Linux Mobile Tools for Business Users

By Paul Ferrill

February 23, 2009

Linux-based netbooks are an affordable, powerful tool for the savvy mobile business user. These tools help sweeten the pot.

It seems like everywhere you turn these days someone has one of those cute little netbooks under their arm or taking up a tiny corner of the table at Starbucks. Chances are pretty good you'll find a Linux operating system on a least a fair share of those netbooks as well. The real question for every prospective buyer without one currently in their possession has to be "but will it do everything I need it to do?" It all depends on what you want to do.

For the mobile business traveler there exists a fairly fixed set of things falling into the "got to have" category when it comes to a computer. E-mail is, without question, at or near the top of the list for some, but may be less important for BlackBerry or iPhone owners. Web surfing and simple document viewing / editing would be a task better done on a reasonably-sized screen.

Note taking

No business person worth their salary goes to any business engagement without the ability to take notes in some way. It might be on a cell phone, a legal pad or a fancy tablet PC. Finding the right program to help you keep and organize your notes is key to making it work on a Linux laptop. A number of options do exist for you to choose from.

Tomboy is one of the newer entries to the note taking software category and offers a simple "post-it note" approach to jotting down a quick reminder. Once installed Tomboy resides in the system tray area (top right of the screen in Ubuntu) and will come to life either by double clicking on the icon or using a keyboard hotkey. The main menu offers a simple search box and a list of existing notes. WebDav syncing is supported for keeping your notes synced between multiple machines.

One really interesting option from the KDE camp is BasKet Notes. This program comes as close as any Linux offering to Microsoft's OneNote program. There's even a Getting Things Done (GTD) template called a basket archive to help you collect all your digital stuff into one place. The concept here is to get all your similar information into one basket. BasKet uses tags and filters to help you mark and find the information you need. You can grab a screen shot and drop it into a note with a few mouse clicks.

Hardware aids

While not specifically Linux, there is a product any business traveler is sure to find indispensible. It's the Outlets to Go 3 with USB from Monster Cable. Now you won't have to go on an extended airport search to find something other than a single outlet to charge your laptop and cell phone. The powered USB port lets you charge any device with a USB-charging capability. What's more, the power cable is just the right length to fold around the power strip and plug into an outlet on the opposite side for compact storage.

With the advent of EV-DO and other high-speed data services from the cell phone companies it has become even easier to stay always connected. Making one of the devices work with a Linux laptop might take a little work. The key is to check with your current or prospective cell phone provider to find out if they have any direct support for Linux machines. Sprint has a how-to document covering Redhat, openSUSE, Fedora, Knoppix and Ubuntu.

We tested the Novatel Ovation U760 USB EVDO modem on a Lenovo S10e netbook. The Sprint document has a section near the end on how to use wvdial to connect over PPP. We had to create a wvdial.conf file in the /etc directory and enter ten lines of configuration information to make the connection. Once done you have to launch the dialer from the command line with:

$ wvdial

If you happen to have a laptop with built-in mobile broadband and you're running Ubuntu 8.10, you'll have just about everything you'll need to connect virtually anywhere. With the Dell XPS M1330 we had to type in single line at a terminal prompt to get the built-in networking tool to recognize the internal modem:

$ sudo modprobe usbserial vendor=0x413c product=0x8134

This command works for the Dell Sprint mobile broadband card, although you can use the lsusb command to find the vendor and product id for your specific card. That command returns this string for the broadband card:

Bus 003 Device 002: ID 413c:8134 Dell Computer Corp. Wireless 5720 Sprint Mobile Broadband (EVDO Rev-A) Minicard Status Port

While most netbooks have the customary track pad / buttons, they really can't hold a candle to an external mouse for serious web surfing. Logitech has a wide variety of Bluetooth mice to fit your every size and color need. On Ubuntu 8.10 you simply click on the Bluetooth icon to connect your Bluetooth mouse to the system. The Logitech mice have an on / off button along with a connect button on the bottom of the device. We had our mouse connected in under a minute. On the Lenovo S10e it requires another command line entry:

$ sudo hidd --search

[Click here for a full review of the Lenovo S10e.]

End notes

The domain of mobile computing does not belong exclusively to Microsoft. Linux offers a great choice and coupled with one of the latest netbooks often delivers the best price as well. The Lenovo S10e and many similar netbooks come preloaded with current releases of the most popular open source productivity software such as Open Office 3.0, Firefox 3.0, The GIMP and more.

You won't find a Windows-based product with the Microsoft equivalents for anywhere near the price of a Linux-based product. Security is another big concern for mobile users and Linux-based notebooks / netbooks aren't susceptible to the latest Windows virus. Go ahead and give one a try. You know you want to!

Article courtesy of LinuxPlanet.

 



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