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Black Dog Linux Device

Cool Tech

August 17, 2005 09:11 AM PST

Realm Systems Black DogSome time ago, I realized that a form of PCs will eventually be as small as the iPod. The Mac Mini is strikingly small for a full PC, and it doesn't seem too far off that it could eventually be in iPod form factor.

So here we have an iPod sized linux machine - the Realm Systems Black Dog, powered and interfaced via USB2. Initially, I was pretty excited. Maybe it's a promising solution to Web cafe security issues. Or maybe it could cause some security risks as a keylogger connected to an internal USB port, revealing its contents only with the proper fingerprint. Maybe its monitoring ability could be used for good with the right software as an external high availability monitor of your server, sending a ctrl-alt-delete to deliver a cleansing reboot. If it had ethernet and could draw power off it, it might make a great sniffer or intrustion detector.

It's a lot like the Intel Personal Server circa 2003. The personal server seemed like a cool idea, but I wonder how this machine is better than a PDA? No screen, bluetooth, Wi-Fi, long term battery. PDAs are instant-on, and this thing has to boot. It has a fingerprint reader, but so do some PDAs now. It doesn't have cellular or a camera like smartphones. No hard drive like an iPod. The cost of $200-$250 seems reasonable, although many PDAs are in this range today. The primary advantage is, I guess, that it runs Linux, and therefore is easy to extend and modify. This is reasonable, although the PocketPC tools and emulator are free and very well documented from Microsoft (and complete with Compact .Net framework).

So what do you guys think of this thing? There has to be some interesting use for it while being tethered to a host PC. At a minimum, it's an alternative to installing Linux on your laptop or PC for development, and to be able to plug this in at any time, and resume into the same line of my vi session months later is interesting. Of course, as Paul will note - Mac OS X provides you with a Unix shell and better than Windows UI...

Comments (5)

John, August 18, 2005 04:00 PM:

At first I thought that the lack of ethernet or wifi was a show stopper. I also thought it could use a vga port at least. Now I understand how it is intended to be used, but I'm not sure I'm imaginative enough to think of a good use for it. Sure you can carry your 'sweet' Linux apps with you where ever you go, but it only has 512M of storage and is 400Mhz. I guess I see this being used for the Linux zelot that refuses to use Windows. This way if forced to sit down at an XP box, he can just dock his little Linux server and surf the Web via Firefox for Linux instead of just carrying firefox for Windows with him on a thumbdrive. And the data path will be network traffic, mouse and keyboard from the Windows box sent through USB to the Black Dog, graphics rendered and sent back up USB to the Windows box via VNC or X Server.
I'm not trying to be negative, I just can't justify it in my mind yet. It feels on the edge of cool though. Maybe it's the lack of hard-drive that is killing it for me.

mp, September 6, 2005 07:33 AM:

it supposedly has an MMC expansion slot, so you can get maybe an extra GB on it, not huge, but not bad.

J, September 6, 2005 09:35 AM:

If you could plug in a foldable USB keyboard, you could actually use it in a web cafe to solve the security issues of logging in on a remote coffee house machine. But I can't see how this is any better than just a PDA and keyboard.

Shung, September 15, 2005 12:54 PM:

It has a biometric thumb reader, so you don't have to input a password, which makes life harder on keyloggers.

J, September 15, 2005 02:50 PM:

Good point. Most web sites still require a password to be typed. One area it could be useful in is if the fingerprint unlocked the "stored passwords" in Firefox. Then all password fields (on the web, that you had seen before) would be automatically entered. Of course, It's also possible to auto-remember passwords without securing them, but not the greatest idea on a mobile device.

For SSH you can already use public keys instead of passwords, so I guess there's a solution there as well. Still don't know how this is better than a PDA (higher end PDAs also have biometric readers).

Despite Dell's cheap prices, I guess this thing could still win on cost/performance. But a headless device that ALSO lacks a network connection is kind of hard to justify.

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