Leopard Arrival Makes The Case For A Mac Home Server

With the arrival of both Mac's newest operating system and a mom-friendly version of Microsoft's Windows server software for the home, one begins to wonder whether or not Apple could turn the mini (or Apple TV) into something truly useful: a Mac Home Server. (Or would that be the Mac iHome? How 'bout Mac homi?)

By now you've probably heard that the only publicly announced way to run Time Machine backups over a network is to do it to another Mac running Leopard or Leopard Server. (Somebody told Blam that a network drive that is HFS Plus formatted would work—or was that AFS??—but I'm not sure what that kind of network software such a server would be running—besides Leopard.) What's more, the new Back To My Mac capabilities sound a lot like Windows Home Server applications and the add-ons HP has promoted in its forthcoming MediaSmart home server.

Jobs & Co. clearly get the concept, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Apple honchos all have full-blown Leopard servers running in their homes to take care of their own back-up and file management matters. But until the time comes that a simple and elegant solution is presented with a "Boom," you might want to entertain the notion of cobbling one together yourself, starting with a run-of-the-mill mini.

Reasons for:
• The $599 price of a new Intel Core 2 Duo mini is negligible when compared to HP's similarly priced MediaSmart Windows Home Server. You could buy one and use the regular Leopard as your server software.
• You can buy a G4 mini on eBay for $300 or less, and open it up to swap out the 2.5" drive with any newer, higher capacity drive. (I think they are up to 320GB in this format.) There's a good run-through of this on BareFeats.
• Rather than crack the case, you can connect a high-capacity USB 2.0 or FireWire drive instead. The going rate for a 500GB external drive is $130.

Reasons against:
• If you want full server potential, you will have to buy Leopard Server, which costs about 5X what Leopard for a single Mac does. Apple knows that unless it releases a home version a la Windows, its cost will remain prohibitively high for experimenters.
• HP's Windows Media Center Home Server product (and all others coming from bonafide OEMs) will be built specifically for high server performance: that $599 mean higher-capacity drives starting at 500GB, and the absence of a video card and optical drive. To get the best results while running quietly and coolly, one imagines the Apple product would have to be the same.

It's just a thought. I'd love to hear your ideas along these lines: Have you been thinking about a way to make a cheap Mac server? What about Steve—will Apple ever introduce something like this?