"Mobile" Computing

After spending 3 weeks not having a house (due to legal delays during the purchase) I should be reunited with all my tech this weekend in the new house, so I thought it might be worth reflecting on some of the changes made to accommodate life on the road.

My normal tech set-up included a hefty Mac Pro (8 cores, 32GB of RAM), a Subversion server, multiple Time Capsules (one per machine I have), so it’s just not practical to take all of that on the road.

First off I needed something more portable than the Mac Pro. My choices were an 8GB 2009 Macbook Pro or a 4GB 2010 Macbook Air. I did have a Chromebook and Windows laptop available to me, but Chromebooks don’t have mature Android development tools, and I’m now a Mac Man so the transition to Windows would have hurt my productivity to much.

In the end I chose the Macbook Air. It has a higher resolution the the Macbook pro and is more portable. I’ve not regretted the choice, it’s done everything I needed, and although compiling Android from the AOSP repo was a slower I still ended up with a perfectly usable image.

Next on the hit list was backups. I decided to go with an encrypted sparsebundle on a paid Dropbox account (http://db.tt/HYbgib1) to cover this. This gave me enough space for my important data whilst still maintaining a reasonable level of security. As well as adding security to the standard dropbox setup the added bonus of using a sparsebundle was that it ensured that only changed sections of filesystem needed to be replicated back to the dropbox servers which lowered my bandwidth costs.

OS X 10.7’s recovery partition gave me some comfort about not needing to back up the whole OS and moving to apps available via Apples Mac Store gave me reassurance I wouldn’t have to go hunting down disks or license keys after a restore, but I know that a total machine failure would have taken me a lot longer to recover from.

Next up was to moving the source code repositories from the Subversion server to GitHub. GitHub offer paid accounts (http://goo.gl/oEYm1) which provide private repositories to keep the non-open source stuff I work on, and the Git tools in Eclipse now seem to be mature enough to rely on for every day heavy development.

As for my mail, calendaring, etc., well, that was already with Google, so there wasn’t any need to change anything, and it’s done everything I’ve needed on the road.

Finally there was the fundamental need for any cloud based setup; Internet access. I’ve mainly been using a ZTE MF10 and HSDPA+ dongle from Three UK, and I’ve been impressed. I’ve achieved download speeds which equalled or bettered my old ADSL connection, but the only downside has been cost. The biggest problem though is I typically use 30 to 40 GB per month, which would cost well over £100 on Pay As You Go, or would involve a number of dongle changes and multiple contracts because Three top their contracts out at 15GB :(.

I’ve also been sneaking into Starbucks Coffee on an infrequent basis to make use of their free WiFi, and was pretty happy to be able to download the 1.2GB OS X 10.7.3 combo patch for the price of a cappuccino (and get some coffee thrown in :)). A coffee shop with free WiFi is now firmly in my list of things to check for when I’m on the road.

So looking back, will I change anything back?

I’m moving back to the Mac Pro, that’s a no brainer, but it is nice to know that the MBA is capable of taking pretty much anything I throw at it. I had previously had situations where I’d been deciding between the MBP and MBA on the basis I was concerned with the MBAs memory, but after eliminating my need for VirtualBox to do AOSP compiles (yup, that’s what those Xmas AOSP check-ins were about), I think the MBP can be put into a box with the sign saying “Open in case of MacBook Air loss”.

I’ll add the Time Capsules back in because I like having large local backups which I can restore from quickly. Using Dropbox (or an equivalent) for hundreds of GBs' isn’t practical in the UK, but it will always be in the mix and will cover my off-site backup needs.

The cost of UK cellular broadband means that I’ll be heading back to a landline connection soon. This isn’t going to be immediate because “Fibre to the Cabinet” is being rolled out, and a few more weeks of being careful with will be a bit taxing, but will be made worth while by a cheap 40MB/s connection.

As for subversion; That’s history.