Sleek Mac Mini Plays Well with Others

Opinion: Useful software, adequate performance, and PC keyboard compatibility make the new mini a good option for Windows users who would rather add than switch.

For more than a week now Ive been playing with a Mac mini that Apple sent over. Today Id like to offer some first-look opinions on the new machine and its place in this Windows-dominated world.

I know many readers have at least a passing interest in running a mini alongside their Windows machines, so that is what I will concentrate upon. Its also precisely what I am doing here in my own office.

So let me start with the question Ive been getting most often: Is the mini as cool as it seems?

Yes, its small and stylish and can hide almost anywhere on your desk. It works fine with my Dell LCD monitor, in both VGA and DVI modes. It is happy to share a Microsoft keyboard and Logitech mouse with my other computers.

The mini is one of three and occasionally four machines connected to a single IOGEAR KVM switch. With just three keystrokes, I am able to switch between the mini, a Dell desktop, a Dell server and occasionally a notebook that Ill plug in.

The video from the mini looks great on the LCD display. Maybe I am blind, but the difference between using VGA and the DVI digital output on the mini is hard to detect. It might be more obvious in the home entertainment applications I will test later. (I am writing a book about using the mini for Peachpit Press).

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about the Mac minis enterprise potential.

The one problem Ive had has been with the audio, and this is not solely a mini problem, as the Dell desktop suffers the same. It sounds like the video, mouse, and/or keyboard signals are bleeding over into the audio part of the KVM switch. This creates a high-frequency noise that changes when the mouse is moved.

I want to talk to IOGEAR to see if the problem can be solved. But Im not counting on it and have started using two sets of speakers—one for the mini and another for the Dell desktop.

This works fine and has the benefit of allowing me to listen to audio from the computer that I am not currently using on the LCD display. Sometimes I actually turn off the audio on the main computer in order to avoid IM and incoming e-mail alerts and just listen to music on the other machine, which doesnt have messaging and mail turned on.

Can Windows and Mac Keyboards Get Along?

Apple makes a big deal out of the minis support for USB keyboards and pointing devices. Since my other Macs work well with third-party (even Microsoft) keyboards and mice, Im not sure why this is supposed to be so impressive with the mini. I guess its just that many assume that Macs and PCs use incompatible keyboards.

That isnt, however, to say that there are no keyboard compatibility issues. People who have used both Macs and PCs are quick to point out the slightly different arrangement of the keys on either side of the spacebar. Macs have option and command (or "Apple") keys and PCs have alt and Windows keys. Both platforms have control keys.

These three keys are pretty much functionally and logically equivalent across the two platforms, but their relative positions are somewhat reversed.

This has not been a huge problem for me, though someone who has only PC experience might want to consider a Mac utility called DoubleCommand, which can swap the keys and make Windows users completely at ease. Then your Apple and Windows keys can be combined, as can alt and option, resulting in a harmonious computing experience.

Ive been using both keyboards for so long that I adapt pretty well without changing the keyboard.

Next Page: Can a mini do real work?