Must-have tools for the Linux laptop

Linux Takeout

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Pack your Linux laptop with the right set of tools. We take a closer look at Adblock Plus, woof, Conky, TrueCrypt, rsync, and Grsync.

When you are out and about, the right set of tools on your laptop can make a huge difference. That's why stocking your laptop with useful utilities and applications is as important as remembering to pack an extra pair of socks and a toothbrush. In this article, I will suggest some useful tools to pack when traveling with your Linux laptop.

Adblock Plus

When you are on the move, you are often limited to a relatively slow and expensive modem or GPRS Internet connection. Even if you are lucky enough to have a faster 3G plan, the bandwidth costs still remain a major issue. Although you can reduce the amount of data you shift through your connection link several ways, perhaps none of them are as effective as the Adblock Plus extension for Firefox [1]. This nifty tool scrubs the websites you visit for advertisements. By removing ads, Adblock Plus makes more space for the page content, which can be extremely helpful if you are using a laptop with a smaller screen, such as Asus Eee PC. This tool also makes the pages load faster, which is a boon if you are using a slow connection. More importantly, by cutting ads off, Adblock Plus significantly reduces the amount of data transferred.

To weed out ads, Adblock Plus uses a constantly updated filter list that you subscribe to when you install the extension. If, for some reason, Adblock Plus fails to remove an ad on a page, you have two options: You can click on the Block tab next to the ad to remove it and add a new filter to the filter list, or you can write a custom filter. To write a custom filter, see the directions on the Adblock Plus website [2].

Woof

Imagine you are at a conference and need to send another user a file from your Eee PC. Suddenly, you realize that you left your USB stick at the hotel, and your laptop has neither an infrared port nor Bluetooth. What do you do? You resort to woof [3], a Python script that uses a tiny built-in server to serve a single file. To use woof, make sure that Python is installed on your machine. Then download the script, make it executable with chmod +x woof, and you are ready to go. To share a file with woof, use

woof -i [ipaddress] -p [port] [file]

where ipaddress refers to the IP address of your laptop, and port specifies the port though which woof serves the file. Therefore, the actual woof command might be:

woof -i 192.168.0.5 -p 8888 loremipsum.txt

When you run the command, the recipient can download the file by simply pointing the browser to the specified IP address (in this case, http://192.168.0.5:888). Once the file is downloaded, the woof server quits.

If you need to share a file with several users, you can use the -c option, which specifies how many times a particular file can be downloaded. For example, if you want to share the file with three users, you can use the command:

woof -i 192.168.0.5 -p 8888 -c 3 loremipsum.txt

With woof, you can also share a directory. To do this, specify the folder you want to share followed by a slash:

woof -i 192.168.0.5 -p 8888 my_documents/

To speed up the transfer, woof creates a .tar archive of the directory and compresses it with gzip, so the recipient receives it as a my_documents.tar.gz file.

Conky

Although the Conky [4] system monitor tool isn't designed exclusively for laptops, it can provide you with vital information about your machine, including CPU load, RAM usage, battery level, wireless connection quality, and much more. To configure Conky, you have to write a .conkyrc file containing all the configuration settings. Although it is not possible to cover all Conky's configuration options in this discussion, you can study a sample .conkyrc file in Listing 1, which you can use as-is or tweak to your liking.

Listing 1

Sample Configuration File

01 # .conkyrc
02 update_interval 1.0
03 double_buffer yes
04 own_window yes
05 use_xft yes
06 xftfont Bitstream Vera Sans:size=8
07 maximum_width 270
08 alignment top_right
09 default_color white
10 uppercase no
11
12 TEXT
13 $nodename - $sysname $kernel
14 ${color lightgrey}Uptime:$color $uptime $alignr${color lightgrey}Load:$color $loadavg
15 ${color lightgrey}CPU: $color ${freq} Mhz $alignr${color lightgrey} Usage:$color $cpu%
16 $color${cpugraph}
17
18 ${color lightgrey}Processor temperature: $color${acpitemp}°C
19
20 ${color lightgrey}Battery: $color${battery}
21
22 ${color lightgrey}RAM usage:$color $mem/$memmax - $memperc%
23 ${membar}
24
25 ${color grey}Disk usage: $color${fs_free /} of ${fs_size /}
26 ${fs_bar 6 /}
27
28 ${color #ffcb48}Wi-Fi ${hr 1}
29 ${color lightgrey}Wireless signal: $color${linkstatus ath0}% $alignr$color${addr ath0}
30 ${color lightgrey}Download speed: $color${downspeedf wifi0} Kb/sec
31 ${downspeedgraph wifi0}
32 ${color lightgrey}Upload speed: $color${upspeedf wifi0} Kb/sec
33 ${color red}Downloaded: $color${totaldown wifi0} $alignr ${color green}Uploaded: $color${totalup wifi0}

Using the sample configuration file, you can monitor the laptop's most important parameters, such as CPU usage (cpu and cpugraph variables), processor temperature (acpitemp), and battery status (battery), as well as various aspects of the wireless connection (linkstatus, downspeedgraph, and totaldown). The addr variable can be particularly useful if you are using woof to share files because it displays your laptop's IP address. The totaldown and totalup variables can also come in rather handy because they allow you to monitor the total amount of traffic going through a specified network interface.

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