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devil duck

Tech query: running a Mac without a monitor

I believe we're about to take possession of a Mac G4 Tower without a monitor; my tentative plan is to use it as a file server. (This is really motivated by the desire for a keyboard, since my keyboard-cleaning experiment last week was less than totally successful; the computer comes as a bonus :-) I should be able to ssh into it, so I can administer the Unix side of things, but I don't know how difficult it is to administer the Mac side of things remotely. Paying $300 for Remote Desktop seems like overkill for my minimal needs. Has anybody on my tech-savvy flist done this sort of thing?


I haven't done it myself, but I'm on a Mac G4 Tower this instant, running 10.3.9, and in my System Prefs - Sharing pane, under "Services" there's a tickybox for "Apple Remote Desktop". And I haven't paid for anything other than a standard OS install. I gather it's included by default now.

ETA: http://digg.com/apple/Remote_Desktop_on_your_Mac_for_Free (configuration)
and http://macapper.com/2007/03/19/vnc-remote-desktop-for-free/ (for discussion of free clients)

ETA2: The magic googlestring is "headless mac".

ETA3: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-10342736-263.html :
Unfortunately, running a VNC server on a "headless" Mac (one with no display) can be a difficult task. The VNC server naturally cannot run if there is no system user interface server running, and the Mac OS X itself will not start the system user interface server unless it detects that a display is connected.

MacFixIt reader JR suggests a tip for tricking Mac OS X into thinking a display is attached:

"One easy, cheap way to solve it is run down to your local GoodWill computer store , buy a Apple display adapter plug for a couple bucks, and plug it into the video port on the machine.

"Model # 590-1120-A works fine. It has the Apple logo and model number written on it.

"This particular model of display adapter fools Mac OS X into thinking there is a monitor attached, and the OS will therefore start the system UI server the next time you boot up, allowing VNC server to start up normally. There may be other models that work; but this one I know for sure works."

Edited at 2009-11-28 11:33 pm (UTC)
I might have this widget kicking around my drawer, sounds like the dingus what came with my G5.
Actually, I have a six-inch-long monitor cable, which is currently plugged into the back of the tower, the other end dangling in mid-air.
Alternatively, put another OS on there that doesn't care about monitors. You get some surprisingly good performance from non-Mac OSes on Apple hardware (though I'm as much a fan of OS X as anything else in the end, on Apple hardware).
If it is running OS X 10.3 or newer, you can use VNC rather than remote desktop, and it works beautifully. You'll have to get a VNC server installed on it if it is 10.3 or 10.4; but they are free. VNC server comes built into 10.5 and 10.6. VNC clients are free and readily available (I like Chicken of the VNC but hear good things about others).

I find that temporarily hooking up a monitor for quarterly system maintenance is helpful, but not absolutely required. One of the nice things about the towers is there is plenty of room for drives and you can do network storage with the tower as a server (NFS or AFP). Might make a good music server too if you can plug it into a stereo and control it via iPhone Remote or VNC.
Some of the Web pages I've looked at say a VNC server comes preinstalled on 10.4 (which, I think, is what it's running). Problem is, how do I turn on the VNC server so it responds to requests? Or, for that matter, how do I (as siderea says) check the tickybox for Apple Remote Desktop?

I've just downloaded Chicken and tried connecting; it says the server isn't responding. I've confirmed that the computer is on the local net, I have its IP and MAC addresses. It apparently has an energy saver turned on, as it goes to sleep after a certain number of minutes, and when it's not asleep it responds to "ping". That's the totality of feedback I've gotten from it.

Oh, and it refuses ssh, telnet, and rlogin connections. I guess I could plug in a keyboard, boot it in single-user mode and type a couple of commands as root, if I knew exactly what commands to type. Let's see...
I could set the root password, and invoke sshd... that might be enough to bootstrap my way in.
Well, you will probably need a monitor and keyboard and mouse on it just long enough to set up the proper services the first time:

System Preferences/Sharing:
- enable "screen sharing" if you want the VNC server
- enable "remote login" for ssh access
- I think it is "remote management" for remote desktop
- file sharing for AFP sharing

Once those are set up you can disconnect the monitor and keyboard; I have had experiences with Macs not booting without a mouse.

NFS service is NOT controlled the same way, and it was a bear to set up. On older boxes the niutil command line was essential for setting up NFS, but apparently that is deprecated soon. I'll dig up my notes.

I have had trouble with the "wake on network activity" setting; I ended up only using low power machines as servers and setting them to never sleep because I could not get them to wake up on demand.

You do NOT need to set the root password; and frankly, doing so is bad security practice. It is far better to have a separate "admin" account (or whatever the first account is) with admin privs, and use that to sudo to run root commands. I generally create an admin account (uid 501) and then all my regular accounts after that (502, 503, 504, etc)... I only install software as admin; and do not grant any of the normal user accounts admin privs; I su - admin into the admin account then sudo command to run commands as root. That means that there is no way a malicious website can hijack the whole machine; only the account in use.

Well, you will probably need a monitor and keyboard and mouse on it just long enough to set up the proper services the first time: ...

I was hoping I could do this stuff from the command line, so I don't have to borrow a monitor.

BTW, I was practicing single-user mode on the iMac (which does have a monitor :-) and noticed, as it was shutting down, that it said "Stopping ARD Agent. Stopping VNC Server. [etc.]" I've never heard of a VNC server before last night, but it seems to have been running by default on the iMac... and since I think the tower has the same OS version, I can reasonably hope that a VNC server is already installed and running by default on it too. The question still is how to turn on those services....

You do NOT need to set the root password; and frankly, doing so is bad security practice. It is far better to have a separate "admin" account...

Yes, I plan to do that after I've got ssh, VNC, etc. working. But I figure the "root" user already exists, so I don't have to go through the extra step of creating a user yet. I think it unlikely that anything is going to hijack the tower, through a NAT firewall, in the time it takes to bootstrap my way into the tower.