THE MAGAZINE

Worth a Look: Computer on a Stick

By Peter Piazza

Take a look sometime at the pictures of the UNIVAC computer first introduced in the 1950s. Its size (enormous) and memory (pitifully small) are in inverse proportion to computers of today. Case in point: FingerGear’s new Computer-on-a-Stick (COS).

COS is a USB token with an entire Linux operating system on it as well as a host of handy applications, including an e-mail client, the Firefox Web browser, and a PDF creator and viewer. It also includes the OpenOffice Productivity Suite, which comprises word processing, spreadsheet, drawing, and presentation applications, all of which are compatible with similar Microsoft applications.

Using COS is simple. If you have a newer computer, you first need to make sure that the computer is set to boot from a USB token (a simple operation that needs to be done only once, and does not affect the way the computer boots up when COS is not used). Then, plug the token in and turn on the computer, and Linux boots up—much faster than Windows does, by the way. If you have an older computer, you may need to boot from the included mini-CD instead of directly from the token.

Once Linux has loaded, accessing the preloaded applications works in much the same way as it does in Windows, by clicking on the appropriate icon. COS includes automatic network configuration, so if you’re plugged into an Ethernet connection you won’t have to mess around with setting IP addresses. However, if you’re determined to use a wireless connection, you had better know something about configuring a network card through the command window.

COS was very easy to use, and the speed at which it works—for example, it shuts down in less than five seconds—makes it a welcome change from Windows, particularly for those of us with older systems that have limited memory.

Pros. Portable and yet stuffed with every program I need to get work done.

Cons. If you want to do anything beyond the basics, you’ll need to know a few things about making Linux work. As easy as it is, it doesn’t do everything for you like Windows does, and the directions are skimpy. Still, since nothing gets installed on your hard drive, there’s no way for you to hurt your computer, so what better time to experiment?

Where to get one. Different versions are available on the company’s online store ranging from $59 to $169. Differences include amount of memory and the use of biometric authentication.

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