Remote area internet access
March 8, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Email and basic web-browsing solution using a server in the city, dialup terminal in the bush - is it possible? I have a friend who operates a business at two locations in a 3rd-world country: (1) a city-based business office in which he is able to get ordinary DSL-speed and relatively reliable internet access, and (2) a remote site in which he has unreliable dialup-speed internet access. His problem is that #2 does not cope well with photos, videos, or anything bigger than about 100K, all of which he frequently gets as email attachments.

They're at least five years off getting DSL-speed access in remote areas where he is. So what he wants to do, ideally, is have a server at #1 running Firefox or something (he's not committed to any OS or programs) which will load web pages in the ordinary manner, including web-based email, including photo attachments etc, and a terminal at #2 which will load and render the text, with an option to click on and load individual images. Basically Firefox with "load images automatically" turned off.

A remote login solution of some kind where the screen of a computer at site #1 is shown at site #2 should work; he can put a computer aside at #1 for that purpose. I haven't the least idea how to do this but am aware that it is possible.

The core of the problem is getting around the limitations of the thinner of the two pipes.

Budget of $US1000 dollars or so for hardware, but ideally open-source for software. Ideally he should be able to download and burn two ISOs (or I can do that and burn them for him and post them to him), one to be put in the server at #1, one in the terminal at #2.

Is this possible? What's the easiest way to set it all up?
posted by aeschenkarnos to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
Response by poster: Damn, I've asked a stupid question.

On re-reading, what should work is just to switch to web-based email, and disable prefetching and image loading on the computer at site #2. Oh well, sorry about that.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:23 PM on March 8, 2010

Best answer: Web based email is a huge bandwidth hog. I think the only way to be productive in a low bandwidth environment is to use a linux shell account and use lynx for web surfing and pine for email. Or perhaps see if lynx works with a webmail provider. He should be able to download the attachments as needed to his hard drive.

If that's too harsh then firefox with images off and perhaps even noscript installed is a good place to start. There are a few mobile web proxies out there that will further compress his data. He can also start switching to mobile versions of normal sites.

He can also get his mail using thunderbird. I believe it can be configured to just download headers and not the entire message. Regardless, if the video is 30 megs then he'll just have to sit there and wait. There's no magic way out of it.

A remote login solution of some kind where the screen of a computer at site #1 is shown at site #2 should work; he can put a computer aside at #1 for that purpose.

Remote desktop or VNC at dialup is a non-starter. If he cant download the photos and videos in their compressed states, how will running them through an even less efficient compression work? I guess you can try 800x600 resolution with 256-colors but the photos will be grainy messes and the computer will still be borderline unusable.

Lastly, there's a standard to combine two modems into one channel. If his ISP supports it he might be able to double his bandwidth by buying two accounts and two phone lines. He'll need a little dial-up router to make it work, but Ive done it before and the extra bandwidth is nice.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:54 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Web based email is a huge bandwidth hog.

What? Maybe something image-heavy like Hotmail, sure, but once Gmail loads its 300kb of scripts and all, everything else is loaded via Ajax, and is as lightweight as you can be without being pine. This is dialup, not something slower. Netscape Navigator handled it fine -- he'll be okay.

I say you should use Gmail, specifically because you can enable it to not load any images (unless requested). It's the easiest way!
posted by suedehead at 6:50 PM on March 8, 2010

but once Gmail loads its 300kb of scripts and all,

300kb on dial-up isnt fun, especially considering the OP claims that anything over 200kb gives him problems. Email client is the only way to go.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:46 PM on March 8, 2010

I think gmail's got a static html version you can access somehow.

Also, on the remote chance he's got a line of site from city to bush, there are wireless networking options that might be worth looking at.
posted by unmake at 4:03 PM on March 9, 2010

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