I think this project is very cool and has nearly countless applications!! We are going to be setting up our own single board, fanless computer using the beaglebone. We will setup a mini SD card so that we can boot Ubuntu onto the beaglebone, we will setup a a lightweight GUI (graphical user interface - a desktop environment vs terminal) and just for kicks we will install the arduino programming environment.
Even though this board is heavy on linux, I included this in the microcontroller section in the hopes of more arduino fans giving this board a whirl..,
I chose ubuntu because there is already an existing image to format your sd card. Also, I have been running ubuntu on my laptop to program arduino, so it seems natural that you would try and match the os from your board and your computer.
I would recommend joining the group "beagleboard" on google groups. The beagleboard is much more complicated than an 8bit microcontroller.
This instructable is basically an editorialized repost from the linux website: http://elinux.org/BeagleBoardUbuntu
If you have any knowledge or interest with linux, or beagleboard, please sign up and contribute to the beaglebone group on instructables. There is a lot to do here folks!! http://www.instructables.com/group/beaglebone/
At the end I have included how to set up a lightweight GUI so that you can SSH in from your laptop and set up a "virtual desktop." I also show how to install and run the arduino IDE so that you can use the beaglebone to program any arduino NOTE: I HAVE NOT CONFIGURED A DEDICATED SCREEN OR A KEYBOARD TO THE BEAGLEBONE. I JUST WANT TO ILLUSTRATE THAT THE PROCESSING POWER OF THIS BOARD IS MUCH CLOSER TO A COMPUTER THAN TO AN ARDUINO.
A good next step would be to figure out the HDMI cape so that you can run the LXDE desktop on any hdmi monitor.
Step 1: Download the Disk Image
If you are already running ubuntu on your computer, these next steps ~should~ be very easy. Get ready to copy and paste!
Make sure you are uploading the most recent release
From your computer terminal:
$ wget http://rcn-ee.net/deb/rootfs/precise/ubuntu-12.04-r5-minimal-armhf-2012-07-29.tar.xz
$ wget http://ynezz.ibawizard.net/beagleboard/precise/ubuntu-12.04-r5-minimal-armhf-2012-07-29.tar.xz
This will download the disc image for your SD card straight to your computer. If you are running something other than Ubuntu, the links following the wget command will dowload the image to your computer also.
To verify that the images have downloaded correctly:
$ md5sum ubuntu-12.04-r5-minimal-armhf-2012-07-29.tar.xz
This should return: