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Uses for a 'blind' MacBook Pro

Reader Sigil has an interesting question regarding a MacBook Pro with ailing i-sight. He (or she, I suppose) writes:

I have a MacBook Pro with a failing graphics chip. I just read your article about using an old Mac as a backup server. If anything, what can I do with my MacBook Pro to salvage some value?

First, of course, you should confirm that the graphics chip really is failing. It would be draggish to relegate the laptop to lesser duties if all it needed was a little cable or connector tightening. If you haven't taken the thing to a Professional for evaluation, I'd do that first.

If tests indicate that the graphics chip is on the way out but the MacBook can carry on an otherwise productive life, using it as a server is an excellent idea. As indicated in the article you referred to, if you attach a high-capacity hard drive to it, you can indeed use it as a backup server for the other computers in your home.

You could alternately or additionally use that laptop as a media server. Just copy your media to the hard drive attached to the MacBook, fire up iTunes, open its preferences, click the Sharing tab, and enable the Share My Library On My Local Network option. Other computers on your local network can now play the media managed by that Mac. If you also have iOS devices be sure to switch on Home Sharing (from iTunes' Advanced menu) so that you can access and play that media on your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. (I don't have the space to explain all the ins and outs of sharing media from a central server, but my article Organize and Play Your Media From a NAS should give you a good start.)

Depending on how l33t your skillz (mad, or otherwise) are, you could go on beyond zebra and turn the MacBook into a full-blown server and manage mail, calendars, and Internet sharing as well as use it to host a web site. This isn't the kind of thing "normal" people would do, but again, if you have the chops it's a cheaper solution than a new Mac mini.

If you've read this far you know that I haven't really addressed the nut of the issue, which is: How do I make this blind Mac see? Without repairing the hardware you can't--at least not using its screen or, possibly, an attached monitor. You can, however, see what it's doing via screen sharing.

To do that, ensure that your MacBook Pro is running Leopard (OS X 10.5) or later and is on the same local network as your other computers (I'd suggest using an Ethernet connection rather than wireless as it will be faster, which will help with backing up and serving video). On the MacBook Pro (which, hopefully, you can still see well enough for this short bit of configuration) launch System Preferences and click Sharing. Enable Screen Sharing and choose who has access (I enable Only These Users and then select Administrators as I don't want those without an administrator password mucking with my server).

Now move to another Mac, open a Finder window, and look for your MacBook Pro in its sidebar. Select it and click Share Screen. When prompted enter the administrator's name and password for the MacBook Pro (not for the computer you're currently using). Click Connect and you should see your MacBook Pro's display on the Mac you're sitting in front of. Alternatively, in the Finder you can choose Go -> Connect to Server, and in the window that appears enter vnc://IP address, where IP address is the MacBook Pro's IP address or vnc://Name.Domain such as macbookpro.local.

Now that you can see your MacBook Pro's screen, control it just as you would any computer you're sitting in front of. When you're finished with it, quit screen sharing.

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