Tuesday, January 29, 2013

EEEPC Learns New Trick :: PirateBox

HACKS :: Not too long ago I managed to get my EEEPC to run the Arduino IDE by installing Ubuntu Netbook 10.10. I'm always on the lookout for added functionality for my old netbook. With its cramped keyboard and sluggish response time (compared to my other computers) it would be ideal to give it a job it can quietly do on its own in the corner somewhere. That's just what the PirateBox lets it do.

An old EEEPC learns a new trick :: now serving files wirelessly.
What is a PiarateBox? A file sharing and chatting device that uses WiFi to connect any users in range. While the term "PirateBox" makes it sound illicit, I assure you it has found a most "legit" use here at Helios Labs. We teach students a wide variety of subjects and occasionally this involves computers. Especially with younger students, allowing them to connect to the Internet during lessons can become a distraction. When students need files, they can access them instead, wirelessly, via the PirateBox.

A student's Android tablet connected to the PirateBox.
It looks like the project has a lot of momentum and buzz around it, so hopefully it will gain new features, and new potential in the near future.

You can see the installation process here on the PirateBox forum.

I used my Windows laptop to download UnetBootin and the PirateBox .ISO. I wrote the disk image onto an old USB thumb drive, and tested it first on my laptop, then on my EEEPC.

For the EEEPC, I didn't have to do anything at all to it except hit F2 during start up, go to Hard Disk Drives and make sure my USB device was selected, then make sure it was set as the first option under Boot Device Priority. After that, it worked perfectly and on the very first try. Very rarely does any project like this go so smoothly -- it is a true testament to the skill and thought put into it by the developers of this project.

Something to keep in mind is that the current version, when running (LIVE) from a USB thumb drive will not save anything that you do in between each time you turn off your computer. So say I put several workbook pages on the server today, turn it off at night and turn it on in the morning tomorrow. Those files will be gone. This is not a big deal for now, and on my Windows laptop I keep an export folder on my desktop to quickly find and send files to the PirateBox when needed. Future releases plan on having this fixed, according to the PirateBox forums.

I am not a developer, nor is anyone currently involved here at Helios Labs. But if you are reading this and are a developer, and find PirateBox interesting, you can go to the forums and see how you can help out. A similar, and apparently related project is Library Box.