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Tale of a Black Dog

A Different Type of Canine

  • December 8, 2005
  • By Russell Pavlicek

During last August's LinuxWorld Expo, there was one bit of technology which managed to captivate me: a small innocuous box called a Black Dog. I thought to myself, "I've got to get a chance to play with one of these." Now, you might think that a house with four dogs, six cats, and five ferrets would have no room for another dog, but adding the Black Dog to the mix is a small affair. Unlike its four-footed counterparts, this Black Dog takes very little room and very little care.

What is a Black Dog? It's a complete USB-powered Linux server which fits easily in the palm of your hand (see Figure 1). Powered by a 400-MHz PowerPC processor, 64 MB of RAM, and either 256 MB or 512 MB of flash, this pint-sized pet packs quite a bite (or is that "byte"?). Add to that the built-in biometric scanner, MMC expansion slot, and USB V2.0 interface that acts as both its power source and conduit to the network, and you have quite a set of teeth on this little computing animal. And, perhaps most surprising of all, the device's price tag comes close to its size: just US$199 for the 256-MB unit or US$239 for the 512-MB version.

The concept is very different than what is most in use today: the Black Dog is a parasitic server that draws power and networking connectivity from the system to which it is attached, while using its host to provide access into the device. In this way, the owner does not just bring his own storage medium with him (in the case of a USB drive and similar items), but a complete computing environment. It's almost like having a laptop that fits easily in your shirt pocket.

This tiny beast is the brainchild of the folks at Realm Systems, who apparently see the Black Dog as the means, rather than the end, of a new product line. Poking around their website, I notice that they describe a product called the Realm Mobile Personal Server (MPS), which looks like what you may get when you cross a Black Dog with the needs of a corporate IT organization. It's a dog without the fleas which come along on the new pooch in town; one that is ready for use in the enterprise.

But how do you get from the Black Dog, which has the undeniable appeal a serious geek toy, to the IT-centric MPS unit? Simple: hold a contest to see which geeks can create or port the most interesting Open Source applications to the new device. The contest, which runs through January 15, 2006, features a US$50K bounty for the best app to be submitted by the deadline. A little cold, hard cash combined with the obvious geek-coolness of the task at hand should draw the attention of a number of Open Source techies who would like to see new and nifty things appear on the diminutive hound.

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