Family Information Center from an Old iMac


iMac as family information
center
iMac as family information center
(click to enlarge)

I have an old 17 inch iMac G5 that I'm not using. After I installed Leopard on it, it just didn't cut it anymore, so it had been retired. I decided it would be fun to experiment with it as a "special purpose computer." That is, one that has limited duty.

A while ago I read an article in Macworld on making a family message center from an old iMac and decided to give that a go. You can see from the picture how it turned out.

I already had a VESA mount adapter for the iMac that I'd bought when it was new. I got a small VESA mount from Circuit City. The biggest problem I had was that this doesn't tighten enough to keep the panel straight. I stripped the bolt trying. I put a small piece of metal in the tilt stop slot with a glue gun to fix it in the position I wanted.

The next problem was how to mount a keyboard and mouse platform. I originally was going to put one on the wall, but that seemed kludgy, so I bought some 1 inch strap metal at Home Depot and bent it into brackets that attach to the VESA mount and hold the keyboard tray.

I opted for a Bluetooth wireless keyboard because its small. I'd like to get a track ball to replace the mouse since it's awkward to moves around on the small inclined platform. I'd rather have a tethered keyboard so I'll keep looking for something small and wired.

Now that every computer I own has a built-in iSight camera, I also have a few spare cameras floating around, so I added that (not pictured). The VESA adapter offered some nice slots for tucking in the mouse and firewire cables for a neat installation. I also wrapped the power cord around the mount to keep it out of the way.

On the software side, I reinstalled 10.4 (Tiger) since it does everything I need and is much more responsive on this machine. I set up an account to launch Sticky Notes, iCal, iChat, and FlickrFan at launch. I also configured this account to autostart on boot.

I also made it so that Dashboard widgets can be kept on the screen. Here's how. Run this command on the terminal:

defaults write com.apple.Dashboard devmode YES

Then log out and back in to restart Dashboard. Then use F12 to expose Dashboard, click and hold the widget you want on the desktop and press F12 again. I found I had to move the widget a little after click and before pressing F12 to get it to stick. This let me put the weather widget on the desktop permanently.

iCal is subscribed to everyone's calendars now, so there's one place that shows everyone's schedule. I already had a WebDAV server set up, so that wasn't an issue. You could use a .Mac account or something else if you don't have a WebDAV server handy.

I created an account on AIM for the computer and added myself and other family members to it so you can IM family members from the message center. I also added our cell numbers so you can SMS from iChat. To do this, add a new buddy and for the account, type the 10-digit cell number preceded by a +1.

I didn't put any phone features on it since I'm not anxious to spend $130 to get a voicemail box system like Phone Valet Message Center. If anyone knows of something simpler that works with the internal modem, I'd love to hear about it.

As I mentioned I installed FlickrFan to get FLickr pictures on the machine and then set up the screen saver to come on after 3 minutes, so the computer is constantly showing us interesting pictures. The kids have been mesmerized by it at times.

All in all, this was a fun, simple project. Now we'll see if the family will use it or if it is just an expensive electronic picture frame. Even at that, it's a nice use for an old flat iMac.