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Computers

Repurposing a Mac mini G4 as an iTunes Server

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:

If you’ve been an avid user of Apple Macs for any length of time, the chances are that you have a PowerPC G4 Mac that pre-dates the Macs with Intel processors. You might also think that these machines are slow and, relatively speaking, useless. That’s not the case.

In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how to get your G4 Mac up to speed in order that you can use it as an iTunes media server for your household.


Why Run iTunes From a G4?

If your main Mac is a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, using it as an iTunes server means storing all your media on your main device - a device that may have a relatively small SSD.

It makes sense to run iTunes on an old PowerPC G4 Mac, as these machines are relatively cheap to purchase and it means that you can store all of your media separately to your main Mac.


What You’ll Need

In order to get a Mac mini G4 (or other Mac G4) up and running, for iTunes, there are going to be a few things that we need to do.

  • Mac mini G4 (or other Mac G4)
  • Retail copy of OS X 10.5 Leopard DVD
  • iTunes 10.6.3 (free download)
  • QuickTime 7.7 (free download)
  • Apple ID
  • An external hard drive (suggest one powered by USB bus)

The reason that we need an external hard drive is that the hard drive in the Mac is likely to be of a fairly small capacity, such as 40GB. This is not going to be enough for lots of music, films and television programmes.

The advantage of an external hard drive is that the storage of much more information is possible, and is more cost-effective than replacing the hard drive within the machine itself. It is also far easier to upgrade, in the future, if you find that you are running out of space.

It is recommended to use an external hard drive powered by the USB bus, rather than mains electricity supply. This means the hard drive will be powered on and off along with the Mac; there is no need to remember to switch another device on or off at the wall each time the Mac is turned on or off.


Check OS X Version

If you are using a Mac PowerPC G4, dating from around 2005–6, you will often find that it will be running OS X 10.3 Panther or 10.4 Tiger. Whilst iTunes was available on both of these iterations of OS X, it is not not at the level we require for Home Sharing.

Your Mac will, therefore, need to be running the most up-to-date version of OS X that it possibly can. For this machine that means OS X 10.5 Leopard.

Tip: The grey installation discs that came with your Mac will not be the correct version of OS X. Grey installation discs that came with other Macs, pre-installed with OS X 10.5 Leopard, will not work on your Mac. Get yourself a retail copy of the OS X 10.5 Leopard installation disc.


Upgrade Your Mac to Leopard

Step 1

In order to upgrade your Mac, to OS X 10.5 Leopard, insert the OS X Leopard DVD into the SuperDrive and reboot your Mac.

Step 2

Booting Mac from OS X 10.5 Leopard DVD
Booting Mac from OS X 10.5 Leopard DVD

As soon as you hear the start-up chime, press and keep hold of the Option key (sometimes marked ALT). A moment later, you will be able to select from which media you with to boot the Mac. Your option will be the internal hard drive or the Leopard DVD. Select the latter.

Step 3

Installing OS X 10.5 Leopard
Installing OS X 10.5 Leopard

Choose your language, and a couple of other options, to begin the installation process. On my Mac mini G4, the installation process took approximately one and a half hours, on a freshly formatted hard drive, to install the operating system.

If you are upgrading an existing OS X installation, as opposed to a full installation, this process may take a little longer.


Update Leopard and iTunes

Upgrading OS X and iTunes following installation of OS X 10.5 Leopard
Upgrading OS X and iTunes following installation of OS X 10.5 Leopard

Once you have installed OS X Leopard 10.5, you will need to update it to the latest version available. This will involve a 768MB combined update of OS X 10.5.8 and iTunes 10.6.3.

Do download and install the updates, click on the Apple on the top left of the menu bar and select Software Update… from the menu. The Mac will need to reboot to complete the installation of the upgrades.

Be aware that this process will take a long time to complete.


Update Other Software

Ensure all software is up-to-date
Ensure all software is up-to-date

Since we have a brand new installation of OS X 10.5 Leopard, that we have upgraded to 10.5.8, we may as well ensure that the Mac is completely up-to-date.

This is a sensible thing to do, as you will find when running Software Update again after rebooting. You will find at least eight updates including an essential security update, a Java update and an Airport update.

Again, the Mac will require a reboot to complete the installation of these updates. And, again, this will take a little while but not as long as updating the operating system and iTunes did.


Update Quicktime

Updating QuickTime
Updating QuickTime

Upon first launching (the updated) iTunes, you will be notified that it requires QuickTime 7.5.5 in order to run. Rather unhelpfully, this update was not included in the software updates that we performed earlier.

The dialogue box advises you to visit http://www.apple.com/quicktime to obtain version 7.5.5 but, also rather unhelpfully, you can no longer download the required version from the link provided. Furthermore, the most recent version of QuickTime for Leopard is QuickTime 7.7.

To get the latest QuickTime, you’ll need to visit Apple's support knowledgebase to download the QuickTime 7.7 update for Leopard.

Your Mac will need to be rebooted to complete the installation of QuickTime 7.7.

