I love my little Raspberry Pi. The $35 computer has a ton of uses, from the utilitarian to the hobby project. But in practice, how many of us are going to build a homebrewed Amazon Echo? My guess is not many. But there is one use for a Pi that I've been a big fan of for almost a year: a simple DNS server.
DNS and dnsmasq
By making DNS requests from a local Raspberry Pi instead of a remote server, you can realize a few advantages. Fetching any kind of data from a local area network will always be faster than fetching something from the Internet.
For most people running Linux on a laptop, chances are they had to go through the ritual of wiping Windows and installing the Linux OS. It’s a time-honored tradition in the Linux world, but things are slowly changing, with Linux now coming preinstalled on some very nice portables. Case in point: the ultralight System76 Galago Pro, a laptop that pleasantly surprised me more than once.
System76? Never heard of 'em
Traditionally, getting your laptop to work with Linux can be a pain. Old ThinkPads are still a favorite among Linux users for their reliability and compatibility with the Linux kernel. And though modern kernels have come a long way in hardware compatibility, just grabbing a laptop and hoping for the best can still be a big gamble.
There are plenty of nerdy things to love about using Linux, but one of the nerdiest things has to be the use of the text-mode web browser. And it’s awesome.
I can feel you backing away slowly. Others might be thinking, “Alex, it’s 2017. Why on earth would I use a text-mode browser? What are you, stuck in 1985?” Hear me out: The text-mode web browser is one of those super-useful tools that can really save your bacon.
I always make a point of installing a text-mode browser like Links just in case I need it. Since I’m one of those people who like to break my Linux installation experiment with things, I’ve had to turn to Links more than once.
Running Windows as a virtual machine in Linux may seems like unnecessary work until something like the Wannacry ransomware scare comes along. The PCs that were affected, all running older Windows versions, have few good solutions other than a Microsoft patch or an intriguing workaround called Wanawiki.
Short of shelling out for a new Windows 10 license, it may be time to switch to Linux. Despite its headaches, desktop Linux rarely is the target of malware. (When it is, it can generally present a smaller attack surface.) And if you need to run applications in Windows, running the OS in a virtual machine saves you the hassle of other options, such as using a translation layer like WINE (which will render mixed results), or dual-booting (which is annoying).
Taking back ownership of your data is rough. I’ve been trying to de-Google my life for almost a year, and I still haven’t mastered it. I still need my Google account and Gmail address to use my Android phone. I still use Google maps. And I still use Google Drive when I need to collaborate on documents. But I have managed to take back my personal files and sync capability.
It’s amazing how much we rely on cloud services today. Documents, contacts, photos, and more all live online in a way that is often transparent to the user. But what if you don’t want your data in a nondescript server farm that you have no control over? What if you don’t want a Silicon Valley company to have dystopian-level access to your digital life?
The alternative to entrusting your data to cloud providers, usually means forking over some money. If you want to go the home server route, you can build it around FreeNAS or OpenMediaVault. You can also spend a few hundred bucks for a network attached storage device from the likes of QNAP or Synology.
Easy connection to the Internet over Wi-Fi is no longer a privilege denied Linux users. With a recent distribution on a fairly recent laptop, connecting your Linux laptop to an available Wi-Fi network is often as easy as it is with your phone.
It wasn’t always like this. Wi-Fi has long been a running joke among Linux laptop users. Many a user would wipe their hard drives and install Linux only to find that they couldn’t get online. I went through this when I first installed Ubuntu 8.04 on my Asus Eee PC. (Luckily, the Eee PC came with an RJ45 ethernet jack.)
Getting Wi-Fi working is less of an issue today (though it still can be difficult on occasion). But just getting something to work is only the first step. With a little extra effort, you can optimize your Wi-Fi connections on Linux for the best speed and improved privacy.
Dell's Precision 5520 is one of the very few laptops to offer a Linux distribution as a pre-installed operating system. Another is Dell's XPS 13 Developer Edition, which offers great performance in a compact size. For people wanting something a little more powerful, the Precision 5520 (which starts at $1,399 but is $2,765.50 as configured) packs workstation levels of power while remaining just shy of four pounds (3.93, to be exact).
This is actually the second Precision 5520 PCWorld has received. A first unit suffered two indignities. First, Dell installed the wrong Linux kernel that didn't have all the updated drivers it needed. Second, we failed to follow up with Dell when we had problems with the Wi-Fi, keyboard shortcuts, and display brightness.