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Currently, in my workspace, I have a netbook sitting off to the side gathering dust while I write code on my desktop. As a result, the only use my netbook gets coding-wise is when I'm writing up a quick Python script to model a given problem or concept in class; I never use it at home for coding, or for anything at all, as it is all possible and faster on my (much more powerful) desktop.

I feel like this is wrong and that I should be making better use of my netbook. What effective uses have you found for a netbook and a desktop together when programming (or for software development in general)? What are the merits of this practice?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, MichaelT, GlenH7, Ozz, Dan Pichelman Sep 25 '13 at 21:27

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8 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Firstly, use the tools that make sense, don't try and shoe-horn useless tools into your process.

That said, you could use the netbook to do all sorts of stuff like host your dev web server, run CI tests etc. Or as mentioned, use Synergy to use it as a second monitor.

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You might find the Synergi project interesting. It allows you to use additional computers with your current one.

http://synergy-foss.org/

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+1. I use a laptop and desktop and use Synergy –  Nigel Feb 20 '11 at 11:21
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Maximise your screen space.

Having multiple screens (controlled by the same keyboard and mouse) is the single-most simple way of boosting your productivity. So, given your situation, I would look into using your laptop's screen as a secondary monitor to your desktop (assuming it has video input).

There is an endless list of merits for having multiple monitor - you'll discover this in no time. However, telling you how you should utilise your multiple monitors would be no different from telling you what kind of shirt to wear.

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In this case there are a few things you might consider using your notebook for such as

Showing documentation

Log files

Or maybe seeing what the UI looks like on a small screen

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If you use a DVCS you could set up the laptop with it's own repository and set it up as an automated continuous integration build/test machine.
This way, you can push your changes to that repository any time you want to make sure everything is still compiling properly in all configurations, and all the unit test are still passing.

You can also use it to test your application just before it's ready to deploy it to a live environment. I always do this on a completely different system to make sure I catch issues that don't happen on a development machine.

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Use the netbook as a remote desktop client to the more powerful desktop

I require a laptop for my job, but I am primarily a developer. I live in the MS world so I am using windows and visual studio. I used to have a rather large (physically and powerful) laptop to do the job. However I found if I was not on the local network, interactions over VPN were to slow to be useful. The laptop was so large that it was not easy to lug around either. So when it was time for a new machine I asked my boss for powerful desktop and $300 netbook, together they were cheaper than a comparable laptop. I then set up my desktop to allow remote desktop connections over vpn. I can now work on my powerful desktop from my netbook. This setup has been great, when I leave my office I can remote into my current desktop session and pick up right where I left off and then vice versa when I log back into my desktop. This does require you to leave your desktop on at all times and turn off some of the power save features as you are essentially using your desktop as terminal server and your netbook as a thin client.

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Is your internet connection really fast enough that you are able to do this without any visual stuttering of any kind? I find that remote desktop really only works for quick things (like emailing a file to myself that I forgot) because RDC/VNC have so much visual tearing and lagging. –  jnevelson Mar 27 '11 at 23:18
    
I could see were this would not work for everyone, but it works fine for me. When I am at home I vpn and rdp from my home desktop instead of the netbook. I have even used this over cell data services though. I also use this setup a lot in the office itself. –  Matthew Bierman Apr 6 '11 at 18:34
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I use Input Director to link my desktop and laptop together. It's similar to Synergy, but I have found it to work much better when running all PC's. I generally run email, IM, Twitter, and similar on the laptop while keeping the desktop dedicated to Visual Studio and database tools.

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I finally convinced my boss to buy me a laptop because lately I've been taking work home way too often. However when I'm at work, I ran into the same dilemma as you because I have a dual-headed workstation which is way more powerful.

Then I discovered, maxivista. It's awesome. Now I come to work, put my laptop next to the other two monitors and I have a 3-monitor system. Their software installs a video driver which looks like a real video card, but actually forwards all video to a remote client running in full-screen mode on the laptop. This is not simply keyboard/mouse sharing. You can actually take a window and drag between all monitors. They also have input sharing mode similarly to Synergy

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