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Integrating Multiple Computers Into Your Life

Tech Geek

February 26, 2008 03:28 PM PST

I use multiple computers on a daily basis. One for work and several for my personal use. Paul started an email thread on the topic of why or if he really needs personal laptop. I thought it might be interesting to explain why I decided I needed one and how I integrate it with all the other computers in my life. Note, in this discussion I'm not really talking about any machines I have at home for dedicated purposes like home theater / server etc. I'm just talking about computers I log into and use as computers.

As for the laptop decision, mine was mostly driven by the desire to have all my 'stuff' (media, data, and programs) with me where ever I go. So it actually is my 'main' machine, even though I have a more powerful desktop at home with huge drives, multi monitors etc. I always bring my laptop to work and have it up and running the whole day. It runs as a 3rd monitor most of the time but access to my 'stuff' is just a keystroke away (to direct the desktop's keyboard and mouse to the laptop). Having the laptop at hand also opens me up to going mobile much more often. When I'm away from my desk for meetings or when I feel like working 'mobile' I just remote back to my work desktop from my laptop. When I'm out and about on my days off I have my 'stuff' with me. If I need something that isn't on my laptop I can remote to home desktop through hamachi.

When I'm at home however it could have been a problem to switch over to the desktop if it wasn't for the various 'sync' solutions I have place. I have covered 'synctoy' before and I may cover other solutions I use in another post). But as it is, periodically syncing file changes isn't that big a hassle. And I really don't do it all that often for generic data files and media -these don't change very often. My '2nd brain' (Evernote) is always kept in tight sync between all my machines. My 'organizational system' (loosely based on GTD); contacts / calendar / and project/tasking scheme is all in outlook and is exchange based with https access so it works from everywhere. My pocketPC also syncs with this exchange account so it is always up to date, but that is another topic. Work email is also exchange based, while personal email is web based. For active personal projects Google docs removes the need for sync completely. And for Firefox of course I use google browser sync for my cookies, favorites and tabs. I really like this because I can open a pile of tabs for 'research' and transition between locations / machines without losing them. Oh and when I'm on my home desktop and I need access to a program or util that is only on my laptop, I just remote to it. It actually lets me use multi-mon with my laptop if I need to for more efficiency.

This heavy 'remote desktop' use is really critical to my computing model. I also have a couple ultra portable devices (again more about that at a later time) that I use regularly that don't have the processing power or screen size to do heavy things. With those devices I only do a basic set of things, and then remote back to my desktop for everything else. In fact I manage all the other computers in my house via remote desktop as well, from what ever device I happen to have in front of me. With some tricks I can also reach all of them through the internet as well.

This 'remote' use model is the main reason why I keeping digging so hard on finding a good mac equivalent (hint VNC isn't going to cut it). I just don't see how I can integrate a mac of any shape into my life without solving the remote desktop and other syncing issues first. Not to mention all the hassle that would come from trying to use non-intersecting applications between the two platforms.

I know that I am at one extreme end of the geek spectrum with my current computer use. Many former uber-geeks have burned out on this model and switched to trying to reduce and simplify the technology they use in their life. How many computers to you have? And how do you use them in your life?

Comments (6)
Paul, February 26, 2008 09:32 PM:

What if you were not allowed to connect your personal laptop to the corporate network? Would that affect your set up?

Paul, February 26, 2008 10:29 PM:

I'm at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from you: I want as few computers as possible. All I have now is 24" iMac and a work issued ThinkPad. I could probably include my iPhone in that list as well, given its great email and web abilities.

One computer (and a back up solution) is plenty for me: I hardly use the ThinkPad at all when I'm home or work. It's primary use is for web access during my 1.5 hour shuttle commute.

So buying a MacBook Pro (and returning the ThinkPad) seems like a lot of money to spend for 1.5 hours of web access.

John, February 26, 2008 11:05 PM:

Yeah I forgot about those restrictions. At MS I did connect corporate 'domain' and there was 'pain' and a software security tool (RAS) associated with that. But after that hassle I could remote from the laptop to work with a usb card key. If I couldn't connect it to the corpnet at all that would change some of my scenarios for sure, but I think that even un-connected I might still bring it in for access to some files / apps and of course Evernote. Hard to say.

I understand the 'simplify' strategy. But understanding it and actually adopting it are two different beasts. You are correct about opposite ends. At one end lie the people that want to simplify and reduce technology so they have more time for other things in life, end then there is the other end where people simplify other things in their life so they can have more technology. Guess which end I'm on.

Paul, February 27, 2008 12:48 AM:

It's not so much about simplicity as it is about what the heck I need more than one machine for.

John, February 27, 2008 12:16 PM:

I assume you mean one 'personal' machine since you are already lugging around a work laptop. But you are right;

IF you cannot imagine a use for more than one machine. THEN
Do nothing.
Buy a groovy new laptop.

Paul, February 27, 2008 05:40 PM:

You forgot the line numbers.

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