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Dr John Hawkins

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Small is Beautiful

Posted on 2006/06/19 05:46:43 (June 2006).

[Saturday 17th June]
I've been talking about it for some time, but for one reason or another it has been put off constantly. Today though my resolve was quite unshakeable, and I finally got around to buying that Mac Mini.

Since we moved into this apartment back in December I've often thought it would be good to have a computer that can be left on all the time, to do odd jobs and server type tasks. Up until now we were just using our laptops for all things computery, but laptops really aren't designed for being left on for long periods of time. Mine gets pretty hot after a while, and the fan can be surprisingly noisy and irksome.

I had looked at a number of alternatives (mini ITX PCs etc), but the guiding principles were that it had to be fairly cheap, very small and very quiet. Our apartment is almost open plan - the main living area is just separated from the bedroom by a set of sliding doors. So anything that had even the slightest of fan noises would end up keeping us awake at night. The size was also an issue governed by the practicalities of living in a Japanese apartment - a full sized PC would have been a real imposition on an already cluttered living space, and in addition I've always got in the back of my mind the thought that we'll be moving again at some point, so the less bulky objects to lug about the better!

Buying a Mac seemed a controversial choice at first, but all those mini ITX PCs still seemed a long way behind - there wasn't any real competitor in the same price bracket, certainly not any that would "just work" straight out of the box. Plus the prospect of Boot Camp gave me a good backup plan - if it really was going to be prohibitive to get what I wanted done in OSX, I always had the option to fallback to the security blanket that is Windows.

Oh, and the other advantage was that I could hook it up to the TV (with a little adaptor). I was really loathed to buy a monitor, not just because of the added expense, but again because of the extra clutter it would create in our tiny apartment. Whilst the display quality with the Mini hooked up to the TV is pretty awful, and small text is basically unreadable, it is OK for watching DVDs, browsing photos etc. Having got used to watching DVDs on a laptop, it was a kind of luxury to sit on the sofa and watch a couple of episodes of Frasier via the telly, with the added benefit of the nifty little remote control you get with the mini. As I showcased these less nerdy aspects of the new machine to Chie, I could see her initial resistance to the idea of buying the mini was definitely beginning to weaken!

Eventually I discovered the best way to use it for anything that required readable text was to install OSXVNC, and then VNC into it from my laptop. This worked rather well actually.

It is certainly early days yet, too soon to tell whether I'll be won over by OSX. However, the Unix backend is a huge plus for me - I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Unix, and for a number of applications, this actually makes an OSX platform more suitable as a server than Windows. I am now mulling over all sorts of pet projects - a mail proxy, a website backup/mirror, an FTP server, a Telnet/SSH server, a CVS server, maybe even a webcam if I can find something interesting enough to point it at... the list goes on and on.

Anyway, it's a great little box for the price - you really have to take your hat off to Apple. Or perhaps more than that, you have to wonder why all the other hardware companies are seemingly failing to deliver the things that people really want. Why do computers have to be the loud, unseemly and oversized monstrosities that we have become accustomed to? Apple seem to do a great line in things that are neat, compact, visually appealing, do exactly what you want, and "just work". Definitely lessons to be learnt for the rest of the IT industry here!

Comment 1

Nicely put, Sir! The final paragraph certainly sums-up my own feelings on the matter rather well!! :))

Posted by Nigel at 2006/06/19 07:31:10.

Comment 2

Nigel, I think you may have trail blazed a whole new approach to computing here at the Maison...

Posted by John at 2006/06/19 09:17:50.

Comment 3


Just an innocent thought... Now you have GNU C++ for Mac, is there a remote possibility that PhotoStudio might be recompiled?? :)

Not a high-priority, just a nice prospect!

Posted by Nigel at 2006/06/19 21:50:41.

Comment 4

aha, mr. hawkins! ogenki desu-ka?! welcome to the brotherhood of mac. i have turned to the darkside too with you, in that i have swapped my trusty 4-year old G4 PPC iMac for a spanking new Intel MacBook... i have granted a feeble 5GB partition to XP, but it's enough to run those occasional apps. enjoy your new purchase, i'm sure you'll grow to <3 OS X.

Posted by Gavin at 2006/06/19 22:26:00.

Comment 5

Oh, and incidentally, I took some small steps towards Boot-Camp last night.

Apparently it requires a full SP2 version of XP Home or Pro - nothing else will do. So I spent an hour or so "slipstreaming" (a new phrase I hadn't heard before!) my older XP Pro CD with the SP2 update disk, to produce a stand-alone useable install CD.

Now this is done I am ready to go... But that will be another night... :)

Posted by Nigel at 2006/06/20 24:10:20.

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