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Applies to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP4

18 Mobile Computing with Linux

Mobile computing is mostly associated with laptops, PDAs and cellular phones (and the data exchange between them). Mobile hardware components, such as external hard disks, flash drives, or digital cameras, can be connected to laptops or desktop systems. A number of software components are involved in mobile computing scenarios and some applications are tailor-made for mobile use.

18.1 Laptops

The hardware of laptops differs from that of a normal desktop system. This is because criteria like exchangeability, space requirements and power consumption must be taken into account. The manufacturers of mobile hardware have developed standard interfaces like PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association), Mini PCI and Mini PCIe that can be used to extend the hardware of laptops. The standards cover memory cards, network interface cards, ISDN (and modem cards) and external hard disks.

Tip: SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Tablet PCs

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server also supports Tablet PCs. Tablet PCs come with a touchpad/digitizer that allows you to use a digital pen or even fingertips to edit data right on the screen instead of using mouse and keyboard. They are installed and configured much like any other system. For a detailed introduction to the installation and configuration of Tablet PCs, refer to Chapter 21, Using Tablet PCs.

18.1.1 Power Conservation

The inclusion of energy-optimized system components during laptop manufacturing contributes to their suitability for use without access to the electrical power grid. Their contribution towards conservation of power is at least as important as that of the operating system. SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server supports various methods that influence the power consumption of a laptop and have varying effects on the operating time under battery power. The following list is in descending order of contribution towards power conservation:

  • Throttling the CPU speed.

  • Switching off the display illumination during pauses.

  • Manually adjusting the display illumination.

  • Disconnecting unused, hotplug-enabled accessories (USB CD-ROM, external mouse, unused PCMCIA cards, WLAN, etc.).

  • Spinning down the hard disk when idling.

Detailed background information about power management in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is provided in Chapter 20, Power Management.

18.1.2 Integration in Changing Operating Environments

Your system needs to adapt to changing operating environments when used for mobile computing. Many services depend on the environment and the underlying clients must be reconfigured. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server handles this task for you.

Integrating a Mobile Computer in an Existing Environment
Figure 18.1: Integrating a Mobile Computer in an Existing Environment

The services affected in the case of a laptop commuting back and forth between a small home network and an office network are:


This includes IP address assignment, name resolution, Internet connectivity and connectivity to other networks.


A current database of available printers and an available print server must be present, depending on the network.

E-Mail and Proxies

As with printing, the list of the corresponding servers must be current.

X (Graphical Environment)

If your laptop is temporarily connected to a projector or an external monitor, different display configurations must be available.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server offers several ways of integrating laptops into existing operating environments:


NetworkManager is especially tailored for mobile networking on laptops. It provides a means to easily and automatically switch between network environments or different types of networks such as mobile broadband (such as GPRS, EDGE, or 3G), wireless LAN, and Ethernet. NetworkManager supports WEP and WPA-PSK encryption in wireless LANs. It also supports dial-up connections (with smpppd). Both desktop environments (GNOME and KDE) include a front-end for NetworkManager. For more information about the desktop applets, see Section 27.4, “Using KNetworkManager” and Section 27.5, “Using the GNOME NetworkManager Applet”.

Table 18.1: Use Cases for NetworkManager

My computer…

Use NetworkManager

is a laptop


is sometimes attached to different networks


provides network services (such as DNS or DHCP)


only uses a static IP address


Use the YaST tools to configure networking whenever NetworkManager should not handle network configuration.

Tip: DNS configuration and various types of network connections

If you travel frequently with your laptop and change different types of network connections, NetworkManager works fine when all DNS addresses are assigned correctly assigned with DHCP. If some of your connections use static DNS address(es), add it to the NETCONFIG_DNS_STATIC_SERVERS option in /etc/sysconfig/network/config.


