Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Eee PC in Every Room? Twenty Uses for Netbooks in Your Home

These Linux Eee PCs are so cool.  They are getting cheap enough that you could practically have one in every room of your house.  If you could, what would you do with them all?

Here's what I'd do (most of these things require you to disable the Eee PC's screensaver, which you can do quite easily):

  1. Watch TV.  The main purpose of our Eee PC right now is to use it as a very portable television.  We watch Hulu mostly, as well as South Park when a new episode comes out. We originally bought the Eee PC because we lost our DirecTV (neighbor's trees in the way) and we didn't want to have to run a cable to the far room, so we just set up the Eee PC in that room and streamed content from Hulu.  We love it.  But you need a set of cheap speakers plugged into the Eee PC to really get sound.  Otherwise it works great. My wife isn't a very confident computer user so I built her an easy menu of the sources of entertainment. (Yes, Flash for Hulu and YouTube runs fine on the Eee PC out-of-the-box.) Plus, the Eee PC has a port to connect to a larger monitor or TV (VGA).
  2. Listen to streaming music. Pandora works on the Eee PC. If you haven't used Pandora, you should really give it a try. It is a free streaming music service where you can construct your own radio station of cool songs. You can pick a number of your favorite artists and then it will play music that is similar to those artists (as well as the artists themselves). It can go for hours with enjoyable tunes, and if you don't like something, you can vote it down and it will jump to the next song.
  3. Listen to the radio.  If you have a favorite radio station locally (or around the world), the Eee PC has a function built-in that will take you straight to the MediaU Website.
  4. Tape recorder.  My wife has a lot of cool ideas throughout the day and she likes to have a tape recorder to record them on the spot before she forgets.  The Eee PC has a great microphone and simple sound recorder application built-in that works nicely.
  5. Play video games.  Okay, you're limited to games that work on Linux, but still.  The Eee PC has a cute little penguin bodysurfing game that is quite fun.
  6. Alarm clock. When traveling, you don't have to pack an alarm clock, just use your Eee PC. Here are instructions (look further down on the page after the business about the potato).
  7. Digital picture frame. This works pretty well.  Go into Flickr and use the slideshow feature.  If you want just certain files to repeat over and over (like a standalone picture frame) you can use OpenOffice Impress (called Presentations on Eee PC) which works similarly to PowerPoint.
  8. E-mail station.  Like to look at your e-mail while you're eating breakfast?  Why lug your laptop from your home office to the dining table?  Just use your Eee PC (dining room edition)!  Eee PC uses Thunderbird, plus has desktop links to Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL.  Of course, you can get to any POP server through Thunderbird and any Web-based e-mail through the browser (Firefox).
  9. Listen to podcasts and music.  The Eee PC does not have a podcast catcher built-in, but you can download a Linux-compatible application like Songbird (sorry no iTunes on Linux but Songbird is really nice). Installation is a bit tricky, follow the instructions in this thread. Most Eee PCs do not have much storage space, so once you've listened to a podcast, delete it immediately.  You won't be able to store your whole music collection on the Eee PC drive either, but you could use a flash drive (Eee PC has a USB port).
  10. Watch tutorials.  There are so many awesome video tutorials on technology tools (like this set on GIMP) but who has time to sit still and watch them?  Take your Eee PC with you from room to room and have the tutorials playing while you make dinner or cut your toenails.
  11. Read your own personalized newspaper (RSS). Google Reader is an incredible time-saving (time-wasting) tool.  I've used it to create a personalized newspaper for myself.  I don't care about 90% of the stories in my local newspaper, I care about other stuff, like stories about Agile development, business travel, Canadian news, systems thinking, holistic health, open source software, renewable energy, software productivity tools, Web 2.0, etc. So I was able to construct a constant stream of these types of stories using an RSS Reader like Google Reader. The only trouble with doing this on the Eee PC is that the screen is a bit small to see enough of the stories, but you can fix that. Hit F11 on the Eee PC and then click on the border in the middle and you should have lots of reading room.
  12. Read your recipes.  There are so many good recipe sites on the Web, but AllRecipes is my favorite.  Use your Eee PC as a recipe station, eliminating the need to print them out.
  13. Read PDFs easily.  The Eee PC cannot be called an e-book reader, but it does a good job of reading PDF files.  With my job (computer consulting), I often have to get through a massive PDF file and I don't like sitting in my office reading it on the screen.  It is sometimes nicer to use the Eee PC to pull it up and read it anywhere, even in my La-Z-Boy chair in the loft. The Eee PC comes loaded with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  14. Mirror.  Umm, you can use the built-in Webcam on the Eee PC as a mirror to see if you have something in your teeth. (Gettin' lame, I know.)
  15. Social network status.  If you are totally into a particular social network (Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed,, etc.) you can keep that page loaded on your Eee PC and see what's going on realtime with your friends.
  16. Encyclopedia.  Nice to have an on-demand encyclopedia in every room, eh?  Wikipedia is the obvious choice here.
  17. IM station.  The Eee PC comes with an instant messaging client, but you'd have to have it running only in one room, otherwise you get logged out elsewhere. Still, nice to be able to IM anybody anywhere in your house (maybe??).
  18. Phone.  Skype is loaded on the Eee PC, you can use your Eee PC as a phone, but you will definitely need the speakers (as mentioned previously). Although it has a Webcam, you have to go through some additional steps to get video Skype working. Maybe the newer Eee PC don't require this, I don't know.
  19. To do list.  Nice to have your favorite to do list right in the room with you.  My favorite is Remember the Milk, but any Web-based system or Linux-compatible download will work.
  20. Real-time information feeds.  Things like weather or election results can be nice to have on-demand in the room you're in.


Polyglot said...

I am considering to buy the cheapest netbook I can find and connect an X10 alike device to it. This way I can control the lights, the heating and other appliances in the house depending on measurements (temperature, motion detection, etc). €179 is great value for a low power color screen and a keyboard with some computing capabilities. I'm sure it would make a great controller.

Unknown said...

That is a great idea. I hadn't thought of it. I guess I would just be careful that the X10 software you were planning to run works okay on that version of Linux (or get an Eee PC loaded with Windows XP).

Unknown said...

I've just (last week) been given an eeepc with a sick copy of XP on it. It's now a linux driven computer swiss army knife of a tool ;D Everything you already mentioned plus more (I'm trying to make it interface GPS and car diagnostics at the moment..

This is where I've been logging my progress

Unknown said...

Oh! There are so many thing to do with a PC!!! Winstrol

Unknown said...

I find it unbeatable to use as a RDP tool when I go away. It's smaller a lighter than most other devices and has a keyboard and mouse, unlike other devices.