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Mac Mini Eye for the Linux-Windows Guy

by Todd Ogasawara

The Apple Mac mini has been out for a couple of months, and you've probably read or skimmed a dozen reviews of it by now. Don't worry, this isn't another Mac mini review.

You've also probably read or heard comments by the so-called Switchers who switched from (usually) Microsoft Windows to Mac OS X. Don't worry, this isn't a switcher article either. This article is for the current Linux or Microsoft Windows user who has been watching and trying to figure out this Mac thing for the last couple of years. So, this article is for other people like me, who I place in the category of Curious Try-ers.

Although this article is in the Mac DevCenter, it should also interest readers of Windows DevCenter and Linux DevCenter. The goal of this article is to let other Linux/BSD and Microsoft Windows users know what to expect if they decide to become a Mac Try-er too.

I haven't used a Mac since 1989. Since then my desktops have been split between various versions of Microsoft Windows and UNIX (Linux these days). Right now I have Microsoft Windows XP Home and Professional and a couple flavors of Linux (Fedora, Mepis, and Ubuntu at the moment) running on my desktop and notebook PCs. I'm pretty satisfied with my Microsoft Windows and Linux boxes. Software like Mac OS X, GarageBand, iPhoto, and iMovie have intrigued me for a while, but not quite enough to spend $1,500 for the iMac G5 or iBook hardware configuration I thought I would need to try these applications. The Mac mini's lower entry barrier convinced me that the time had come to buy and try a Mac OS X box. I'm convinced that a large percentage of first time Mac buyers buying a Mac mini are Try-ers like me.

The Mac Mini May Be the Lowest Priced Mac, But it Isn't Cheap!

I looked at the $499 Mac mini with the 1.25GHz G4 and a 40GB hard drive and decided to up-sell myself to the $599 1.42GHz model with an 80GB hard drive. I upgraded the RAM to 512MB and added the integrated Bluetooth and Airport Extreme (802.11g WiFi). This brought the configuration total to $733. I looked around my home and found a bunch of spare PS/2 keyboards but no spare USB keyboard. This meant I had to go out and buy a keyboard. I had spare CRTs but no spare LCD monitors. The cost of this little Try-er experiment was going up fast.

Related Reading

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By Brian Jepson, Ernest E. Rothman

What to Do While Waiting

I'm actually still waiting for the Mac mini to arrive as I type this portion of this Mac mini article. The local Apple Store can configure upgrades for 512MB RAM memory and wireless LAN. However, it does not sell either the Mac mini or iBook with the combination AirPort and Bluetooth card. So, I opted to order the Mac mini directly from Apple's Web store. The high initial demand outstripped Apple production capacity. This meant that I would have wait more than a month for the Mac mini! I decided to use that time to prepare for the mini's arrival, and soon found that the preparation was beginning to resemble that which took place before the arrival of an even more important small package years ago: my daughter. I found myself preparing a space for the mini and buying the add-ons that I knew I would need once it arrived.

Not a One-Way Trip

Before I get carried away, I want to make it very clear that I am not making a one-way trip to Mac mini-Land. I will continue to work on Linux and Microsoft Windows based platforms too. So, the configuration of my Mac mini is focused on keeping me productive as I move among the various computers I work on. This includes handheld devices like my Motorola MPx220 Windows Mobile Smartphone and my Dell Axim X50v Pocket PC.

The Preparation List

I had a couple of products in my home that I used with a notebook PC running Microsoft Windows XP Home. My goal was to use these items with the Mac mini and let my notebook become a mobile tool again. Here's the list of existing items:

Legacy Products

  • Microsoft 802.11g Wireless Base Station

  • Hewlett Packard Photosmart 7760 Printer

  • TDK DVD+-RW Recorder

  • Sandisk 512MB Cruzer mini USB 2.0 Flash Drive

As I continued to wait for the Mac mini to arrive (the wait would eventually stretch to five weeks), I found some Web resources and purchased books, software, and hardware.

Web Resources

  • Apple Mac mini Discussions Board: Apple's Mac mini community site is a good place to visit before getting your box. You learn a lot and possibly avoid some frustration and headaches by learning from the experience of other people.

  • The MacCast Podcast: Adam Christianson's MacCast Podcast amazes me with its near daily regularity and information quality. I listened to it every day while waiting for the Mac mini and continue to listen to it. There is nothing so humbling for a tech geek as to enter a completely unfamiliar technical world. The near daily information from this podcast helped ease the transition for this Mac-newbie.

  • This is a Mac mini community site with news and discussion forums.

  • This is a Mac mini community site with discussion forums and news. As I was writing this, I noticed that while this site works fine with Firefox, it is not viewable using Internet Explorer [NOTE: This was a temporary problem. is viewable using IE].

  • HTmini: This site focuses on using the Mac mini in a home theater environment.



  • Apple (dot).Mac Subscription: Apple sells this subscription at a 30% discount if you purchase it at the same time you purchase a computer. The online services looked interesting, but not compelling. The Microsoft Windows user in me said that the package's Virex anti-virus software is something I need despite what people say about the dearth of viruses targeting the Mac. Its Backup software sounded useful to have too, even in a networked environment with lots of backup space on other computers.

  • Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac Professional Edition: The world I live and work in revolves around Microsoft Office documents. And, to be honest, I'm very comfortable using Microsoft Office applications and wanted to be productive right away on the Mac mini. The Professional Edition includes Microsoft Virtual PC 7 for Mac. It lets you run a virtual Microsoft Windows instance and applications for Microsoft Windows within Mac OS X.


  • 17 inch LCD Monitor with both VGA and DVI inputs: I read that some people were having problems using the Mac mini's DVI-to-VGA converter with their legacy VGA CRTs and LCDs. I decided not to take any chances and found an inexpensive name-brand LCD with both VGA and DVI inputs.

  • 500VA UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply): Why take chances? The 500VA UPS I bought was around $50 and even includes a Mac OS X compatible utility to monitor the UPS using a USB connection. UPS units are cheap insurance these days.

  • Speaker System: I found a name-brand 2.1 speaker system with small main speakers and a reasonable sounding sub-woofer for $30. It had to sound better than the built-in Mac mini speakers, right?

  • USB Wireless Keyboard and Mouse: I was hesitant to buy a Microsoft-centric keyboard since I didn't understand how special keys for Mac OS X map to it. However, I knew for sure that I needed a mouse with two-buttons and a scroll wheel! I can't understand how anyone can work without a scroll wheel these days.

  • USB 2.0 4-port mini Hub: The Mac mini comes with two USB 2.0 ports. The wireless keyboard/mouse transceiver, UPS, storage card reader, printer, and 512MB thumb drive add up to five ports. 'Nuff said.

  • USB 2.0 10-in-1 Storage Card Reader: Who can live without a reader for CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital(SD), Memory Stick, or xD cards used by digital cameras, PDAs, MP3 players, and phones?

I ended up spending as much for accessories and software as I did for the upgraded Mac mini itself! You can see some of the hardware and software I had to deal with when the Mac mini finally arrived in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Mac mini and accessories. Figure 1. Mac mini and accessories.

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