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I've seen that single-color desktop background with the familiar serif font showing the computer's name since the 1990s.

I very much doubt that all of the server admins I've come across in that time have painstakingly created actual image files with the same font treatment.

How the heck does one set that up? (I'm in a Yosemite environment with Yosemite servers, and I'm trying to put their names on their desktops. Shouldn't be that difficult, right?)

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Use GeekTool, and a script. Here is a collection of "geeklets" that display various info. This is one that displays computer info. I tested it on my MacBook with success.

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