in a recent Slashdot article on the topic.

The idea is simple. You plug a device into any power outlet. You connect the device to a router. And that’s it. You access it via the router, like a shared drive.

I never could get anything like that working between my laptop and my PC via wireless router, though. It seems I have my firewalls so strong that no matter what I do, the two cannot communicate with one another to transfer files. Or, when I do manage to have one FTP’d to the other, file transfers are super-slow, then timeout. No sure why that is.

According to PlugComputer.org, Marvell’s SheevaPlug’s “main connectivity is gigabit Ethernet to the network, and USB for peripherals.” Another product, the Pogoplug,is set up by connecting “your Pogoplug to your router with the supplied network cable”.

What do the two have in common? They connect to a router by network cable. My question is this: Can I buy a USB wireless peripheral to plug into it, and have it connect that way? I don’t see why not.

The SheevaPlug comes with Ubuntu Linux installed. I’d probably replace that with OpenBSD (if OpenBSD supports ARM architecture; I know FreeBSD would work). Why? I’m still interested in playing around with BSD a little, but it didn’t work out for me on my PC. Having a plug computer which wouldn’t really need software updates (so long as it’s not accessible via the Internet) would give a stable environment to play in. Of course, if it’s connected to the wireless router, that presents security issues right there, but it’s probably less than my PC and laptop each face when I’m online.

Shared Files

So, just what am I looking to have accessible by both my laptop and my PC?

The first would be my fiction writing. I keep copies on my PC, on my laptop, and on my external hard drive which I swap between the two. I use Bazaar to sync files between the PC and the external hard drive, and the laptop and the external hard drive. Having to unmount the external hard drive, unplug the USB cable from the PC, plug the USB cable into the laptop, then mount the external hard drive, only to find I had commited by PC version changes but forgot to push them to the external hard drive… It’s a lot of what should be unnecessary work.

Next is my photographs. Sometimes I might want to edit some photos without having to sit at my computer.

I already have my writing and photograph files shared. My music, however, I have on my PC’s internal hard drive. I’d probably move that to the external hard drive if I could easily play it off of a shared server. This would give the advantage of being able to easily copy any music to my laptop before heading out somewhere with it. I could do that with my external hard drive right now except for all the time that goes into swapping the external hard drive between my PC and laptop. Add to that the disability of not being able to play music on my PC when the hard drive isn’t plugged in (laziness wins out), and it just would be so much easlier to have music on the server. Maybe I’ll want to listen to music while downstairs with my laptop one day.

Concerns

Of course, the main concern is, “How easy is it for someone to get in to my files,” or rather, “…get in and delete my files”. If it’s on the wireless router, and accessible via the Internet, that’s an issue right there. I can set it to reject anything that doesn’t make my PC or laptop in some way, I’m sure. I don’t know if a computer can see the the MAC address of the computer it’s communicating with via router, though. With a good password and doing all connections over secure shell, I’d hope everything would be safe enough.

Another concern of course is: What happens when the power goes out? Then when it comes back on?

Decisions, Decisions

I’ll have to look for SheevaPlug and Pogoplug reviews, and especially comparisons. They sell for about US$100 each, and I believe I’ve read that both hope to be down to $50 by 2010 or so. If I can get what I’d like from one of these, I’d probably by one by the end of 2009.

The Pogoplug lists “Operating Systems: MS Windows XP, Vista (32-bit), Mac OSX 10.5 and above (Intel based)”; I’m going to guess that this is a list of operating systems which can be installed on the Pogoplug (due to the “Intel based” bit given for Max OSX). What about Linux? Is there any Linux support? And how can they list “Web browsers: Safari, FireFox 3, IE 7, Chrome” with no mention of Opera?

On the other hand, the Pogoplug site also says, “Drives formatted with NTFS, FAT32, HFS+ (non-journaled) and EXT-2/EXT-3 are fully supported by Pogoplug.” I wonder how this works. I wonder why HFS+ journalling is not supported. I also wonder what the EXT-4 support is (if any). And I wonder where it gets support for these. What part of the Pogoplug supports these filesystems on an external hard drive plugged into it?

Time to start looking up those reviews. That, and read up on wireless USB NASes.

2 thoughts on “Considering a Plug Computer

  1. Rajesh

    Hey,

    Did you try to install OpenBSD on the plug?
    I am planning on doing it, just want to know if there is enough hardware support to do everything that we can do in Linux.

    Rajesh

    Reply
  2. Christopher Fritz Post author

    I have not tried installing any BSD system onto the GuruPlug I purchased. The GuruPlug overheats when I use it, so I haven’t tried playing with it much since I bought one last year.

    Reply

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