The final nomad computer

I've spent a decade trying, and failing, to solve a puzzle:

"What's a good computer for a digital nomad".

Let me first explain to you how this fundamental worry of mine is relevant to you as well.

My Grandma, when she was still alive, would sometimes send the whole family an email that read: "Hi all, I'm going to visit [offspring_name] for a few days. I won't be able to read my email till I'm back next week. Don't worry if I take a little long to reply." There. My grandma never computed the fact that she didn't need to be at home on her desktop to read email. If you check your mail away from your desktop, news flash: you're a digital nomad.

The question was very important to me since I'm on the road half of the year, and I want to stay productive. Since I carry all my possession, I also need to be light.

But first, let me walk you through my nomadic-computer life. Or just skip to the main course.

Year zero of my digital nomad life was 2002, when I bought a second-hand laptop from my good friend Nellouf. This made it the first time in my life I had more than one computer. The other one was a massive desktop computer that dual-booted Windows XP and Mandrake and featured a thick glass cathodic monitor. It was just before going on a 5 months long internship in the USA, where I couldn't bring the faithful old bastard with me. The first thing I did when I landed in Atlanta was to try to find a computer shop to buy a couple of floppy disks. Just putting things in context.

It ran Windows because I was too scared of laying Linux on it, it had 30 minutes of battery life, and it supported my digital nomadism absolutely perfectly until 2006. It was a golden age when I didn't even need to ponder on the most efficient way to travel with a computer, since laptops were all that existed. The thing was atrociously heavy in my backpack, but I sucked it up. Then I came accross the Nokia 770 and my life was turned upside down.

This thing runs Debian!

When I saw it, I knew that Nokia was onto something important. Something big. Visions of a near future when everyone walks around with a pocket computer were beamed down upon me from the heavens. I got rid of my desktop and laptop, grabbed me one of those and started my most nomadic year, hitchhiking around Europe in winter and cycling around the baltic sea in summer.

Unfortunately for me, and for the world, Nokia's executives had so much shit in their eyes they wrote off the pocket computer idea as a niche product and decided to focus on even smaller and tougher feature phones, with even more buttons. The pocket computer revolution came one year later from Apple with the first iPhone. I soon found out that basing all my computing on an orphaned moonshot project didn't make me very productive. The Apple vision of what a pocket computer should be was utterly useless to me. I had to resort to getting a new laptop after a few months of that.

Returning to a laptop after having had a pocket machine for so long was excruciating. It made me much more productive, that's for sure, but it felt like a huge step back. When the first Android came out, I was all "Meh, iPhone clone". The iPhone model was great for consuming content, but hopelessly unusable to the producer of it. The apps weren't (still aren't) interoperable, it spat in the face of all the standards. You just couldn't do any work on an iPhone/Android. When I got a job with a good pay, I tried giving another try to the Nokia vision of true standard pocket computers with the N900. It was an absolutely awesome little machine but they proceeded to completely drop it a few months later and sell their soul to Microsoft.

I eventually resorted to getting an Android smartphone.

Compared to the Nokia half-baked attempts, Android was impossibly stable. It was fast, it didn't crash. Lovely. But my first prognosis still held. Doing work on it was very hard. You had to work around the purpose of the machine.

The world hasn't changed much since that day. Smartphones and tablets for consuming, laptops and desktop for working. While there are not fundamental difference between a tablet paired to a keyboard and mouse and a small laptop, they don't run the same software. Android / iOS are just hard to use for work. If only we had a deskop OS that ran on tablets...

Wait a sec, isn't the Microsoft Surface exactly that? A tablet that runs a desktop OS? Well, yeah, but it sucks as a tablet. It's more of a laptop that keyboard you can detach. Windows is still a desktop OS. For it's phone line, Microsoft develops a distinct, 100% touch OS: Windows Phone.

Ubuntu is right about to bridge the gap. With an OS that spans from phones to freaking smart TVs. Not that I care a single neutrino about smart TV, but that bridge spans over laptops and desktops. And that's square where I want to be. I don't know where you want to be, but that bridge spans so large, you're probably covered. I can get a tablet with Ubuntu on it, and it is 100% touch-friendly. As soon as I pair it to a keyboard and a mouse, it scratches the huge finger-buttons and gives me the windows and small buttons I have the right to expect from a keyboard-mouse interface. Plug a HDMI display/TV in it and, bam, you'll be on a desktop. To the point you'll forget that it isn't a deskop, nor a laptop that is powering your work right now, it's a freaking tablet. And one that costs one quarter of a Microsoft Surface. That's how good the software is.

And, you know what, a phone could totally do the same trick. Because it's software-based.

A phone or a tablet that is just waiting for you to plug a keyboard/mouse/display in it to become a desktop? Now that's the ultimate nomad computer.

Similar stuff

I've been running linux for 10 years as my main system. That amounts to a geological era or two in the software world. I have seen some pretty radical things happen to my desktop, namely KDE4, Gnome3 and Unity.

What is work? I mean, what is it, really?

Easy answer coming from thermodynamics, where work is a very well defined concept that doesn't involve bosses, dress code and deadlines:

And now for the most socially awkward thing I had to do this year so far:

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