End of an Era

This weekend, after a relatively easy (if fiddly) migration to an aging Core Duo mini, I powered off my last PowerPC machine still running1.

And by that I mean an old 1GHz Mac mini G4 that ran our iTunes Home Sharing service and a local Dropbox cache to speed up LAN sync to my laptop.

Its primary raison d’étre is that Synology, despite providing an iTunes-compatible DAAP server, can’t provide a Home Sharing-compatible service (if there are hacks to provide that, it’s probably shaky legal ground), and that I refuse to jailbreak my Apple TV to support other ways to access my media (such as UPNP or straight-up file sharing), so I have no alternative but maintain a Mac as front-end and store all my media on the NAS, which I then mount on the mini via AFP.

It’s a trifle redundant and obviously slower in terms of overall performance, but works and saves me a lot of trouble - of course, I still wish Apple had come up with a decent, more open (and environmentally friendly) home media solution that didn’t require a full-blown computer being on all the time (even though the mini will shut down automatically when there’s nobody home, etc.).

Still, after years of dicking around with a bunch of alternatives (from the original XBMC to the WDTV), I still think this is the best overall solution for us, and with an unbeatable user experience.

But that’s just scratching the surface. That mini ran pretty much non-stop for half a decade, and was a testing ground for a wide variety of hacks, ranging from many generations of this very site to firewall and traffic shaping shenanigans, and including oddball stunts like providing AirPrint services to my iOS devices.

For a while, it ran VirtualPC, QEMU and DOSBox to allow me access to insanely old files (Series 3 emulation, anyone?) and, of late, to (rather painfully) emulate an ARM CPU2 as well as being my remote desktop whenever I ran afoul of iOS limitations and needed access to a conventional browser or a shell prompt.

The amazing bit for me, however, is not its flexibility - that is remarkable, but not that unique.

No, the amazing bit is that it managed to run an (impressively) up-to-date version of iTunes in Leopard right up until yesterday evening and without any loss of functionality, which is amazing if you pause to think that Apple is still supporting iTunes on PowerPC today.

And it would probably keep going if it weren’t for the fact that I need something a little faster (photo browsing on the Apple TV was becoming a bit of a chore) and able to run Intel apps now and then - starting with VirtualBox to provide me with occasional access to a Windows desktop with sensible response times and a local Debian environment for testing stuff.

Still, it’s sad to see it go. Apple’s PowerPC range might be woefully underpowered in this day and age, but it was always remarkably resilient and long-lasting. I have a feeling the Intel box I’m replacing it with isn’t going to last half as long…

  1. I still have my original 800MHz iBook G3, but I haven’t switched it on in a year or so. I suppose it might actually still work, but I can’t be bothered. ↩︎

  2. Surprisingly enough, it was rather faster than the NSLU2 at running Debian for ARM, even if dog slow to compile NodeJS. ↩︎