What do you do with those old Android or iPhone phones and tablets? You have a lot of options, but it’s quite easy to create your own flow deck with a little off-the-shelf software. What is a stream deck, you ask? The name comes from its use as a controller for a live-streaming setup, but it’s basically an LCD touchscreen that can trigger things on your computer.
The software I use, Deckboard, is a server for Windows or Linux and, of course, an Android application. The app is free with some limitations, but for less than $4 you can purchase the full version. However, even the free version is capable enough. You can use Android phone or tablet and you can connect to PC with USB cable or WiFi. I’ve found that even with WiFi it’s handy to keep the phone charged, so realistically you’re going to have a cable, but it doesn’t have to connect to the host computer.
Setup is very simple. The biggest hurdle is that you may need to configure your firewall to allow the server to listen on port 8500 with TCP. There are a few small issues when installing with Linux that you may want to watch out for. There are 32-bit and 64-bit versions in
tar.gz, and the application image format. There is also a snap. The problem with the snap is that it’s sandboxed, so without effort you can’t easily launch programs, which is kind of the whole point. I finally deleted it and installed the deb file, which was fine.
There were two more wrinkles. First, although Deckboard offers a way to launch programs, it has to be a one-list program that it reads from your system. This would be acceptable, but the list was not complete. I never understood why some things appear on the list and others don’t. For example, GIMP which appears in my application menu was missing. Still, other rather obscure things came to light.
I thought this might be a dealbreaker until I found out that Deckboard has a well-developed plugin system and one of those plugins lets you run an arbitrary command line. I suppose it’s a bit less convenient, but it’s much more flexible since you can launch any program you want and provide options for it as well.
The only other complaint I had is that when you run the program, it brings up its configuration interface and goes to the system tray. It’s great the first time you run it, but when you start the system, it would be nice to have it start quietly. If there is an option for this, I haven’t found it. I’ll tell you how I solved that later, but, for now, live with it.
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