Apple Genius's day off
March 17, 2015 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Need help perfecting an Apple-based home network/ to suit my family’s needs

In our home there are multiple Apple devices which are acting fairly independently of each other. There are many inefficiencies in the current setup and I’d like to make the following happen:

PHOTOS
My wife and I have been independently storing photos in separate iPhoto libraries over the past 10 years. These are totally unorganised and have inflated to sizes untenable on our laptops. At the end of the past year I offloaded the various libraries onto an external drive, which I’ve been occasionally plugging in to our respective computers to update.

With the forthcoming new Photos app I’d love to ability to create a new, master library which conflates our libraries and can be organized from within. I would also love the ability to access this library on any computer we’d like.

I’d very much like this single library to allow both of us to upload new photos to it from from either of our separate iPhones or iCloud/iCloud Photo Library accounts. Is this possible? If not what is the most logical and least labor-intensive way of keeping all of our photos together, viewable on any device, organised, and backed up?

ITUNES LIBRARY
We have iTunes Match but I also would like to keep copies of MP3s on my hard drive, which is easy enough. I’d also like this music as well as all of the films in my iTunes library to be viewable from any computer in the house. What are best practices for this?

TIME MACHINE BACKUPS
We currently backup to an external every few weeks. I’d love the ability to backup everything over the air and am considering a Time Capsule for this purpose. Are there any recommended cheaper alternatives or better ways to do it?

CALENDARS/TO-DOs
As our family grows the need for a shared calendar/to-do has become clear. Is there any way to do this with our separate iCloud accounts? If not would the next best option be to create a new iCloud account just for family stuff and add this to various devices?

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Current equipment includes: 2x MacBook Pro, 1x Mac Mini (currently basically unused, I envision this being used as a server/media computer), 2x iPhone, 1x iPad, 1x Apple TV and 2x Airport Expresses.

Any other family home network/productivity tips in this vein appreciated. Thanks you!
posted by timshel to Technology (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Photos - what are the sources of these photos? Mobile devices only, or does this include (non iOS) cameras?

iTunes Library - Use that Mini. Add external storage. Make an iTunes library on there with everything in it. Music, TV, Movies. Log that into your iTunes account and set it to auto-download anything you buy. Turn on iTunes Sharing, and any other iTunes install on the network will be able to view that library.

Time Machine Backups - You don't say what model that Mini is, but get it up to the latest OS if you can and shell out the piddling amount that Apple asks for Server. You can then set the mini up with some external storage for use as a Time Machine server. You should use a different physical disk for your backup drive than you do for your media libraries. For backing up the Mini itself, add yet another drive. (In other words, don't back the Mini up to the same filesystem that you are backing up your network machines to, or that you are storing live data on.)

Calendars - Rather than work with separate iCloud accounts, and since you've already set up Server on that Mini, why not turn on its' Calendar service and use that? You'll need to port map some things through your router and use a dynamic DNS service so you can get back to the server when you aren't on your network. Using the Calendar service means you can have multiple calendar accounts which you can have read or write delegates to (this is managed in desktop Calendar once you're logged in to the account(s)).
posted by tomierna at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank you for your advice, Tomierna.

Non-iOS photos include infrequent DSLR uploads (usually done in quarterly batches).

Mac Mini is 2012 and Yosemite-friendly. I'm totally on board with your OS X Server recommendations regarding media & time machine but am reluctant to extend that out to calendar/to-do type stuff which should (easily?) be dealt with via iCloud. Any thoughts on how to make it all work that way?

Thanks again.
posted by timshel at 9:41 AM on March 17, 2015


For calendars at least you should definitely be able to use standard iCloud calendaring to do what you want. Here's how via the iCloud web UI.

Go to the calendar web app. Use the gear menu in the bottom left to create a new calendar in the listing on the left-hand panel (or just use the default calendar). Then click the 'broadcast' icon to the right of the relevant calendar's name in the left-hand panel. You get a "Calendar Sharing" pop-up which lets you designate the calendar as private but shared with other iCloud accounts (who can have either view or edit privileges). You can enter the recipients' emails right from that pop-up; they will have to accept the invite and then they can view / edit the calendar as appropriate. Changes sync very quickly to your phone and all other devices set up on that iCloud account.

