8 iPad Apps to Turn Your Toy Into a Data Center Tool

Thursday Jan 20th 2011 by Kenneth Hess
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These 8 apps deliver the agile service and support necessary to transform your iPad from a nifty toy to a mission-critical data center tool.

Looking up the latest sports scores, having a round of Foosball HD, or listening to your favorite NPR program is not the best business use case for your iPad. However, with a few taps, you can convert it from a toy to an ultra-mobile support tablet suitable for real data center work. Even Gartner agrees, noting in a recent blog post, "The iPad is delivering real value at personal, professional, organizational and executive levels, and is a leading indicator of future end-user device approaches."

That's right, for a few dollars from the App Store, your iPad can pay for itself by entering the hallowed security locks at your data center. A few swipes and taps bring you apps that connect to UNIX, Linux, Windows and Macs. Those apps, plus the trusty Safari web browser, provide you with everything you need to fully support a contemporary environment.

The iPad, now available from retail chain stores from $499 to $829, is a lightweight (1.5lb), 9.7-inch screen, fully capable computer. The only caveat is that you'll need a DHCP Server and Wi-Fi or 3G access within your data center to make it work, since the iPad is a 100-percent untethered device.

1. SSH

There are several SSH clients from which to choose, but the most versatile among them is iSSH by Zingersoft. At $9.99, it isn't the least expensive SSH client, but the inclusion of an SSH-tunneled VNC client, a telnet client and X server make it worth the price. When you connect to a remote host, your iPad's IP address automatically receives the X11 forwarding, so there's nothing for you to do except launch your favorite X application. Although you don't have to use X, the hosts that you connect to must have the line X11Forwarding yes enabled in your remote system's /etc/ssh/sshd_config file.

This application's best feature is that when you're connected simultaneously to multiple hosts, you can switch between them by swiping your finger to the next terminal window. The X server is also very handy.

2. RDP

Mochasoft develops some of the finest iPad remote connectivity applications available today, including RDP, VNC (next), TN5250 and TN3270. RDP is the Remote Desktop Protocol used to connect to Windows workstations and servers as a remote terminal, not remote control. The Lite version of Mochasoft's RDP is free and includes almost every feature of the commercial version for $5.99. The paid version offers more features related to mouse movement, extra keyboards and more connection profiles.

Although the documentation states you can connect only to workstation versions of Microsoft Windows, you can connect to the Server versions as well.

The most compelling feature of this RDP client is that there is a full screen mode that perfectly fits your iPad so you don't have to scroll the screen to locate applications or menus.

3. VNC

Mochasoft's VNC client is an optional program if you're already using iSSH for your VNC client. However, there's an advantage to using a separate VNC client like the one offered by Mochasoft: It has some additional features that the iSSH version doesn't have. One of them is the full screen mode. Another is the choice of display modes in 8- or 32-bit color.

A favorite feature of this application is that it has real mouse support, which means you can drag the mouse cursor around the desktop. Mouse support in iSSH requires you tap on the location where you want your mouse to be, and then you use the mouse applet to manage right and left clicks.

4. Dragon Dictation

This free application, brought to you by Nuance (Dragon Naturally Speaking), is a speech-to-text application that might change your mind about voice recognition software. The application needs no training to interpret your voice patterns into words, and that makes it the perfect companion for someone trapped in the data center without pen and paper. The app is simple to use for someone who would rather not fumble around with something complex while troubleshooting. Open the app, tap once to record and tap once to stop the recording. The app automatically saves your notes with no additional tapping required.

What's better than a free app from Nuance that provides you with a very accurate speech-to-text engine? How about one that allows you to post the contents to Facebook, Twitter or email.

5. TextPlus

TextPlus is one of the many SMS or text messaging apps that you can download and install from the Apple App Store. This one is free with upgrades you can purchase to remove ads from the client, to add sound effects, or to purchase a "premium" phone number. Unlike some of the other choices in this area, TextPlus gives you a free phone number but not in your local area code. For one of those, you'll have to spend $2.99. It doesn't matter much what your number is, since most of your friends and colleagues will save your info to their contact list and never use the actual number again.

On the plus side of TextPlus, you'll like the conversational interface that makes it next to impossible to send a text to the wrong person, which can have devastating results.

6. Skype

The Skype app for the iPad doesn't exist, but the Skype app for the iPhone works on it. The only problem with the Skype application is the size. Since it's built for the iPhone, the app is iPhone-sized. When using Skype, you can speak into the iPad speaker or order a set of earbuds with a built-in microphone, which is far less awkward and is hands free. Making calls with your iPad is easier than using multiple devices while you're working in a space-deprived data center location.

Skype is free, the app is free, and making calls to other Skype users and users within your calling area (as defined by Skype) is free.

7. QuickVoice

QuickVoice is an app that records your voice and allows you to send the file as an email attachment so there's no typing involved. Let's face it, the iPad screen keyboard is no great joy to use, but this app takes away the pain of banging out a long or technically specific email. Using QuickVoice, you can describe your situation in detail. You'll never have to deal with misspellings or need to find a place to lay your iPad for convenient typing. It might also enhance your ability to engage assistance, if the person on the other end can hear the stress in your voice.

The Pro version ($2.99) has a recording-to-text feature, which means you record your message and send it via email. Instead of a voice recording, your recipient sees text. To be sure your message and meaning remains intact, you also receive the original recording as a WAV file.

8. PlainText

PlainText is a free and simple text editor with one extreme feature: Dropbox connectivity. While you're in the data center, you can copy errors from log files, and paste them into a text file that uploads to your Dropbox folder online. Your coworker half a world away can pick up the text file and read it for himself. He can post the answer to the same file to help you troubleshoot, alleviating the need to open email, read a text message or deal with a phone call.

Do you really need more motivation than a free app that syncs with Dropbox?

The Apple iPad is more than a cute game machine; it's a long battery life, ultra-portable workhorse that can easily make the leap from lap to data center. And, you don't need thousands of dollars' worth of software to make the transition from toy to tool. All you need is a tall data center and an app to steer by.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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