We have preferences and we have workflows. We know where things are in our offices and on our devices. We don’t have to relearn every keystroke on a daily basis. We establish comfort zones all around us so that we can rise above the minutiae and pursue the big productive work at hand. We even lug around large laptops or set up elaborate work environments just so that we don’t have to change too much from day to day.
Even as I argue for a device independence and syncing every service to one another, I notice that I am leaving a lot of the customization that I treasure behind. I am starting to begrudge putting in my wifi credentials on each new device I decide to use. Even though I have access to all of my files in Google Docs and Dropbox, access still differs a bit depending on the browsers and versions I have to work with. I have decided that I hate upgrading software almost as much as I hate having to bring a certain laptop with me in order to access all of my individual preferences. It just seems so antiquated and uncivilized to feel like a foreigner even as I access the same gmail account on different computers.
There may be hope, however. Yesterday, I decided to give load up Ubuntu Linux on a micro-SD card. This tiny little card holds an entire operating system, all of the programs I will need to run on it, and every preference I could possibly have. Currently, I am running it on a Netbook that I was given for a test drive. But, I popped the card into a USB stick and loaded it up on my Mac, my wife’s Dell and any other machine (save my iPad, I suppose) that I could throw it’s way.
It is nothing short of a revelation.
I am looking at the same desktop on this machine that I look at on any machine that I turn to. The desktop is the same. The programs are the same. Even the saved credentials are the same. I am literally packing my entire computer into a square centimeter of silicon. How did I not recognize this as the logical extension of syncing everything together? How was it that I missed the idea of bringing my consistency of experience to everything I use?
The word that Ubuntu uses for a USB stick based install that can save preferences is persistence. I think that describes what I am doing pretty well. I am using a persistent system. It persists as a part of me, even as I add to it and change my workflows to meet the operating system that is so tight and compact that it can fit into a single Gigabyte. I can now take everything with me that I need to get down to business. Everything.
(For those who would like to know more about this setup. Here is what I have done:
- I made the Ubuntu instance out of the Universal USB Installer. (I used the Netbook Remix of Ubuntu because I knew it would work on pretty much any machine)
- I installed Google Chrome with the Browser sync (for any computer I use that isn’t running this Ubuntu instance).
- I’m using Google Documents to edit all documents.
- I installed Dropbox to sync all files to every computer (I do not sync directly to the USB stick, but rather to the hard drive of whatever computer I am running).
While this really isn’t a long list of things that I had to do, I think that each one adds a bit to being able to take everything with me.)