Did you think the iPod was just for playing music?

By Graham K. Rogers

I love it when readers provide me with solutions. Over the last couple of years, I have had a lot of correspondence with local Mac users. In many cases, along with sources like the Appple forums, it is a two-way street and I learn as much as I am asked.

John Williams of Siam Dive 'n Sail -- a member of Phuket's "Paradise Mac Users Group" -- runs his business on a G4, with a 1GHz eMac on the side. He and I have sent each other scores of emails. He is a sophisticated OSX user and comes up with more answers than questions.

When his G4 started to go flaky a week or so ago, he suspected the hard disk. He had to reinstall OSX a couple of times, but each time the machine crashed. Like my recent iMac problems (rare as this type of instability is) once the problems start, they get progressively worse until even startup fails. It sounded to me as if the operating system had become corrupt: the problem may have actually been RAM that failed, but the symptoms are similar.

With almost 30GB of data on the hard disk -- too much for DVDs -- he needed a backup and a way to start the G4: an Ethernet cable will allow data transfers but not a restart. Of course, you never have the right cable when the stores are shut. He did have a 40GB iPod; and an iPod connects using a Firewire cable.

With both Mac and Windows installations, the iPod can act as a hard disk while preserving the music. The necessary settings are changed in iTunes. Click on the iPod icon and a button can be selected in the bottom toolbar. This allows access to a control panel. It is well hidden for good reasons: rash use can lose all the music on the iPod.

With a bit of work, Mac users can also turn the iPod into a boot disk.

When I read John's message, I had another look at the "Missing Manual" for the iPod (reviewed in April): I remembered that setting up this facility was complex. With Jaguar, a program like Carbon Copy Cloner was suggested. Panther could use the Disk Utility "restore" facility, but this needs much space on the iPod.

John's solution was far more elegant. He put OSX on the iPod using installation disks. The Missing Manual lead me to believe that this was only possible in the first versions of OSX. John had read about this method in the forums and gave it a go.

Following John's lead, I made my own 15GB iPod into a rescue disk but reduced the installation to the barest essentials.

After connecting the Pod to the computer and going through iTunes synchronisation, I inserted the Panther install disks (not the grey computer install disks: these have computer-specific settings). I double-clicked on the installer icon when it appeared and the computer restarted.

installerAfter the usual notices, a panel appears showing mounted disks: in my case this was the hard disk and the iPod. The hard disk was not available as I was already using 10.3.4 (the disks contained 10.3). I selected the iPod and a green "Go" arrow appeared. The eMac restarted with a considerably smaller screen (John's did not, he tells me) and the installation process began.

My purpose was to install an emergency system. I wanted a trimmed down installation: I needed few of the usual applications -- emergency utilities (like Disk Warrior) I could add later.

installer I selected a Custom Install with no alternative languages, fonts or printer drivers. I included the BSD subsystem and Stuffit Expander. The total was 1.1GB.

After only eight minutes the computer restarted and the Installer asked for Disk 2. Once Stuffit -- on that second disk -- was installed, OSX restarted again and I viewed a complete directory structure with the standard OSX applications and utilities, plus a user named "Administrator". I quickly changed this and the password.

For my emergency installation, I copied the contents of my downloads folder and a duplicate of my website (for offline access): this still left 9GB free on the iPod.

installer In System Preferences, I changed the startup disk to the eMac and restarted. When I detached the iPod -- it has to be unmounted -- I spent time ensuring that my music was intact (and playable), and that contacts and calendars were safe.

I later updated to 10.3.5. This must be done with the iPod as startup disk. If not, it may not be possible to boot from the iPod.

While I have several ways to start the computer -- installation disks, Disk Warrior -- these only allow repairs to be made and it is not possible to access the data directly. With the iPod rescue disk, I no longer need to carry around a pack of CDROMs.

You cannot do this with the Sony Walkman on the PC: not yet, anyway.

Note: The installer does not have the same flexibility as OSX itself, so getting the screen shots was with a camera rather than with Grab. This is my excuse for the slightly "off" quality of images here.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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