I wanted one of these from the moment Apple CEO Steve Jobs held one up at the 2005 Macworld in San Francisco. But I waited. Last week I was ready but the Apple Store said 5-7 day wait. So I waited.
Today I picked up my first Mac mini and you won’t believe what I’m doing to it.
Don’t get too excited. This isn’t an “extreme makeover” where I spray paint the outside pink and add an aquarium to the inside while using it as a wireless doorstop.
I needed a Mac OS X development server. You know, something simple, inexpensive, yet still does everything that the PowerMacs do. Only smaller. Only cuter. Mac mini to the rescue.
What is most important about this Mac mini is the RAM. The original mini came with only 256 megs of RAM. All the new Mac mini’s come with 512 megs RAM. The difference in CPUs was not sufficient to get me to spend more money.
The Mac mini now has three basic models. The $499 cheapo mini with 40 gig hard drive and slow 1.25gHz CPU, the $599 mid-range mini with faster 1.42gHz CPU, an 80 gig hard drive, Bluetooth, and Airport Extreme. The high-end model is the same as the mid-range model but adds the SuperDrive for $100 more.
No matter which model you choose, each is a very decent value (56k modem is optional on the mid-range and high-end models).
I chose the $499 model because hard drive space isn’t an issue and money is.
What am I doing with this little beauty? I’m doing an internal “extreme makeover” of the mini, transforming it from a diminutive little entry-level Mac, to a huge honking web server, mail server, with databases, PHP scripting language, a POP/IMAP/SMTP mail server.
All that and still $499. Here’s how.
First, I plugged in a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Then I added an ethernet connection to my DSL (static IP address). Then it was a simple turn, fill out all the information, and the Mac mini is good to go. Almost.
I had to upgrade from Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.1 to 10.4.2 and add all the recent updates. There were plenty. iTunes, iPhoto, GarageBand, etc. No, those aren’t needed for what I want, but it helps to get everything “stock” and ready to go.
Once the Mac mini was upgraded, I locked down the Tiger firewall. Open System Preferences, find Sharing and make sure everything is off. For me, I turned on Personal Web Sharing. That starts up the built-in Apache web server.
Then I downloaded two files. These are necessary to get PHP (the scripting language) and MySQL (the database) up and running. Sounds difficult, huh? Nope.
Both PHP and MySQL are free and install in just a couple of minutes (each) on a Mac mini (or any Mac with OS X).
That’s it. My Mac mini now has the Apache web server up and running, the PHP scripting language engine, and the MySQL database, ready for applications.
If you’re interested in setting up your Mac mini as a mail server (POP/IMAP/SMTP) then Mac OS X Tiger comes with everything you need—Postfix, the darling of mail systems for the Internet. Except, it’s not turned on.
You can turn on Postfix via Terminal (the command line interface), but that’s painful if Terminal is painful for you. It is for me. So, I use Postfix Enabler instead. Click Here for details on Postfix Enabler and the download link. It’s $10 but saved me a few hours of reading up on Postfix and the potential of mucking with something I know not.
“That $509 total does “nearly” everything that a $3,000 PowerMac G5 can do. Apache. PHP. MySQL. Email. Not as fast. Not as much storage. Not as big. Otherwise…”To do what I just did you’ll need to have a static IP address from your DSL provider, or, if you’re doing this at the office, an IP address that you can use to check the web pages on your Mac mini (or any Mac). You may also need a domain name and ability to set up a mail domain.
I’ve done this a few times before so the whole process for me was less than an hour. Think about it. 60-minutes for a full-fledged web server, database server, and mail server.
$499 for the Mac mini. $10 to set up incoming and outgoing email. That’s it.
That $509 total does “nearly” everything that a $3,000 PowerMac G5 can do. Apache. PHP. MySQL. Email. Not as fast. Not as much storage. Not as big. Otherwise…
Monitor? I don’t need no stinkin monitor!
Early this year I bought the latest version of Apple Remote Desktop (ARD). Basically, ARD is a Mac application that lets you sit at one Mac and remotely control another Mac somewhere else. Next door, down the street, around the world. The screen you see on the Mac in front of you is actually the screen of the remote Mac; in this case, my Mac mini.
Except for set up, I don’t even need a keyboard or mouse. That’s waaaaaay cool.
Now, that’s the “extreme makeover” I was talking about. OK, now what? What am I going to do with this “extreme” Mac mini. First, install a copy of pMachine’s Expression Engine content management system. Then, I’ll install a copy of Mambo, an Open Source CMS.
After that, I’ll install a copy of phpAdsNew, which is an Open Source application used for delivering content such as banner ads. Then, I’ll install a copy of Moodle, an Open Source learning management system.
Finally, just for grins and to muck around, I’ll install a copy of phpBB, an Open Source bulletin board system. Oh, all those Open Source applications are free. $499 plus $10 equals a ton of web serving power.
With Tera and Ron’s guidance, I’ve installed all those applications a couple of times on various Macs. Hey, it’s mostly double-click. How hard is that? I use those PHP/MySQL applications for web site development, web-based presentation development, and so on.
This will be my first look at Moodle. I’ll let you know how it goes.
That’s my Mac mini “extreme makeover.” Don’t tell me you were expecting pink?