I bought myself a Raspberry Pi, a small single board computer, about the size of a credit card. You can order one for $35, put it together with some parts you probably already have, and you’ve got a fully functional Linux computer. I haven’t really decided what to do with it yet, but it’s a good excuse to refresh my Linux skills. It supports a USB keyboard/mouse (I actually used one from an old 1st gen iMac that’s sitting in my closet (can’t bear to throw it out 😉 ) so it’ll use anything. Has HDMI output (with sound) to a TV, as well as composite video and 3.5mm audio. It’s got an Ethernet port, of course. Supposedly you can do WiFi by adding a USB WiFi adapter. Power comes from a micro-USB cellphone charger (1A or better). Storage is from an SD card (they recommend 4GB or larger; I used 4GB and it has ~2GB free after install). It boots from that, but you can supposedly add an external USB hard disk. You have to download the image (Debian-based) and write it to the SD card with something like “dd” depending on your environment (I did it from my current iMac). You could build multiple images, and just replace the SD card to boot to a different OS version.
I plugged it in (it has nice little activity lights that blink 😉 ) and it booted to its config program. I set the locale, timezone, enabled ssh connectivity it was ready to go. You’ve got your traditional command line, and can start an xserver for a GUI. I’ve not gotten remote windows working yet, still reading up on how the graphical display manager works. I did have one problem with sound drivers (no sound at first) but found a hit on the RPI forum and installed one program and sound worked to the HDMI-connected TV.
The standard distro is oriented to Python development. It also has Perl loaded on, but no PHP. It does have gcc. I’ve just started poking around.
I’ve got all the peripherals unplugged now, and the only thing connected is the Ethernet cable and the power. Have ssh to a bash shell (its default shell setting), and that terminal connection is just fine for the time being…it can sit there, and run, drawing just a tiny bit of power, while I figure out what I want to do with it. Pretty cool!