Note, links for different versions of QuickTime for OS X Leopard are:


Attach External HDD and Set iTunes Location

Setting up the iTunes Library location
Setting up the iTunes Library location

Now is the time to plug in your external hard drive. If you already have an iTunes Library, on this drive, we will need to tell iTunes about it. If you do not have an iTunes library on this drive, we will need to tell iTunes to create one here.

Remember, we are using an external hard drive as it gives us more storage space than there is available on the internal hard drive.

Step 1

To tell iTunes where to look for an existing library, or where to create one, start up iTunes whilst holding down the Option key (sometimes marked ALT).

Step 2

You will then be presented with a dialogue box asking you to create a new library or locate an existing library. Create or choose, as appropriate, by navigating to your external hard drive.

Choosing the iTunes Library on an external hard drive
Choosing the iTunes Library on an external hard drive

Step 3

If you want to check that the path to the library (on the external hard drive) is correct, or you want to create or locate the library, go to iTunes > Preferences and then select Advanced. You can see if the path is set correctly and you may change it, if necessary.


Home Sharing

With Home Sharing, your family can easily copy songs, videos and more amongst the computers in your home. You can also play from the iTunes library, that you are setting up on your Mac mini G4, using your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple TV.

To enable Home Sharing, ensure that iTunes is the application in focus and, on the menu bar, select Advanced > Turn On Home Sharing Then enter your Apple ID and password.

Note, you will need to use the same Apple ID for all shared computers and devices.


Set iTunes to Run Automatically

As we are setting this machine up as a box purely to house media, we are unlikely to be using a keyboard, mouse or monitor with it. We want to be able to boot the machine and run it “headless” (without a monitor).

To ensure that iTunes loads automatically, each time the Mac is turned on, locate the iTunes icon in the dock, secondary-click the icon to reveal the context-sensitive menu and select Open at Login. You can repeat this process to reveal the menu to ensure that Open at Login now has a tick beside it.


Set Mac to Boot into OS X Without Password

Ensuring a password is not required when booting the Mac
Ensuring a password is not required when booting the Mac

The next thing that we need to do is ensure that the Mac is capable of booting without requiring a password to log in. Again, this means that we can switch the Mac on and have it boot up in headless mode meaning that it does not need to be plugged into a monitor, keyboard and mouse all the time.

This is especially useful if you have the Mac somewhere where space is at a premium, such as in a cupboard under your television.

To to this, click on the apple icon on the top left of the menu bar and then System Preferences > Accounts.

We should only have one account listed, besides the Guest account. Select the main user account, click Login Options and ensure that Automatic Login is set to the main user. (This should be the default behaviour).

Disabling the automatic login, in effect requiring a password to login on each boot, is not what we want on this Mac.


Headless Mac and Enabling Screen Sharing

Enabling screen sharing and file sharing
Enabling screen sharing and file sharing

There may be occasions that we want to, or need to, be able to access the Mac mini G4. Without a keyboard, mouse and monitor this is not immediately possible.

Of course, we could just plug in a keyboard, mouse and monitor — but this may be impractical, or space peripherals might not be available. That’s not a problem, as their is an easier and more convenient way of doing this using Screen Sharing.

To enable Screen Sharing, click on the apple icon on the top left of the menu bar and then System Preferences > Accounts. Then select Sharing.

Put a tick in the Screen Sharing and File Sharing boxes.


Access Your iTunes Server With Screen Sharing

Screen Sharing via Finder
Screen Sharing via Finder

We can access our Mac mini G4 from any other Mac, on our network, by going to Finder. In the column on the left-hand side of Finder, ensure that the SHARED section has been expanded.

You will then see the name of your Mac mini G4. Select this and then click on Share Screen… followed by your login credentials.

Logging into the Mac mini G4 from an iMac
Logging into the Mac mini G4 from an iMac

Your username and password will be the username and password that you set up on the main user account on your Mac mini G4, unless you set some custom login criteria.

Using ScreenSharingMenulet for easy access to other devices from the menu bar
Using ScreenSharingMenulet for easy access to other devices from the menu bar

Going further, if you want easy screen sharing access between Macs on your network (and other devices such as Raspberry Pi and PCs), then I recommend a small menu bar utility called ScreenSharingMenulet available from the Mac app store.


The Sound of Music

Now that you have a Mac mini G4 repurposed as an iTunes server, you have recycled an otherwise ageing Mac and have put it to good use. You will now be able to stream music to your AirPlay speakers and films to your Apple TV, controlled by Remote app on your iPhone or iPad, perhaps?

If you have an old G4 Mac lying around and not earning it’s keep, perhaps you’ll follow this tutorial to put it to good use.


Conclusion

In this tutorial, I have shown the steps required to bring a Mac mini G4 (PowerPC processor - pre-Intel) up to the required specification in order to act as an iTunes server. I have described how to set the machine up to run as a “headless” machine, and how to access that headless machine from other Macs on your network. Let me know how you get on setting up your old Mac and please share any tips or hints, in the comments below, that you may have for others

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