Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Share Music and Photos on a Single Mac

I imagine the typical Apple family is much like my own. You purchase a new Macintosh, turn it on, create an account for each member of the family, and then start loading all of your music and photos. Soon after you finish, you realize that people other than yourself would like to access the same music and photos you just added. This is not as easy as you first think, because OS X does a great job of keeping each user account separate from the others. The simplest way would be to have everyone login as you when they want access to music and photos, but that defeats the whole idea of individual accounts. You also don't want to duplicate your files for each user, not only because of the space required, but also the maintenance nightmare. After some research, I came across fairly simple solutions.

Music (iTunes)

For iTunes, there are two key elements. First, the iTunes Music Library file, which exists for each user and essentially contains pointers to each song in his or her music library. The file also stores playlists, ratings, and other data. The second element is the iTunes Music Folder, where all of the actual music files are stored by default.

Sharing the files is a three step process.

1. Move the Music Folder to the Users > Shared folder so each person can access the files.
2. Open iTunes for each user and Import the music from the Shared folder.
3. Change the iTunes file location preference so all new music is stored in the Shared folder.

The only additional step is when one user imports new music, the other users must run Import again so the new music becomes part of their individual libraries. This does not produce duplicates and only takes 10-15 seconds.

Click here to read the solution as I found it online.

Photos (iPhoto)

The iPhoto solution is the slightly more complicated one. Like iTunes, iPhoto utilizes a database to track your thousands of pictures. However, each person doesn't need to maintain his or her own database; both the actual photos and the catalog can be shared.

1. Similar to iTunes above, you begin by copying the iPhoto Library folder to the Users > Shared folder.
2. Change the permissions on the iPhoto Library folder to allow Others read/write access to the folder.
3. Create an alias for the folder, and move the alias to the Pictures folder of each individual user.

The next time you open iPhoto, you will see the same pictures as everyone else. Also, when one person adds photos, every user will seem them as well with no extra steps. I found this solution in the April 2005 issue of Macworld, but this specific article is not currently online [Help Desk > Mac 911].

I'm curious whether each of these solutions would work in the opposite case. Presumably, you could copy your entire iTunes folder, including the library database, to the Shared folder, but then you would not be able to maintain individual playlists and other preferences.

Similarly, you might be able to only move your photo files to the share location, and retain each user's photo database, which might include role information, user-specific photos, and photo ratings.

If someone has tried these alternatives, let me know. For now, I'm going to enjoy my current setup!