Apple's cigar box desktop, better known as the Mac mini, has always been something of an oddball. Like the rest of Cupertino's hardware lineup, the mini is sleek, shiny, and stylish. But this miniature, monitor-less desktop has a much higher geek quotient than Apple's more polished consumer offerings like the MacBook, iMac, or iPhone. There's a tinkerer's quality to the Mac mini, a device that's never seemed to have a clearly defined niche.
The newest Mac mini may change that perception, at least in the business market. Apple is positioning the consumer model, which starts at $700, as a living room entertainment hub. But the pricier Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server is strictly a business machine.
Featuring two 500GB (7200-rpm) hard drives packed into a small aluminum shell, this $1000 device is a workplace server that enables file sharing and backup, syncing and sharing of calendars, instant messaging, and other communications essentials across a small network of Macs, PCs, iPhones, and iPads. The Mac mini's 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of memory (expandable up to 8GB) have plenty of power for the job.
Of course, there are less expensive options for small business owners, the more tech-savvy of whom might very well cobble together an office server by installing Ubuntu Linux on an old Pentium desktop that's collecting dust in the closet. But the Mac mini's appeal is ease of use, no surprise for an Apple product, and that's bound to resonate with business people who aren't IT whizzes.
Snow Leopard's Server Assistant, for instance, is mostly free of tech jargon, although the user would benefit from some Mac experience to understand server-transfer instructions such as: "You can also transfer information from another volume on this Mac or from a Time Machine backup." That may be simple for you to understand, but Apple's target Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server customer may be wonder what a Time Machine is.
Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server owners can add an unlimited number of Mac and PC users without per-user licensing fees. The Mac mini's back side ports include Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 (four ports), HDMI, FireWire 800, and audio in/out. There's also an SD card slot and a Mini DisplayPort.
The Mac mini seems well equipped for office life. It may achieve greater success as a small business server than as a living room media centre, particularly if the next incarnation of Apple TV is a hit.