Packet Rat: The Rat iFantasizes about the Mac mini

The Rat

Normally the Rat isn't interested in what goes on at Macworld Expo, except perhaps to find out what users will be plugging into his network when his back is turned.

It's not that the whiskered one doesn't like Apple Computer Inc.'s hardware. On the contrary, he personally loves the company's recent work'when the stuff doesn't break. It's just that most of Apple's efforts these days seem focused more on silly little peripherals that can wreak havoc on network security than on the enterprise. Faithful readers already know about his iPod trepidation.

The buzz leading up to this year's Mecca of Mac-worship wasn't making the Rat feel any differently. In fact, the thought of users grabbing a $100 flash-memory version of the iPod (read: USB jump-drive) had him wheezing.

But when a $499, 6- by 2-inch, network-ready Unix workstation stole the show, the Rat's attention peaked in a different way. The Mac mini had him daydreaming about a totally Microsoft-free desktop environment. 'Imagine the bash-scripts I could run,' he drooled.

In case you fell asleep sometime before the Apple Newton was dragged into a trash can, the mini is a low-cost Macintosh that looks like someone took a G4 Cube'the original small-footprint Mac'to the deli counter and sliced off a 2-inch-thick chunk. As Steve Jobs jibed, 'It's BYODKM. Bring your own display, keyboard and mouse.'

But the mini takes any USB keyboard and mouse, and can be fooled into working with older peripherals via a little keyboard-video-mouse switch. The mini can even share peripherals with something like (gasp) a Windows PC.

With OpenOffice'and NeoOffice/J, a version of OpenOffice made native to Mac OS X through Java'and other open-source software running on Macs, the Rat figures he could replace a Windows PC for little more than the mini's $499 price tag and still ensure users can do at least 95 percent of what they do now with fewer messy security issues.

There's just one small issue: He'd want to give all of Jobs' little apples an i-ectomy.

'I can just see it now. Our agency brought to a standstill by a networkwide iLife '05 outbreak,' the cyberrodent cringed. 'The cacophony of a whole building of systems running GarageBand music loops would be deafening. It would be like Wayne Newton fronting for Metallica at a concert and cat-juggling convention.'

And if the Rat were forced at gunpoint'or by enterprise architecture requirements'to actually buy an office suite for his mini fleet, he'd have to go with Microsoft Office for Mac. Apple's new iWork software, which currently includes the Keynote presentation tool and desktop publishing-friendly Pages word processor, is merely half a suite.

'What's more, the name sounds more like a daily affirmation,' the Rat mumbled to his desktop support chief. 'iWork, therefore iAm.'

'More like iMakePrettyPrintouts,' the Windows Registry jockey sniffed. 'Sure, that software is easy to support because there aren't many features to fail.'

'iSee,' the Rat replied.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at

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