Exploring Self-Sovereign Computing

Start9 and the Idea of Self-Sovereign Computing

I recently discovered an operating system and a company called Start9. The concept behind Start9 is to empower individuals to run their own servers, essentially creating a personal cloud. This allows users to host their media, run Bitcoin nodes, and utilize numerous other software through available open-source tools.

Motivated by this idea, I decided to repurpose an old computer that I seldom use. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to consolidate all my old photos and music in one central location, accessible from any device within my home network.

Setting up the DIY version of Start9 wasn’t much different from any typical Linux installation. After preparing a USB drive, I installed the OS on my machine.

What I Liked About Start9:

  • The server is incredibly clean with virtually no bloatware; only a Firefox browser is installed, which serves as your gateway to the OS. This minimalism contributes significantly to its efficiency.
  • I was impressed by its performance even when running multiple applications like Nextcloud, Jellyfin, PhotoView, and File Browser simultaneously.
  • Start9 facilitates onion routing for all your applications, enhancing security. By setting up an onion routing program on your devices, you can access your server from anywhere in the world, which is a fantastic feature.

Challenges with Start9:

  • The system does not support adding media drives. This limitation means you cannot connect external hard drives or USB drives to expand your storage.
  • While onion routing is secure, it tends to slow down the connection significantly.
  • The absence of a window manager restricts the server to single-use, preventing me from using the same machine for programming or other tasks.

Ultimately, these limitations led me to uninstall Start9. However, this experience guided me towards installing Pop!_OS, one of my favorite operating systems. I set up Jellyfin and a file browser independently on Pop!_OS, achieving similar benefits to Start9 on my local network, with the added advantage of expanding my storage with external media.

While this setup solved local access issues, it didn’t address remote access. This is where TailScale comes into play. TailScale works by authenticating users through identity providers like Google and creates a mesh network among all connected devices. It essentially functions like a VPN but uses the WireGuard protocol, enabling me to access my media from outside my home network effortlessly.

Key Takeaways from My Setup Experience:

  • I became familiar with the concept of self-sovereign computing, which I find to be an excellent approach to maintaining control over personal data, traditionally handed over to external companies.
  • I learned about mDNS, which automatically publishes .local addresses across the network, allowing easy access to any of your devices via hostname.local even with dynamic IP changes due to DHCP.
  • The discovery of TailScale was particularly revolutionary for me. It has significantly enhanced my ability to access my systems remotely, providing a level of convenience and security that was previously unavailable.
  • This server setup provides a compelling alternative to services like Google Photos. For instance, when visiting family, I can quickly locate and display photos from events that occurred years ago, just as easily as I could with Google Photos. If I’ve organized my media well, I can showcase photos/videos and recount experiences with anyone I’m talking to, adding a personal touch to interactions.

In conclusion, setting up a personal server for self-sovereign computing not only offers greater control over personal data but also introduces efficiencies in managing digital content. For anyone looking for an alternative to cloud storage and value data ownership, then self-sovereign computing is definitely worth exploring.

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