The service location protocol (SLP) simplifies the connection of a laptop to an existing network. Without SLP, the administrator of a laptop usually requires detailed knowledge of the services available in a network. SLP broadcasts the availability of a certain type of service to all clients in a local network. Applications that support SLP can process the information dispatched by SLP and be configured automatically. SLP can also be used to install a system, minimizing the effort of searching for a suitable installation source. Find detailed information about SLP in Chapter 23, SLP Services in the Network.

18.1.3 Software Options

There are various special task areas in mobile use that are covered by dedicated software: system monitoring (especially the battery charge), data synchronization, and wireless communication with peripherals and the Internet. The following sections cover the most important applications that SUSE Linux Enterprise Server provides for each task. System Monitoring

Two KDE system monitoring tools are provided by SUSE Linux Enterprise Server:

Power Management

Power Management is an application which lets you adjust energy saving related behavior of the KDE desktop. You can typically access it via the Battery Monitor tray icon, which changes according to the type of the current power supply. Other way to open its configuration dialog is through the Kickoff Application Launcher: Applications › Configure Desktop › Advanced › Power Management.

Click the Battery Monitor tray icon to access options to configure its behavior. You can choose one of five displayed power profiles which best fits your needs. For example, the Presentation scheme disables the screen saver and the power management in general, so that your presentation is not interrupted by system events. Click More... to open a more complex configuration screen. Here you can edit individual profiles and set advanced power management options and notifications, such as what to do when the laptop lid has been closed, or when the battery charge is low.

System Monitor

System Monitor (also called KSysguard) gathers measurable system parameters into one monitoring environment. It presents the output information in 2 tabs by default. Process Table gives detailed information about currently running processes, such as CPU load, memory usage, or process ID number and nice value. The presentation and filtering of the collected data can be customized — to add a new type of process information, left-click the process table header and choose which column to hide or add to the view. It is also possible to monitor different system parameters in various data pages or collect the data of various machines in parallel over the network. KSysguard can also run as a daemon on machines without a KDE environment. Find more information about this program in its integrated help function or in the SUSE help pages.

In the GNOME environment use Power Management Preferences and System Monitor. Synchronizing Data

When switching between working on a mobile machine disconnected from the network and working at a networked workstation in an office, it is necessary to keep processed data synchronized across all instances. This could include e-mail folders, directories and individual files that need to be present for work on the road as well as at the office. The solution in both cases is as follows:

Synchronizing E-Mail

Use an IMAP account for storing your e-mails in the office network. Then access the e-mails from the workstation using any disconnected IMAP–enabled e-mail client, like Mozilla Thunderbird Mail, Evolution, or KMail. The e-mail client must be configured so that the same folder is always accessed for Sent messages. This ensures that all messages are available along with their status information after the synchronization process has completed. Use an SMTP server implemented in the mail client for sending messages instead of the system-wide MTA postfix or sendmail to receive reliable feedback about unsent mail.

Synchronizing Files and Directories

There are several utilities suitable for synchronizing data between a laptop and a workstation. One of the most widely used is a command-line tool called rsync. For more information, see its manual page (man 1 rsync) Wireless Communication

As well as connecting to a home or office network with a cable, a laptop can also use wireless connection to access other computers, peripherals, cellular phones or PDAs. Linux supports three types of wireless communication:


With the largest range of these wireless technologies, WLAN is the only one suitable for the operation of large and sometimes even spatially separate networks. Single machines can connect with each other to form an independent wireless network or access the Internet. Devices called access points act as base stations for WLAN-enabled devices and act as intermediaries for access to the Internet. A mobile user can switch among access points depending on location and which access point is offering the best connection. Like in cellular telephony, a large network is available to WLAN users without binding them to a specific location for accessing it. Find details about WLAN in Chapter 19, Wireless LAN.


Bluetooth has the broadest application spectrum of all wireless technologies. It can be used for communication between computers (laptops) and PDAs or cellular phones, as can IrDA. It can also be used to connect various computers within range. Bluetooth is also used to connect wireless system components, like a keyboard or a mouse. The range of this technology is, however, not sufficient to connect remote systems to a network. WLAN is the technology of choice for communicating through physical obstacles like walls.


