When mobility is the most important factor
Until now, the choice between laptops and tablets was a choice between mobility and speed. Today, cloud computing has changed everything. In this article, I will offer a quick how-to guide for transforming your existing mobile device into a powerful computer.
What is cloud computing and how has it changed everything? Traditionally, running your own server or website meant that it scaled badly. You could not easily add another server for a busy season and then remove it once it was no longer needed. Cloud computing has closed that gap; now you can add or remove servers whenever you need to do so, and you pay only for what you use.
Cloud computing lets you expand your workspace. Before cloud computing, every few years, you had to replace your device, add a new hard-disk, or deal with various hardware issues. Powerful machines also meant noise — -or additional work or money for cooling.
Today, remote desktop software tools, as well as speedy data centers around the world, allow us to make the most of state-of-the-art mobility. The central idea is to use a remote desktop and lease a cloud server at Amazon.
For this DIY, you will need the following things:
- A tablet, ideally with the following properties:
- High resolution
- Android OS or iOS
- WiFi or even better, WiFi and LTE for maximum performance
- A Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (for a full laptop experience)
- A high-speed Internet connection
Myself, I am using a Sony Z4 Tablet LTE (Amazon.COM http://amzn.to/2jVvvKy, Amazon.DE http://amzn.to/2kRLXPN), but any tablet (even an older one) will work (e.g., Samsung Galaxy Tab S 4G LTE: Amazon.COM http://amzn.to/2khsAww, Amazon.DE http://amzn.to/2krdIy5). For my Internet connection, I am using German Telekom LTE 10GB, and public WiFi spots (using a VPN). In addition, you might want to look for a fast loader by Sony and a good loading cable.
Now, to the DIY part!
First, install “Microsoft Remote Desktop” on your device:
You might have to log in or sign up. When that is finished, return to the above URL.
The default is Frankfurt, Germany. If you live outside of Germany, you might want to select a different zone. You can do that by clicking at the top right on “Frankfurt” and selecting a nearby data center.
Now, select “Launch Instance.”
Select “Microsoft Windows Server 2016 Base” and leave the default (t2.micro). You can select faster servers — -if you are willing to pay extra.
Myself, I am using t2.medium, which is enough for most office work and graphic editing and it costs around $40 per month, depending on how many hours you use it (sometimes, I forget to shut it down).
Now click “Review and Launch” and then “Launch.”
At this point, you have to set up a secret key which you will save on your hard disk. You will need it later to decrypt the password. Select “Create a new Key Pair,” give it a name, check the box, and then “Download Key Pair,” and finally “Launch Instance.”
Let’s head back to the instance overview ( https://eu-central-1.console.aws.amazon.com/ec2/v2/home?region=eu-central-1#Instances:sort=instanceId or another, depending on your location). In the list, you should see an entry with the chosen instance type. Once that is green, you can proceed.
Now, click on “Actions” and then “Get Windows Password.” Here, click on “Key Pair Path,” select the previously downloaded key, and press “Decrypt Password.” Copy that password to a safe place, ideally to a password manager like KeePass (http://www.keepass.info).
Finally, click on “Actions” and “Connect.” Download the Remote Desktop file and then open it (directly, or by clicking on the downloaded .pem file in your file browser). The previously installed remote desktop should show up, asking you if you want to connect (check the box, and confirm). In the final screen, you will be asked for a password. Paste the password you have previously copied or saved in your password manager.
You are ready to go!
You know have the mobility of a tablet, the Internet speed of a data center, the scalability of a server, no noise, and no administration work (except configuring your OS) at a fraction of the cost of a similar machine.
There are monthly costs involved if you want a faster server, and the device will need a permanent connection to the Internet. Also, there is a small latency that you usually don’t have when running software on your own machine. This means that videos have a lag between picture and sound (but you could run Youtube in the background while working — that’s usually not possible on a normal Android device.). For Internet browsing, it’s ideal. It might even be faster than browsing in your tablet’s browser, given that only the final picture needs to be transmitted.
Because of this flexibility, I switched to a remote desktop system six months ago and I have not looked back. I have my whole computer system in my light-weight tablet.
A few additional points:
- It’s best to share your tablet’s storage directly with the remote desktop. To do that, we first have to end the session:
- Click on the three bars at the top, then cancel the session on the left side.
- You are now on the main screen of the remote desktop. Click on the three dots of your session, then press “Edit.”
- Finally, click on “Show additional options” and then select “Redirect local storage.”
- Click “Save” and then click on your session and your remote desktop should have access to your tablet’s data.
- You might want to download a browser like Firefox or Chrome. The standard setting of Internet Explorer on the server is very restrictive, so either enable downloads there or download the installation file on your tablet and access it via the local storage.
- Regularly check Amazon’s billing statement (https://console.aws.amazon.com/billing/home) to check if you are over the free limit.
- If you are using your mobile plan, be aware of your limits. Depending on your use, you can burn through one GB per full day.
- On the remote desktop, visit a site like http://www.speedtest.net, you might be surprised!
- It is recommended to use a tool like Dropbox ( https://db.tt/kzDejJq0 ) to sync your data to your new remote desktop. With high-speed Internet access, even larger Dropbox accounts are synced within a short time. You might want to redo the instance configuration and add a larger hard disk, though.
- Amazon also provides so called “Work Spaces,” including a Microsoft Office license. That type of server is meant to actually be a desktop replacement. The downside is that you would have to use the Amazon remote desktop software which turned out to be very unstable during my tests.