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Must-Haves For The Linux Road Warrior

Calling Home For Peanuts

  • August 21, 2006
  • By Rob Reilly

Network-centric services are connecting users to some truly valuable data. For the price of a computer, a network connection, and a browser, you can find information on just about anything. Punch a few keywords into a search engine and out spits a wealth of valuable content about Linux, some obscure song, or even current tractor pulling technology.

Increasing numbers of people also do business using laptops while camped out in airport lobbies, hotel rooms, and Panera Bread.

The marriage of network-centric services, powerful notebook computers, and readily accessible broadband (both wired and un-tethered, fee based and free), gives the modern road warrior unprecedented access, formerly possible only over corporate pipes. And it keeps getting better.

Today, we'll delve into a couple of "services" that will take your network connected journeys beyond "oh-so-last-week's" simple browser-based experience.

Faced with the prospect of paying three or four dollars a minute to call home while on business in South Korea, I looked into using Skype on my HP Pavilion Linux laptop. Skype is a voice over IP program that lets you talk to another Skype-equipped user anywhere on the globe for free.

You can also call from a Skype-enabled computer in the US to any domestic land-line phone (in the US or Canada), for free until the end of the year.

I wanted to keep it real simple. I found that I could call from Seoul to my home land-line, using SkypeOut, for around 2 cents a minute.

I simply loaded Skype on my Linux notebook, bought some minutes on the Skype Web site, and started talking. Mac and Windows users will also find versions for those platforms.

A basic set of ear-buds and a small handheld microphone were all I needed to make calls. And, they packed into the laptop bag easily. The sound quality was very good. I started out with a USD 10 credit. Over the course of several days, I rang up about an hour of talking... for the travel budget-busting price of around US$1.60.

You'll probably want to make sure that Internet access is included with your room, if staying in a hotel. More than a few hotels still charge a daily fee for network access. You can also look for free WiFi hotspots. I haven't seen much voice quality degradation, even using skinny old 802.11b WiFi. For that matter, I've even made calls from my HP iPAQ (equipped with Skype) and 802.11b. I'm sure people wonder, when they see me talking to my PDA.

I've had absolutely no problem with making calls through firewalls and access points.

Another thing to keep in mind are the time zones. I made sure to call home early in the morning, in Seoul, so as to catch my wife and kids before they settled in for the evening back in the US.

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