IrDA is the wireless technology with the shortest range. Both communication parties must be within viewing distance of each other. Obstacles like walls cannot be overcome. One possible application of IrDA is the transmission of a file from a laptop to a cellular phone. The short path from the laptop to the cellular phone is then covered using IrDA. The long range transport of the file to the recipient of the file is handled by the mobile network. Another application of IrDA is the wireless transmission of printing jobs in the office.

18.1.4 Data Security

Ideally, you protect data on your laptop against unauthorized access in multiple ways. Possible security measures can be taken in the following areas:

Protection against Theft

Always physically secure your system against theft whenever possible. Various securing tools (like chains) are available in retail stores.

Strong Authentication

Use biometric authentication in addition to standard authentication via login and password. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server supports fingerprint authentication. For more details, see Chapter 7, Using the Fingerprint Reader.

Securing Data on the System

Important data should not only be encrypted during transmission, but also on the hard disk. This ensures its safety in case of theft. The creation of an encrypted partition with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is described in Chapter 11, Encrypting Partitions and Files. Another possibility is to create encrypted home directories when adding the user with YaST.

Important: Data Security and Suspend to Disk

Encrypted partitions are not unmounted during a suspend to disk event. Thus, all data on these partitions is available to any party who manages to steal the hardware and issue a resume of the hard disk.

Network Security

Any transfer of data should be secured, no matter how the transfer is done. Find general security issues regarding Linux and networks in Chapter 1, Security and Confidentiality. Security measures related to wireless networking are provided in Chapter 19, Wireless LAN.

18.2 Mobile Hardware

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server supports the automatic detection of mobile storage devices over FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB. The term mobile storage device applies to any kind of FireWire or USB hard disk, USB flash drive, or digital camera. These devices are automatically detected and configured as soon as they are connected with the system over the corresponding interface. The file managers of both GNOME and KDE offer flexible handling of mobile hardware items. To unmount any of these media safely, use the Safely Remove (KDE) or Unmount Volume (GNOME) feature of either file manager.

External Hard Disks (USB and FireWire)

As soon as an external hard disk is correctly recognized by the system, its icon appears in the file manager. Clicking the icon displays the contents of the drive. It is possible to create folders and files here and edit or delete them. To rename a hard disk from the name it had been given by the system, select the corresponding menu item from the menu that opens when the icon is right-clicked. This name change is limited to display in the file manager. The descriptor by which the device is mounted in /media remains unaffected by this.

USB Flash Drives

These devices are handled by the system just like external hard disks. It is similarly possible to rename the entries in the file manager.

18.3 Cellular Phones and PDAs

A desktop system or a laptop can communicate with a cellular phone via Bluetooth or IrDA. Some models support both protocols and some only one of the two. The usage areas for the two protocols and the corresponding extended documentation has already been mentioned in Section, “Wireless Communication”. The configuration of these protocols on the cellular phones themselves is described in their manuals.

The support for synchronizing with handheld devices manufactured by Palm, Inc., is already built into Evolution and Kontact. Initial connection with the device is easily performed with the assistance of a wizard. Once the support for Palm Pilots is configured, it is necessary to determine which type of data should be synchronized (addresses, appointments, etc.).

18.4 For More Information

The central point of reference for all questions regarding mobile devices and Linux is http://tuxmobil.org/. Various sections of that Web site deal with the hardware and software aspects of laptops, PDAs, cellular phones and other mobile hardware.

A similar approach to that of http://tuxmobil.org/ is made by http://www.linux-on-laptops.com/. Information about laptops and handhelds can be found here.

SUSE maintains a mailing list in German dedicated to the subject of laptops. See http://lists.opensuse.org/opensuse-mobile-de/. On this list, users and developers discuss all aspects of mobile computing with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Postings in English are answered, but the majority of the archived information is only available in German. Use http://lists.opensuse.org/opensuse-mobile/ for English postings.

Information about OpenSync is available on http://opensync.org/.

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