14/366: Welcome to the 21st century – Or: why you need a file server

Chances are that your computer that you are using to read this is at home, and that it is connected to some sort of network switch our router that supports high speed data transfer rates, much faster than what you are getting through your DSL line or whatever you have to look at silly pictures of cats on the internet. That bandwidth in your home network is untapped potential for one of the most useful appliances of our modern times: the home server.

Computers are incredibly cheap now and they also are rather green lately, the really cheap ones pride themselves on using much less power than you might think. One of the benefits is better battery life for portables, so the often belittled netbook, once it has outlived its usefulness as Facebook machine and pretentious writers gimmick (only once step above a berret, really), is a perfect fit for an always on device that does not much more than connect a hard drive to your networks and run a bunch of programs.

Here is a little list of apps that go above and beyond just sharing a drive or folder with the network and  make my life with my new digital roommate pure bliss:

  • VNC: You want to be able to remote control that computer from any machine in your network. If at all possible, you want that computer to run without anything, even input devices or a monitor. VNC servers and clients are the tool to do so. For a Windows server, I recommend TightVNC.
  • BitTorrent: For Linux distributions, you know? Seriously, do whatever you are comfortable with, but the fact that this PC is supposed to run permanently in a spot where it won’t bother you makes it perfect for these long downloads of big files. Nothing beats uTorrent for that, mostly because of the remote access features it gives you.
  • Dropbox: Dropbox is one of these apps that everybody needs, but everyone has a different use for it. In this little project it helps with automation. An example: uTorrent has a feature to monitor certain folders for .torrent-files and automatically add these to the download queue. That folder could live inside your Dropbox, so that you can add files to that from other PCs or even smartphones with a Dropbox client. Bonus: Belvedere. Belvedere, or any similar tool like Hazel watches folders on your hard drive and can be set to perform certain actions on files in these folders. I use this to move .torrent files that I download from the download folder to the Dropbox, and uTorrent on the server picks them out of it seconds later. One click solution to start a BitTorrent download on a remote machine.
  • iTunes: Love it or hate it, iTunes is still the best solution to manage Apple portable devices (which I happen to like) and it has some nice robust features for sharing the library on the server with any other machine running iTunes on the network. I experimented with having the client machine access the iTunes library files on the network drive directly, but that somehow feels like it has too much potential to mess up the library files, and who wants to go in and re-rate 18.000 songs? (52 days of music straight? Holy shit, I need an intervention)

Did I miss anything?