Looking at the Mac mini’s technical specifications alone, the computer sits firmly in the middle of Apple’s computer offerings – it’s essentially an eMac without the monitor, keyboard, or mouse. What’s notable about the mini is its physical size, a diminutive rectangle only slightly larger than most external hard drives.
Interestingly, that small size has become a large canvas where people are projecting their imaginations about what the Mac mini could be. With its small footprint, the Mac mini is more welcome in the living room, passing the "spouse test" of being a discreet media device without looking like a, well, computer. It’s also found a home in automobiles, where enthusiasts want access to music and video (for passengers, hopefully) without spending a fortune on dedicated components.
Oh, and then there’s the price: the stock Mac mini costs $500, which is apparently wooing non-Mac users to the Mac OS X platform.
These factors have led to an unexpected surge of Web sites dedicated to the Mac mini. Obviously, some of what’s at play is the phenomenon of catching something insanely popular at the ground level, but not since the original iMac has there been so much interest in an otherwise unremarkable computer.
I recently went looking for Mac mini-themed sites to see what was propelling so much activity and to answer the question: does an explosion of niche Web sites promise success for a product, or is it gold rush opportunism? Time will tell, of course, but in the meantime it makes for an interesting trip.
News and Information — The site that started my exploration, Modmini.com, was created by Robert Cassidy and frequent TidBITS contributor Andrew Laurence. Despite its name, the site so far isn’t focused as much on mods (modifications) in the same sense that others are (for example, Mac minis embedded into old iMac or even Centris cases). Instead, it tackles practical considerations such as setting up the mini as a DVD jukebox (with movies stored on the hard drive) and adding AirPort and Bluetooth – both build-to-order items – after receiving the Mac mini.
If you’re looking for more of a daily news and information site, 123Macmini.com and BYODKM.net (Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse ) provide ongoing doses of news (Mac mini-related product releases, as well as general Mac OS news) and reviews. They both also offer discussion forums where people can swap stories, tips, and ask the instantly age-old question: "Mac mini or [insert name of any computer here]???"
Home Theater — The Mac mini quickly became the low-cost, low-profile computer of choice to anchor the digital hub, and several sites have sprung up with information specific to building a media center. MacHTPC, HTmini.com, and Home Theater Mac provide news and reviews with a slant toward using the Mac mini as a home theater, plus general Mac news where applicable.
Also noteworthy is the CenterStage project, which isn’t necessarily tied to the Mac mini, but it was inspired by the tiny Mac. CenterStage is an open-source project for developing a home theater environment running on the Mac that can be run from a remote control (think TiVo with all the features you really want). Development is still in its early stages, but a 0.1 alpha version is available for download.
If you sometimes feel as if your car is your home, be sure to check out MacVroom, where you can "Mac your ride" with Mac mini car integration. MacVroom is all over the efforts to put Mac minis in cars, including information on working with small-size LCD screens, alternative power supplies, and more.
Mac mini Community — All of the sites mentioned above include discussion forums or weblog-style comment features, but two sites have been set up solely for the purpose of hosting online communities of Mac mini owners and enthusiasts. Macminiforums includes forums on using, troubleshooting, and modifying Mac minis, as well as classified ads. MacminiCenter is a community-contributed Mac mini wiki (which is just fun to say out loud three times) with information and links to specific hardware (such as LCD projectors), software, and other categories.