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iPhoto, Drobo and Mac Mini media server with Plex

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Q. The disk space on my Mac is almost full and I’d like to store our family photos on an external drive and store the family videos from my second MacBook on the storage device as well. How can we move the files if we get an external drive or Mac Mini Server?

A. To begin, both of your Mac computers use iPhoto to manage your photos and home movies. One of the key features of iPhoto is that it has a built in database and protects your photos by storing them with a special file called “iPhoto Library”.

Because of the way it is set up iPhoto can be tricky to manage. In order to maintain the integrity of the database Apple converts the iPhoto folders into a special folder type called a package. All of the photos and movies are stored inside to protect them.

You can use iPhoto to move files, as you can’t manually access photos or movies directly. iPhoto does have the ability to Export selected images to other locations such as folders, to a Mobile Me gallery, to the web or as QuickTime slideshows. You can also upload individual files to Flikr, FaceBook and email them. iPhoto will even resize the images to make them smaller for emailing and uploading.

Keep in mind that your images can be quite sizable and movie files are much larger, depending on your camera settings – up to several gigabytes in many cases.

You can manually manage images using export or by dragging them out the Desktop or you can download “iPhoto Library Manager” ($20). iPhoto Library Manager will let you manage your photos in more than one library. You can create a new Library on another drive and move or merge photos between libraries. You can also use iPhoto Library Manager to split larger libraries. The makers of iPhoto Library Manager (http://www.fatcatsoftware.com/iplm/ ) also make PowerTunes which will help manage iTunes Libraries.

In second part of your question you mention a great idea – setting up a Mac Mini as a media centre for the entire family. It can also support larger drives as you storage needs increase. The Mac Mini Server includes a full, unlimited version of Mac OS X Server 10.6. As well as offering centralized storage for the family the Mac Mini Server can also be used as a Time Machine location for the Macs on your home network.

With respect to storage options, you might want consider a Drobo – which is a robotic raid that can be expanded by adding successively larger drives. Using up to four SATA hard drives, the Drobo automagically formats and creates a storage space larger than any one drive. You can start with one or two 1 TB drives and add drives until it’s full… but it doesn’t end there. You can swap out the drives and put in larger drives to increase your storage without reformatting – mixing any number of different sized drives and manufacturers. The Drobo spreads the data across the drives and creates redundancy by using a small portion of the space for parity.

As the space fills up the Drobo will signal you with colored lights to put in a larger drive. If one of the drives fails, the Drobo lights will indicate that it needs to be replaced. The Drobo comes in 4 drive, 5 drive and 8 drive versions, so you can move up to a larger Drobo by moving the drives as a group. The Drobo will sort things out no matter what order you put the drives.

You can install the Plex Media Server to manage and play back your media on the Mac Mini (or any Mac) as a media server. Based on the popular open source Xbox Media Center, the Plex interface presents your media; music, movies, TV shows and photos. Using the Plex application, a wifi keyboard and an Apple Remote you can navigate and play your media on your Mac connected to your stereo system and HDMI TV. You can also stream media right off the Internet.

This document was created with Pages for the iPad, Air Sharing for the iPad, Drop Box and exported as Word via Mail on the iPad.

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On September 25, 2010
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