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My current laptop is falling apart, specifically the screen hinges. Once (or ideally before) they break, I'd like to run the machine as a storage device. I strongly prefer using GUIs over CLI.

Any recommendations on a distro/useful tools to install before turning it into a box? Any cautionary tales about running a laptop without a screen?

So far I imagine installing Ubuntu (not Server) and running Remmina to remoting in via VNC/etc.

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No cautionary tales... but I can imagine your biggest problem would be from heat, laptops suffer from heat problems naturally and aren't really designed to run 24/7 – xenoterracide Aug 25 '10 at 14:41
up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you're using it as a storage device I would configure it now, turn it on, and share your drive via NFS/SAMBA, etc, then never touch it again.

Effecively, you're turning your laptop into a NAS. Something like FreeNAS might be worth looking at. It provides a web-based GUI which should suffice for most tasks, leaving remote/command line work for only very deep stuff (which is typical on any system, and FreeNAS is well-documented and has an active community were you could seek further support).

What I would question is now often you really will need to remote into it. You're just sharing storage, so why connect to the box?

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You could also use X forwarding over ssh to run the occasional GUI tool (you don't need an X-server on the "storage device" then to run GUI apps).

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A better alternative to VNC is NX, but it's a bit harder to setup.

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