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  • DIY Corner: Turn That Old PowerPC Mac Into An iTunes Server

    TiBook 500 Music Server running OS X 10.4.11

    TiBook 500 Music Server running OS X 10.4.11

    Today’s adventure starts with a semi-broken Mac PPC PowerBook (the so-called TiBook 500) and a desire to consolidate and simplify our household iTunes use. There could be many ways to do this, but as usual the results here were completely dependent upon the tools that were readily available. The impetus was not only finding a use for the PowerBook with a broken screen, but also making iTunes more accessible for us and giving us the one thing our iPod can’t – the ability to make playlists on the fly. This could also be called the poor man’s wireless audio.

    So the requirements are pretty simple: 1) the PowerBook must be out of sight, but still completely accessible via network connection. This includes being able to put the machine to sleep regularly but not have to physically access it to wake it again (an early incarnation envisioned wireless peripherals and using the TV as a monitor but the avoidance of this is preferable). 2) We should be able to share the iTunes Library from a central location, and access/manipulate it from any machine in our house.

    First… the Disclaimer

    This tutorial is for educational and informational purposes only. There might be a dozen other ways to accomplish a similar result to what is presented here, so I am not claiming that this is the end-all, be-all solution. In fact, you may find that some other method suits your situation more appropriately. I fully recommend that anyone attempting to follow the directions posted here also do your own further research, as there is a wealth of information available online and the components listed here are specific to what was available to me without having to buy even more junk to put in my house. Good luck!

    PPC G4 Titanium - Is this thing on?

    PPC G4 Titanium – Is this thing on?

    What You’ll Need

    The tools we have for the job are as follows:

    • PowerPC Mac running at least OS X 10.4.11 (Tiger). In this case, the TiBook with a broken screen.
    • 300GB Firewire external hard drive (well, only necessary because our iTunes library is already larger than the 30GB hard drive in the PowerBook, and our iPod is the 160GB version).
    • A router; ours is a Linksys wireless with 4 ethernet ports as well.
    • Any other Mac capable of running Screen Sharing, which is found in OS X 10.5 (Jaguar) or above.
    • The freeware application WakeOnLan.
    • For a laptop, a piece of metal (likely iron) that will disrupt the magnetic switch that makes the computer sleep.

    The logistics here pretty much suggest the need to have both the router and the potential music server in some proximity to your sound system — I find that hard-wiring the music server via ethernet gives better results. And of course you will also need whatever cabling it takes to hook up the server to your audio receiver. When considering where to put your machine, take into account things like fan noise, ventilation and the potential for overheating (running a laptop with the lid closed isn’t necessarily recommended in many cases – see this page for more info).

    Preparing A Tiger Mac For Use Over A Network

    Sharing pane within System Preferences

    Sharing pane within System Preferences

    Assuming you have everything you need to start, the first thing to do is set up the machine that will serve the iTunes library. To do this, open System Preferences and select ‘Sharing’. There you will find the option to turn on the Apple Remote Desktop client. When you check this, a dialog should appear giving you the option to set access privileges – go ahead and set it up to allow at least one user to log on from another machine and control this computer from there by choosing as many checkboxes as are relevant to your situation (I went ahead and checked them all). Probably not best to leave the machine without a password in any case, but especially not if your network isn’t password-protected.

    iTunes Sharing

    iTunes Preferences > Sharing!

    Sharing iTunes

    After that you want to make sure you have the most up-to-date version of iTunes — for a machine running Tiger, this is iTunes 9.2.1. If you have the most current version of iTunes, you should set up sharing so other computers on your network can access the music library. To set up sharing in iTunes, select ‘Preferences’ from the iTunes menu, and then select the ‘Sharing’ tab. Check the box that says, “Share my library on my local network” and you should be good to go; now other computers can see this library within the iTunes application running on their own machine. [You can also enable Home Sharing, which requires an iTunes account, but I’m not going to wade into that here. Ultimately, however, the functionality we want will probably be made most simple with this feature, if only because I don’t want to have to connect the iPod to the Music Server directly, and Home Sharing seems to be the only way to truly avoid that. Furthermore, we want to be able to get more music from the iTunes store and don’t want to have to use the Music Server directly or via Screen Sharing to access the store. A follow-up post would be warranted, I’m sure. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to guarantee there will be one.]

    Setting up Screen Sharing in Lion

    Setting up Screen Sharing in Lion

    Setting Up Screen Sharing

    Once iTunes is set up, you’re ready to see if you can access your music server from another Mac. Presumably you have your own network settings and the new server is showing up in your network. We’re now running Lion (Mac OS X 10.7), so your mileage may vary on how this next part works. In Lion, any Finder window should have a list of Shared items on the left sidebar. If you select your music server, you will see that you automatically connect as a guest. You will need to connect to Screen Sharing as the user you set up to access the Mac running Tiger, so you have the range of control you need to open and close applications and put the server to sleep. Select “Screen Sharing…” and enter your credentials. If all goes well you should see the desktop on the Tiger machine open in a window on the machine that you’re using to access it.

    And… that means you’re almost done! Open iTunes in the Screen Sharing window and enjoy your music server. Also you can go to the File menu in Screen Sharing and save the connection for easy access at any point.

    Approximate location of "magnet blocker" on TiBook 500

    Approximate location of “magnet blocker” on TiBook 500

    Sleeping And Waking

    A final note about using a laptop for this project – if you want the machine to stay awake with the lid closed, you have to disrupt the magnet that acts as the switch to engage the sleep mode. For details on how to do this, see this web site (it’s pretty simple but involves finding where the magnet is located and using a piece of metal to block it).

    Of course, if the machine is asleep, how do you remotely wake it? One excellent solution I’ve found is a bit of freeware called WakeOnLan, which allows you to scan the network when the music server is connected and obtain the MAC address of that machine. Later, the application can send a wakeup message over a network to the machine when it’s sleeping. The app has worked very well for us, especially considering we really wanted to be able to sleep the music server and cease its loud-ish fan when we’re not using it.

    TiBook says ROCK!

    TiBook says ROCK!

    Rock ON!

    So far we’re really enjoying the flexibility the music server gives us. I recommend this project for anyone with an extra PPC around collecting dust, and extra benefit is that you can also use the machine as a web, FTP or mail server if you want. As a web developer I find this to be a big added bonus result to the project. I’d be interested to hear about any similar attempts.

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