Mac Mini to the Rescue?

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Michael Devney

On January 11th this year Apple Computer announced there smallest, lowest cost Mac computer to-date. This mini marvel could be the silver bullet for Apple in breaking new markets but it could also be the key to low cost, easy to use, stable computer networking for small and mid-scale arts organisations and dance companies. Michael Devney, our technology advisor delves deeper to find answers.

Many working in the arts and dance pay little or no attention to the computer systems or networks their organisations are running on. Until they break down that is or they find the software and hardware groaning under the strain when the tasks they are asked to carry out become more and more challenging.

Prevalent Weakness

The most prevalent small scale networking system in the UK, and most of the world for that matter, is based around some type of Windows setup from Microsoft. Unless the equipment was purchased fairly recently then the computers will be running on either Windows98, ME or 2000 and the server may well be running on a Windows NT4 system which is so old that Microsoft no longer supports it. More modern computers or machines that have been upgraded will probably be running WindowsXP.

Problems with the Microsoft platform are widespread and well documented. In a recent test we built a PC from a collection of brand new parts using a sealed, unused hard disk. After installing WindowsXP and connecting the computer to the internet via a broadband connection it took just 30 seconds for the machine to become infested with spyware and all we did was install the operating system*. Spyware and viruses not withstanding the basic level of software on Windows based machines is relatively poor when compared to the Apple platform.

Bonjour
This is Apple's solution to the problems encountered by many when trying to connect one or more computers together.

Rendezvous is a zero configuration system. This means that any Mac connected to another Mac over a network will automatically detect the machine for file sharing and other services.

Security is not compromised because you still need passwords to access files on network servers and machines but all the hard work is done for you by the operating system.

Rendezvous is so clever it will even detect any Windows based machine on the network and allow you to share files with that as well.

Since this piece was first written Apple was forced to rename its' networking technology to the slightly ridiculous monicker it now has.

Mini Misconception

To this date the popular mis-conception about the Apple platform is that the systems are much more expensive than a good Windows based PC. Of course this is complete nonsense because when you take the total cost of ownership into account, including costs for maintenance, support and depreciation the price differential in favour of Macs becomes very favourable indeed. The savings become greater when you install an Apple based system across an entire network.

In an attempt to counter this price mis-conception Apple has released the Mac Mini a simple, no nonsense and very small computer system that ships with no keyboard, monitor or mouse. The market this machine is aimed at are ‘switchers’, people who want to move from PC/Windows based systems to a new platform but the Mini also has huge potential as a so-called “thin client” more of which later.

Retailing for just £339 for the base level system you can simply throw out the Wintel box on your desk and plug in your existing monitor, keyboard and mouse** and join the brighter side of the computing world with the Mac and the OSX operating system.

The low-end Mac Mini comes equipped with a 40Gb Hard Drive, CD Writer and DVD reader, Firewire port, 256Mb of RAM, networking port, built in modem and 2 x USB2.0 slots. Wireless networking and internal Bluetooth can be added when you order the machine and cannot be fitted at a later date. There are however many external wireless options that can be added via the USB ports. The whole package is just 6.5 inches wide and two inches tall and weighs just over 1kg.

While the Mac Mini offers nothing radically new in terms of its technology from the Mac point of view the major selling point is its price and small form factor.

All Macs ship with the iLife 05 software suite that includes iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iTunes and Garageband. The software enables you to manage images, music, video material and create and burn DVD’s with a compatible DVD drive. The key with all Apple software and the operating system is integration. Assets can be shared between all of the applications easily and quickly to build audio-visual presentation or to simply manage the content on your computer system. Apple’s Rendezvous networking technology makes sharing information from your system across an entire network simple and fast with no configuration required from the users point of view.

Thin Client

Thin clients are just stripped down, inexpensive computer systems that are intended to provide a basic level of functionality for the user and they exist as part of a network. Until now there has been no such hardware option based around the Mac platform but the Mini has changed all of that.

Assuming that you use all of your existing keyboards, monitors, mice, network ports and you replace the server with a Powermac G5 running OSX Server you could build a Mac enabled network for under £5,000. Such a network would accommodate 11 people. We have included a memory upgrade into this cost since the bundled 256Mb from Apple is a little lean for running OSX.

The cost compares favourably with any type of network setup from Dell and the total cost of ownership for a Mac based network is much lower since software failure is so rare that a specialist level of support is not needed. High levels of security and no virus or spyware threat means little or no downtime on your network and the simple administration interface of OSX server makes using the platform an easy job for any member of staff.

Mac Mini’s are capable of handling images, music and video with ease straight out of the box and since the arts is a media based work environment then this should be a major selling point when deciding what type of computer system you need in your organisation. The Office suite from Microsoft is pretty much the same beast on the OSX platform so normal day to day tasks can be achieved with the added ease of Apple’s well known attention to usability and functionality.

The Cat With No Hat

Also coming in the next few months is Apple’s latest upgrade to their operating system entitled OSX Tiger (all of Apple’s OS upgrades have the name of a big cat). This new system will boast many great new features but the most important one for the normal user is called Spotlight.

Spotlight is Apple’s search technology that enables the user to locate anything on the computer or network by typing a search request into an ever-present dialog box in the top right corner of the computer screen. Because of the way the technology works there is no waiting for the computer to go find the relevant files on the system because it brings back categorised results instantly. We all have thousands of files on our computers and networks present even greater problems for organisations. Just finding some files can take a great deal of time. Spotlight’s sophisticated technologies will practically eliminate endless hunting for long forgotten files provided that you don’t call everything ‘file 1, file 2’, etc, etc.

Workflow issues can seriously hamper the ability of any organisation to do its job, Article19 should know as we deal with these short comings every day when trying to get information from arts organisations, so any tools that enable people to work faster, easier and lower their workloads has to be welcomed. I predict Spotlight to be the biggest single ‘Stress Buster’ that the normal office worker will come into contact with over the next few years.

Mac Mini is not a revolution in computing terms and compared to many modern systems it is a little underpowered when dealing with high-end applications. But as a stand alone machine for day to day tasks and as a network client this machine is the perfect way to get your company or arts organisation thinking the Apple way. Low cost and tiny form factor coupled with the soon to be released Tiger operating system will make for a much enhanced computer environment for any working office.

*WindowsXP OEM Version and SP2
** Must have USB connectors or adapters fitted to work.

[ Apple Website ]

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