A video with some historical background on USB graphics and terminals, from Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser of Ndiyo and DisplayLink.
Click on the picture for more detail. This is a picture of my work desk today and how I’m using the Plugable dock myself.
(yes — I cleaned off a few books and papers — it’s usually much messier!)
My $330 Acer Aspire One Atom 1.6Ghz netbook is on the left — I like having a very thin, light, and cheap development platform that I can throw in a bag to go to a coffee shop, etc. But I can’t stand working on the small 10″ screen all day, so that large screen to the right (21.5″) is a necessity. And using the netbook trackpad is right out — I definitely need a full sized mouse. The keyboard on the Acer isn’t that bad, but I like having the slightly larger keys and distance from the screen that the USB keyboard gives me.
So what’s connected to the dock there in the middle? Up the left hand side, from the bottom, are:
- Power for the dock
- USB from the dock to the netbook (that’s the same USB cable plugged into the left side of the netbook)
- DVI cable to the monitor (being driven by the DisplayLink chip in the dock)
- network connection (I’m using 100Mbs wired ethernet)
- USB cable to a printer under the table
- USB flash drive
On the right hand side of the dock, the two cables are the USB keyboard and mouse. And on the right side of the netbook are power for the netbook, and a USB cable going down to another device (a SheevaPlug) nearby.
So every time I take my highly portable netbook anywhere — without the dock, I’d have 8(!) cables to unplug/replug every time, including a big, fat DVI->VGA cable to screw into the side of my netbook. Instead, I have 2 or 3 cables, and get connected to a ton of devices — including the large screen, which absolutely transforms this cheap netbook into something far more functional.
Also, I’m constantly switching between Windows and Linux, and all I need to do is reboot, and all the devices here can work in both environments. In this pic, I’m running Linux. Note that on Windows, there are production drivers that “just work” (especially if you have Microsoft’s Windows Update enabled), While Linux requires some configuration yet, and has limitations — I’m only using the one large screen (the netbook screen is a text terminal), and I’m not using some things like the audio ports there yet.
I’ve also got a Macbook on the shelf to the left – plug it in, and again all the devices work, including that extra large display. The simple ubiquity of USB is extremely compelling with devices like this that have been designed to use components with drivers across all the major platforms.
I love this setup – it’s far better with the dock than without it. Over the next few weeks, as Windows 7 launches, etc., look for more posts here on how to use the dock in these different environments. For example, Windows 7′s improved Windows Update and driver install are a big step forward that have to be seen to be appreciated.
And by the way, in the picture on the large screen – you can see firefox on Linux, showing the Plugable website. and a smaller window, which is a terminal connected over that other USB wire, to a SheevaPlug which is getting an install of the latest version of Debian. That’s another interesting possibility. More on that later …
The most common use of the Plugable Docking Station today is to enable a Windows/Mac laptop to plug a single USB cable and gain connectivity to an additional monitor, speakers, network cable, and any other 4 USB devices.
But the same hardware can be also used on Linux to extend the computer in a different way – provide an second (or 3rd, 4th …) USB terminal to let several people share that Linux PC. With this $99 device and a spare monitor, keyboard, and mouse, you get an extra PC.
Here we have 4 UD-160-A terminals connected to a single netbook, using existing open source drivers and instructions.
But this area of Linux is in flux, and some of the underlying mechanisms used by that demo (particularly gdmdynamic) are being deprecated.
So what’s the way forward for plug and play multiseat on Linux? This touches many components, so the discussion is happening in several places, but the recent discussions on the ConsoleKit mailing list is probably the best summary.
When this support is integrated widely into the various Linux distros, you’ll be able to plug in a device like the UD-160-A and have it automatically pop up a login (from the user perspective, apparently power on whole additional computer).
And that’s when this flexible, multi-use device gets even more interesting …
The elves have been busy, trying to get our first product to market within the month.
And so, we’re proud to announce that the Plugable Universal USB 2.0 Docking Station (UD-160-A) is now — as of Saturday night — for sale on Amazon here in the US. And at a price around or better than any other product with similar functionality.
Because the product fulfillment is handled by Amazon, so you get their reliable same-day turnaround on orders. And all of Amazon’s consumer-focused guarantees and order support.
For more of the product details, see: http://plugable.com/products/ud-160-a/
And for support forums, see: http://getsatisfaction.com/plugable/products/plugable_usb_20_docking_station_ud_160_a
This is a surprisingly flexible and useful device. But that can also make it hard to picture before you have one in hand. So over the coming weeks, look for a series of posts here about how to make the most of the Plugable dock, including some of the most interesting and valuable use cases on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
In getting more background from this talk, it was great to review the videos on ndiyo.org and displaylink.org with all the history and background on the concept of low-cost multiseat. Didn’t want too much history in slides, but it will come up verbally, and it’s a rich and interesting history.
The one comment the presentation generated was “what happened to all the other people on earth?”
Plug and Play Multiseat – Sides for Linux Plumbers Conference BoF Sept 23, 2009.
Hopefully the outcome of the conference will be more awareness and energy directed towards making this stuff “just work”.
[Update March 2011, the Plugable DC-125 USB Docking Client has launched]
At the annual Linux Plumber’s Conference next week in Portland, OR, I’ve signed up for a session Wednesday afternoon on plug and play multiseat. The hope is to discuss and encourage integrating support for this scenario and hardware into Linux.
Love the conference name. No cracks about Mario throwing a wrench in the demo.
A VC-funded chip company like DisplayLink must shoot for horizontal/mass markets. But the most compelling, defensible value propositions may be downstream among the more specific/vertical niche products that the technology enables.
A FedEx truck pulled into the driveway this morning. Ring – Ring. Delivered a box, addressed to me. It was marked “perishable”, from “The Secret Spoon” company. No other description on the otherwise white box.
Wow, weird. What is this? My birthday isn’t this month – must be work related.
Here I am just in the earliest stages of getting things going with Plugable, having just finished at DisplayLink last month – and still feeling guilty about all I chose to leave behind.
The return address is San Diego. Yesterday, I had some first calls with my ODM contacts about getting devices produced – boy, if this is them, they are crazy and eager. Doubt it.
I carry it to the kitchen, and Laurie and I huddle around it, making guesses as we open it. It’s packed in ice for overnight delivery. No hint yet who it’s from.
And in the middle is a wonderful chocolate cake, with a card.
Good luck in the future, Bernie
With very best wishes from
your friends in Cambridge
Wow. That’s so cool. Kind, generous, and surprising. And very touching to have anyone spend the time to do that.
Karma is real, not in a mystical way, but practically. This is a surprisingly big world, and yet also a surprisingly small one. We will meet again. And people notice how others are treated.
So to my friends in Cambridge – you’re wonderful! So long, and thanks for all the cake1 (and may the hyperspacial express route not cross your path).
Please don’t be shy to call or email anytime.
I’m fortunate to have a friend, Rob, who has great instincts. Loves fonts, has a sense of visual style. And in 10 minutes took a rough drawing and turned it into a fully vectorized, minimalist masterpiece. Thank you, Rob, for the Plugable logo! Simply beautiful.