Once USB Networking has been configured on the BeagleBoard, everything becomes a lot easier.
As ARM is now a first-class citizen for Ubuntu builds, there’s now a world of Ubuntu and Debian software that can easily be installed, either with aptitude or good ol’ apt-get.
After USB networking was up and running, I configured internet connection sharing on my Mac to share out Ethernet 1 to the USB Ethernet Adapter, configured DHCP and restarted networking on the beagle.
From there it was a simple as
sudo apt-get install openssh-server
Then, ifconfig usb0 to find out it’s IP address and you can ssh in from the Mac.
Now, I can try out a desktop environment using X11 forwarding with ssh.