I’ve been a fan of the Raspberry Pi for a number of years and I’ve got about a half-dozen of them in my collection. I carry around two of them in my work bag. One’s a portable RPi workstation that has all of the various apps I might need, copies of my files, etc., with encrypted storage and the ability to make its own hotspot for infrastructure-free access. The other was purpose-built as a portable wireless network client, which will connect to WiFi or cellular uplinks, including public/hotel Wi-Fi hotspots, and share that connection out of the wired network jack, with DHCP service and NAT. Other RPis are in use as file servers, gaming systems, or other experimental stuff.
For a $40-ish computer, you can do a lot with one of these, but the RPi’s use of the ARM CPU architecture does lead to some gaps in software availability. Most notably, Dropbox and Wine. While some have reported success getting Dropbox to work, it seems to be spotty, and a heck of a lot of work.
I recently discovered a product called Exagear Desktop. It’s produced by a Russian outfit called Eltechs and it’s designed to let you run x86 applications on ARM devices. (I’m not affiliated with Eltechs, nor am I a paid reviewer of this application, just a satisfied user. I get no kickbacks from mentioning it here.)
Exagear Desktop is commercial software, with a per-device license fee. They frequently run 50%-off sales, so if you’re in the market to buy, watch for a prominently-advertised sale on their site. Most users probably want a Pro subscription, and for the Raspberry Pi 3 that runs around $25 on sale. The way their licensing works is you get a certain number of licenses for use within that series or group of device types. For example, I got mine during a Buy 1 Get 1 Free sale so I have two licenses that can be used on an RPi 3 Model B or B+. If I wanted to use it on an RPi 2 Model B, I’d need a different license.
So you can technically do what Exagear Desktop is doing, using some pretty standard Linux commands. The drawback to that, though, is you’ll only get to use a single CPU core at a time. The folks at Eltechs have figured a way around that, leveraging all four CPU cores.
Don’t be mislead: it’s slow, but it does work, and it works quite reliably.
What you’re getting is a
chroot environment that looks like a Debian 8 host. From there, the normal package management tools can be used to add and remove software, including Wine.
Being able to run Wine opens the door to using a lot of different ham radio software packages. I can now run all of the various software I need to program my assorted ham radio gear. I can easily run those packages that are readily available for x86 Debian but not Raspbian. And believe it or not, most of the time the performance is totally acceptable. I wouldn’t want to have to run this setup continuously, like on my primary workstation, but for a portable setup like mine where most of the time I’m fine with the standard Raspbian platform but sometimes need to run some x86 or Windows apps, Exagear Desktop works just dandy!
One of the biggest things this lets me do is run Dropbox. I’ve been a loyal Dropbox user for a really long time and have had a paid account for probably five years or so. For years people have been asking for a Raspberry Pi version of the Dropbox software. Users have cobbled together various hacks like this upload-only solution. The folks at DropDAV once operated a WebDAV-to-Dropbox gateway that was useful for RPi owners, since WebDAV shares can be mounted as a filesystem. (Currently, though, DropDAV is unsupported abandonware that just takes your money but doesn’t actually do anything, but you wouldn’t know that unless you went through what I did with them.)
Finally, thanks to Exagear Desktop, I can run the official Dropbox client on my Raspberry Pi.
Like I said earlier, it’s slow. Not only is there a lot of overhead in running x86 apps on ARM hardware, but you also have to remember that the RPi’s disk I/O is just naturally sluggish. If you’re synchronizing a decent sized Dropbox it’s going to take a while. I selectively synced a portion of the 235GB of crap I have stored in Dropbox and it took a few days, but I was also writing to an encrypted home folder which does add even more overhead. Once synced, though, it picks up file changes quickly and processes the sync as fast as it can given the circumstances.
I don’t buy a lot of software and I sure had my hesitations in sinking $50 into software from a relatively-unknown overseas developer, especially when the license is tied to a specific piece of hardware. Their flexible license terms let me transfer it from my RPi 3 Model B to my new 3B+ without even having to engage their support team, so that’s a good thing to know about.
If you’re a Raspberry Pi enthusiast like me, Exagear Desktop will probably add a lot of functionality to your device at a reasonable cost. You might go ahead and take the opportunity to upgrade to the latest model (currently the 3B+) before buying the software. Exagear does offer a limited time free trial if you’d like to take the software for a spin.
If Exagear Desktop was a Mexican restaurant, it would earn 4.5 flushes. It loses a flush for tying the licenses to narrowly-defined groups of hardware, but I gave back a half-flush because the flexible license system does make it seamless to move from one device to another within that group of supported devices. How’s that for a recommendation?
Edited shortly after publication to include link to the explanation of The Five-Flush Scale.