You can also make a calendar public so that anyone can view it.
posted by sesquipedalia at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can weigh in on a couple of your questions. Based on your question, it sounds like the two of you currently have your own individual iCloud accounts, so I’m working off that assumption.

sesquipedalia covered the calendars already. In a similar vein, you can use Reminders to share a to-do list between your separate iCloud accounts. Instructions are available here to set that up.

For your iTunes library, if you log in to each computer with the same Apple ID, you can use Home Sharing to stream music from other libraries on the same network. So, you can set up the Mac Mini as the central library, and any other computers (or iOS devices or Apple TVs) can access that content. Instructions are available here.

The photos are trickier. The upcoming Photos app/iCloud Photo library is built to work on a single iCloud login. So, in order for your iPhones to both access the shared library, you would each have to be logged in to the same account. This would preclude you from being logged in to your separate accounts for everything else (contacts, calendars, etc.) You could potentially do something like have one person’s iCloud account be the primary library, and periodically load the other person’s photos into the library, either via a computer, or by sharing photos to a shared photo album and then downloading them. But its not a great solution. I’ll let others weigh in on other options for a shared library.
posted by bluloo at 10:27 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have never used it, but iCloud Family Sharing can share photos to a group album.
posted by Monochrome at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2015


P.S. If you make the Mac mini a server, plug it into the AirPort via an Ethernet cable. It made mine so much more reliable.
posted by Monochrome at 12:21 PM on March 17, 2015


I'm very interested to hear about automated solutions for merging photo libraries, but I suspect that there aren't any. Currently my wife and I have independent (and often, redundant) photo libraries that live side by side on our Synology NAS. (We have a couple of Macs talking to our Airport Extreme, along with the Synology that is plugged in via ethernet.)

ITUNES LIBRARY–
... I’d also like this music as well as all of the films in my iTunes library to be viewable from any computer in the house. What are best practices for this?


You can merge the libraries manually and re-index and turn on Sharing. (Preferably start with a clean, empty iTunes library on the Mini, copy over Library 1 to a scratch area, import into iTunes with "copy files" turned on, delete the scratch library; repeat for Library 2. You lose play counts and last played information if you do it by this simple method. Or you can keep some subset of it by copying over all of Library 1, including the iTunes .xml files, adopting it on the Mini, and importing Library 2 - you only lose play counts etc. for Library 2 that way.) The merged iTunes library on the Mac Mini should then be visible to all other computers on the network as a shared library.

TIME MACHINE BACKUPS –
We currently backup to an external every few weeks. I’d love the ability to backup everything over the air and am considering a Time Capsule for this purpose. Are there any recommended cheaper alternatives or better ways to do it?


An external disk plugged into an Airport Extreme works as a Time Machine target - that's basically what a Time Capsule is - and since a Synology NAS can be a Time Machine target, I think a Mac Mini should be usable as one as well. Basically, add disk space or plug in an external disk to the Mac Mini, mount it as a shared folder from the other computers, and use it as a Time Machine target.

But I do recommend off-site backups, possibly through services like CrashPlan or BackBlaze.

CALENDARS/TO-DOs–
As our family grows the need for a shared calendar/to-do has become clear. Is there any way to do this with our separate iCloud accounts? If not would the next best option be to create a new iCloud account just for family stuff and add this to various devices?


We started doing this a long time ago by subscribing to each other's Google Calendars, and you can now subscribe to arbitrary iCloud calendars as well. Turn on private sharing, copy and share the private URL, paste it into "New Calendar Subscription". You can keep separate iCloud accounts, at least for this one.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:14 PM on March 17, 2015


Thanks everyone for your help. It seems like everything has a clear answer except the Photos situation.

Let's say, then, I accept that we will need to maintain separate libraries. What is the least time-consuming workflow to get our individual iOS photos/iCloud photo libraries into a centralised Photos library over the air? Also, if networked properly, would these libraries be viewable/manipulable over a the air via the Mac Mini server media hub I intend to set up?

Thanks!
posted by timshel at 3:00 AM on March 18, 2015


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