After my article in Tech Tails last week I received a reply from a faithful reader asking for more information on my Mac mini setup at home:

“I read with interest your piece on using your mac mini as a kind of server, along with Dyndns to deal with back to my mac issues. While I am interested in the Dyndns issues, I would also like to hear more about setting up your mini as a quasi-server. How do multiple users access your iTunes/iPhotos/iMovie files? Is it in that way really a server, or is it just a user account you remote access into? I often thought that having a home server made sense, given the kinds of files that should be shared among family members, but I have no idea how that would happen.”

One of the reasons that I’ve never written an in-depth article on my Mac mini “server” is that it’s really as basic as one can get. As I mentioned in last week’s article, my Mac mini is attached to my television via S-Video (alas, I do not have a fancy HDTV) and the audio outputs to a Klipsch receiver which is attached to a 5.1 surround-sound system. I keep my main user account on there and access the account in-home using screen sharing via “Back to My Mac.” On the road, I connect via Remote Desktop or, if I’m sharing files, via AFP directly in the Finder.

When I’m at home and I’d like to play music for my guests I use my MacBook Pro or my iPhone to control iTunes on the Mac mini. When I want to sit down and watch a movie that I’ve either downloaded from iTunes or on my own, I turn on the TV and use either the Apple Remote or, again, my MacBook Pro or iPhone to control the Mac mini’s screen. Photos can also be controlled in Front Row via the Apple Remote. It really is simple! The only reason I don’t have an Apple TV instead is that there are several sources beyond iTunes that I get my media content from, so by using a Mac mini I can choose to download media from any application and still view the result on my TV.

I also periodically use the attached 2TB RAID to back up the other computers in my home. This is also very basic and, no, I don’t use Time Machine. I simply use Carbon Copy Cloner and I’m among the few left that have a house filled with FireWire-capable machines. While I could set up network backups as well, I just haven’t had a strong enough need for that yet. To be honest, since I work with technology all day long, I like to use the simplest technology at home to do the tasks that I need done so that I can focus on my pets and my hobbies instead of spending my nights toiling over my in-home network (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

As for users, I’m the only person who uses my machine, so I do everything from the one account. That said, with Leopard it’s very easy to create multiple user accounts for file-sharing purposes so that people can remotely access the files on the system. This is done in the Accounts pane of System Preferences and then one can set the permissions for different folders by selecting the folder and hitting “Get Info.” That way, certain folders can be set up to allow access to only certain user accounts; it’s a great way to restrict the information that your visitors can access.

The last tidbit that I want to throw out there was a hot tip from one of my co-workers here. He just turned me on to a piece of software called Plex which appears to be similar to Apple’s Front Row, but much more robust. It has a sleek interface that can pull media not only from your iApps, but also from YouTube, Hulu, other areas of you hard drive and several other media sources. I’ll admit I haven’t played with it yet, but I’m planning on it. It’s free and seems really fun. If you’ve used it, I’d love to hear what you think of it!

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