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Mac Mini — More Than Meets the Eye?

January 24, 2005

Not that I should complain about people dis’ing the Mac Mini, but my objections were more about Apple’s policies than the machine itself, and now that the RAM question seems to be shaking out, I’m a little put off with spins like this one from Technology Review

“But to get the most out of the Mac mini, users need to—yes—think different. Banish any thoughts of desktop use from your mind. Here are a baker’s dozen ways to put the Mac mini to work:”

  1. As a Portable Depot for Digital Pictures
  2. As a Satellite Interface for Hams
  3. As a Regional X10 Server
  4. As a Christmas Lights Sequencer
  5. As Part of a Home Theater System
  6. As a Car Enhancer
  7. As a Hardware Firewall for Laptops
  8. As a Physical Security System
  9. As a Server and/or Gateway
  10. As a Component of a Low-Cost Parallel Processing Array
  11. As a SCADA system
  12. As part of a Beowulf Cluster
  13. As an iPod Feeding Station

Notably absent from the list is “As anything two grand worth of PowerBook was good for a year ago (outside of the whole battery operated portable with display thing).”


For closing in on a year now, I’ve been using a PowerBook with specs very very close to the Mac Mini (well, the $599 one anyway), not only as a portable, but as my “daily driver” at my desk, doing everything I’d previously done on my 3.xGHz P4 XP desktop (which is sitting here bored), and a little more besides.  Parked on a shelf, and hooked up to an external keyboard, video and mouse (via a KVM switch), it spends most of it’s time being essentially a flatter wider Mac Mini.

Yes, I’ve thrown more RAM in it and hung an external drive on it, but you can do both of those things on the Mini as well.  Yes, it is a bit slower than the P4, but unless I’m editing or encoding digital media (which I don’t do often, and which I admittedly still use the XP box for), the G4 is plenty of machine for a couple of dozen web browser windows, two integrated development environments, an FTP client, a secure shell client, a word processor, a note manager, download manager, PDF reader, address book, Entourage (aka Outlook on the Mac), iTunes and the dozen or so other things I tend to have running simultaneously at any given time.

For that matter, it may be a bit slower, but it’s more stable than the XP box ever thought of being.  I run this kind of load all day every day, and reboot the machine basically when I install software or upgrades that require reboots (infrequently), or after a backup (I shut down a lot of processes during a backup, and it’s easier to reboot than launch them all by hand.)

If you’re not doing a lot of processor intensive stuff (editing and transcoding media), or developing Windows code (and thus need the appropriate development environment), the Mini is a box that’ll do pretty much everything most people use a computer to do.  If you’re one of the switchers this box is aimed at, then toss a $20 KVM switch in your cart, and you can switch back and forth as necessary.  For that matter, you can just hook both boxes to the network and run the XP box with remote desktop connection (yes, there’s a free OS X client).

Do yourself a favor, though and give it a fair chance—having switched environments more than a few times over the years, my rule of thumb is to resist the urge to go back to the old machine every time I can’t figure out how to do something.  Make yourself spend 30 days on OS X, and figure out how to do whatever it is you need to do. (versiontracker.com is your friend for OS X software and utilities, btw).

Once you’ve made an honest attempt to make it your primary machine for 30 days, then feel free to use whichever box you’d prefer to do a given task—I think you’ll be surprised at how often it’s the OS X box. 

I know I was.

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