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Homemade Dot-Mac with OS X

by Alan Graham

So, still fuming about the .Mac annual fee? The question of whether .Mac is worth $100 is a personal matter, but one of the greatest ironies of this situation is that Mac OS X is packed full of features that make many aspects of .Mac unnecessary.

How about running your own unlimited version of iDisk or hosting your own Web site? And what if you can do it easily for less than a one-time fee of $50? If you aren't too keen on ponying up $100 per year for .Mac, you should at least send Apple a "Thank You" iCard for giving us Mac OS X.

What continues to amaze me are the constant surprises I find in good ole version 10.1. Every day I discover how much value is packed into Mac OS X compared to what I paid.

In a brief series of articles, I'm going to show you how to get more value out of your computer through ideas you may have never considered before. I think you might be surprised at what you can do for $100. In this article I'll show you the beginning steps of building your own version of .Mac.

Time to Fire Up Apache

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of switching to Mac OS X was the prospect of having an Apache Web server (built into the OS) at my fingertips. I've worked at many a dot-bomb that utilized the power of Unix, but never had any hands-on experience with it. In the past, the idea of running my own personal Apache Web server was ridiculous. I never considered it because of the cost and complexity, but when I first fired up Web Sharing I thought, "Sweeeeet!" While researching this issue for some of the writing I did for Mac OS X: The Missing Manual by David Pogue, I set out to answer a few questions:

  • Could anyone set up and host their own Web site?
  • Can the average Joe put this together for little $$$?
  • Can I stick it to the man and save myself some dough?
  • Can I build a server out of anything less than a dual G4/Xserve?

The answer to all of these questions is yes. You can host your own Web site at home, you can transfer files back and forth, you could set up a private radio station, host your own database, post iPhoto pages, and if you already have a pretty fast Internet connection, you can do it for practically nothing. This article will help you get your feet wet setting up your own personal Web server. I promise that anyone can pull this off, and in the future we'll explore many of the uses for this.

My Scenario

First, let's take a peek at what I had to work with. A picture of my technology at home looks like this:

  • Airport base station (covers upper floors).
  • DW-Link 802.11 access point (covers first floor, deck, front yard).
  • Several Macs of varying pedigree and age.
  • 768k DSL line (up and downstream/averages 700k) with a dynamic IP address.
  • NetGear 4 Port Ethernet hub (2) and Belkin DSL router/hub.
  • DSL Modem.
  • Apple Color Laser 12/600.
  • One remaining Dell (used for IPSec VPN \0xD0, but not for long).

My wife used to use Yahoo Web hosting for her art-business Web site ($15 per month). She does her own design work, but she would have me maintain the site. Her grandmother once told her "If you don't learn to do it, you don't have to do it." Because of this philosophy, I decided to turn her computer into a Web server. I built the Web server right there on her Classic iMac, so when she saves her HTML to her hard drive, her site is automatically updated. So there. :-P

I'm also able to host her FileMaker catalogue database and connect it to her Web site via XML. Now when she updates a record, the Web site will reflect the changes instantly. In addition, with a FileMaker plug-in called eAuthorize ( I could also, in theory, process credit cards (still testing this, but I will let you know how it works out). But the best part of all is I save myself $180 per year in hosting (cha-ching).

Although it took me about a week to set up my Web server the first time, you can probably set up most of your Web server in just a few hours (some registration items take a little longer). Now I want to point out that this solution is not initially intended for those who are looking to run a high-traffic site. If this is your interest, in a later article, we'll look into a solution based on Mac OS X Server.

What you will need:

  • Macintosh running Mac OS X (with the most current updates) and at least 256MB of RAM.
  • Speedy DSL/Cable line with at least 300k upstream (although it really depends on the traffic you expect).
  • DSL/Cable Modem (usually comes free with your account).
  • UPS power supply (optional).
  • Ethernet Hub/Router (probably had to get one for your DSL/Cable modem).
  • Ethernet Cable/Airport connection to the hub (or both).
  • Dynamic or Static IP address.
  • Surge Protector (could use a UPS).

If you are one of the lucky who have a DSL/Cable connection, you probably have these basics at home already. This means your initial investment is $0.

Tip: If you use a spare laptop for your home server, you can probably keep it running for at least two hours if the power fails. Try that with a $100 UPS. Of course, the router/hub poses another problem.

Step 1. Preparing Your Hardware

You need to have a computer in the house to use as your Web server. You can use any Mac OS X-enabled computer, and it doesn't require a top-of-the-line G4. If you don't want to use your current home computer as a server, you can purchase a Classic iMac on eBay for about $400 (add $50 for RAM). However, this isn't necessary. We've been running my wife's machine as a server for many months and it hasn't affected her ability to work. I do recommend you have at least 256MB or more of RAM in your machine.

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