[productivity] the bliss of a reduced computing footprint

I’ve been doing IT for a long time. I’ve tried running with multiple systems. I’ve used multiple monitors. I’ve struggled against disk space limitations and longed for a faster processor, a 2nd processors and more powerful graphics cards. I’ve changed my thinking entirely.

First, I’ve realized that most of my work happens on servers and those servers will always be more powerful than my personal computing device. In the end my personal device is primarily an input/output tool and I need a monitor and a keyboard.

Second, too many devices just add more overhead and don’t provide any real value. A second monitor really just vies for my attention and there have been enough studies to suggest that multi-tasking is a myth. So, since I can only focus on one thing at a time I decided that I don’t need two things to look at.

With that said, I’ve reduced my computing environment to about 3lbs:

  • 10.1 in netbook
  • smartphone
  • ereader

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Although I had considered going with something even more compact like atablet instead of the netbook, I decided I wanted to have a disk drive so that I could carry all my music with me and also give me a place to dump pictures while away from home. Also, there don’t seem to be many great choices for running an OS on a tablet that gives me the tools I need: a great terminal and all the linux text tools I need on a daily basis.

So, how do I use those tools …

Well, the phone serves primarily as a phone and a pager. I have an unlimited data plan and since both my employers email and my personal domains live on Google Apps, I get easy access to all my email. I don’t often send email from the phone though. What I do enjoy is the ability to glance at my email box and being able to delete messages. That way when I get to my netbook, I’m often only left with interesting or actionable email.

I also have some other items on my phone, like a password manager that works with the same password file as my netbook, a SSH terminal for emergencies and some other apps that make life convenient.

Lastly, I can tether when I really have to allowing me to take care of things that the phone is just not good enough for.

Why the eReader? Simple. I like being able to go outside and read long articles or emails. The way I deal with that sort of thing is by using Instapaper to batch up longer reads. Then I download them as an ePub to the eReader and wander outside. There is a big difference in eyestrain for me, and it’s great to just lounge in the hammock while reading with a couple of ounces to hang on to.

Living on a netbook does require some compromise. Fortunately many of those are easy for me. For example, I don’t really use applications. I know some people enjoy Office type apps, but I’m fine with Google Docs. Others like to use IDEs like Eclipse for their development. They’ve always seemed cumbersome to me and I’m quite happy with VIM and don’t have an issue using the command line for my version control.

In general there are very few apps running on my netbook: a web browser, a terminal, a media player. Along with that there are few utilities I use, like a clipboard manager, a password manager and a text expander.

Overall, none of it really requires much horsepower unless I get tab-happy in the browser.

The few times I need to run something heavy, like a video editor I found it ok to suffer the lesser performance of the netbook. So, I just let the video render while I’m at lunch. I don’t do that often and a little planning goes a long way.

I also run pretty much everything in fullscreen. The reduced real-estate on the desktop makes that a necessity, but then again: Why should I dedicate a lot of screen to being able to glimpse the background?

One of my favorite parts of this compact setup is that when I travel I can fit everything into a carry-on. One suitcase. netbook slipped in between some shirts and the eReader a little easier to get to.

I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but it works for me. I feel it has given me greater ability to focus on a task and a better appreciation for resource consumption.

\@matthias

2 Replies to “[productivity] the bliss of a reduced computing footprint”

  1. Very well written!
    I will immediately snatch your rss as I can’t to find your
    email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Kindly allow me recognize so that I may subscribe.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this. I don’t have an email newsletter for my personal site, sorry. Hope the RRS feed is sufficient.

      \\@matthias

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