HP Chromebook 14 + DigitalOcean (and Ubuntu) = Productivity

Although I still use my desktop replacement (i.e., little-to-no battery life) for a good chunk of my work, recent additions to my setup have resulted in some improvements that I thought others might be interested in.

For Christmas just gone my wonderful wife Suzanne – and my equally wonderful children, but let’s face it was her money not theirs! – bought me a HP Chromebook 14. Since the Chromebooks were first announced, I was dismissive of them, thinking that at best they would be a cheap laptop to install Ubuntu on. However over the last year my attitudes had changed, and I came to realise that at least 70% of my time is spent in some browser or other, and of the other 30% most is spent in a terminal or Sublime Text. This realisation, combined with the improvements Intel Haswell brought to battery life made me reconsider my position and start seriously looking at a Chromebook as a 2nd machine for the couch/coffee shop/travel.

I initially focussed on the HP Chromebook 11 and while the ARM architecture didn’t put me off, the 2GB RAM did. When I found the Chromebook 14 with a larger screen, 4GB RAM and Haswell chipset, I dropped enough subtle hints and Suzanne got the message. 🙂

So Christmas Day came and I finally got my hands on it! First impressions were very favourable: this neither looks nor feels like a £249 device. ChromeOS was exactly what I was expecting, and generally gets out of my way. The keyboard is superb, and I would compare it in quality to that of my late MacBook Pro. Battery life is equally superb, and I’m easily getting 8+ hours at a time.

Chrome – and ChromeOS – is not without limitations though, and although a new breed of in-browser environments such as Codebox, Koding, Nitrous.io, and Cloud9 are giving more options for developers, what I really want is a terminal. Enter Secure Shell from Google – SSH in your browser (with public key authentication). This lets me connect to any box of my choosing, and although I could have just connected back to my desk-bound laptop, I would still be limited to my barely-deserves-the-name-broadband ADSL connection.

So, with my Chromebook and SSH client in place, DigitalOcean was my next port of call, using their painless web interface to create an Ubuntu-based droplet. Command Line Interfaces are incredibly powerful, and despite claims to the contrary most developers spending most of their time with them1. There are a plethora of tools to improve your productivity, and my three must-haves are:

With this droplet I can do pretty much anything I need that ChromeOS doesn’t provide, and connect through to the many other droplets, linodes, EC2 nodes, OpenStack nodes and other servers I use personally and professionally.

In some other posts I’ll expand on how I use (and – equally importantly – how I secure) my DigitalOcean droplets, and which “apps” I use with Chrome.

  1. The fact that I now spend most of my time in the browser and not on the command-line shows you that I’ve settled into my role as an engineering manager! 🙂 

Tempus fugit

Nine years, one month.

That’s how long I’ve had one server running with Linode. It has been through a number of versions of Ubuntu, and been re-installed at least twice (once to switch from 32-bit to 64-bit). It has operated as a LugRadio mirror; hosted many websites, both static and dynamic; hosted my blog for many years; operated as a Jenkins server; and done more general duties as an IRC bouncer, and general dogsbody.

Why the sentimentality? I’m shutting the server down today. Not that anyone will notice of course (unless you’re paying close attention to IP addresses or SSH host keys) since it has already been replaced with a DigitalOcean droplet (still running Ubuntu of course).

Linode have done absolutely nothing wrong – in fact just the opposite. I have been regularly rewarded with extra storage/memory/bandwidth, and they have always been responsive to my few needs. So much so that I am still remaining a customer. (So far) I am only moving one server to DigitalOcean.

So why the change? A few reasons: that server now does very little besides running my IRC bouncer; I wanted to try DigitalOcean out (I have heard a lot of good things); finally, perhaps most importantly considering the first reason – the droplet is half the price of the linode. In fact if I had gone for the $5 per month droplet instead of the $10 one, I could have had four servers for the price of one!