Like the waistline of a sumo wrestler who's recently partaken of the All-U-Can-Eat special at Pete's Porkateria, Mac 911 grows half again as large in this issue. To celebrate this expansion, we examine alternatives for bringing sound into new PowerBooks and other modern Macs, the necessity of firewalls, new ways to perform old tasks under Mac OS X, and database import and export options.
The Fury over Sound
Q. I recently purchased a PowerBook G4 and, to my dismay, saw that it had no audio-input port. I'd hoped to digitize my record collection and turn it into MP3 files. Is there any way I can do that with this PowerBook?
A. If you follow Apple's marketing machinations, you know that Steve Jobs & Co. would like us to view the Macintosh as a "digital hub"--a go-between device for such delightful doodads as MP3 players, camcorders, digital cameras, and DVD players. Regrettably, some recent incarnations of this hub lack one very important spoke--audio input. For reasons best known to Apple, the audio-input port that has graced the Mac since the midReagan era has been stripped from the latest models.
Many audio enthusiasts (and others keen on speech-recognition software) will gnash a bicuspid or two over what appears to be Apple's penny-wise, pound-foolish policy. But I prefer to view this as Apple's way of providing new opportunities for third-party developers. After all, had Apple compromised the feng shui of its Power Mac G4, PowerBook G4, and new iBook by including one more port, outfits that make alternative audio-input devices might have found themselves forced to scrimp on the Lil' Smokeys at the next company picnic.
This means, Cindy, that you can bring the scratchy soul of your old Wilson Pickett records into your new PowerBook with the help of a USB audio-input device such as Griffin Technology's iMic (615/399-7000; www.griffintechnology.com ). This $35 thingamabob looks like a miniature yo-yo and features both an audio-input and -output port. You can use it with a microphone or with line-level devices such as your CD player or stereo receiver. And because the iMic uses Apple's native Sound Manager driver, there's no need to install additional software (though the iMic's control panel lets you adjust audio gain).
Of course, with the iMic in place, your Mac still requires some kind of software to record those ancient vinyl platters. A number of wonderful audio editors on the market will serve your needs, but I'm particularly keen on a program called Sound Studio from Felt Tip Software ($35; 215/482-6664, www.feltip.com ). Sound Studio is a simple, two-track audio editor that, unlike many inexpensive competitors, is disk-based. This means you can record much larger audio files than you could with RAM-based audio editors. (Note that although Felt Tip has released a Mac OS X version of Sound Studio, at press time, it did not support recording.) If you're looking for a multitrack recording solution, take a gander at Digidesign's free version of ProTools (800/333-2137, www.digidesign.com ).
And should your ramble down life's road lead you to a career in audio and multimedia, know that there are many professional audio-input devices on the market. These products--from companies such as Roland, Mark of the Unicorn, Tascam, Digidesign, and Yamaha--let you bring high-fidelity audio files into your Mac via either its USB or FireWire port. Audio dabblers whose Macs have PCI slots will be pleased to learn that Creative Labs ( www.creativelabs.com ) has brought its $150 Sound Blaster Live audio and MIDI card to the Macintosh.
Mac OS X Startup Items
Q. How do I set up an application as a startup item under Mac OS X?
A. If you've dinked around with Mac OS X, you already know that it lacks a Startup Items folder like the one found in previous versions of Mac OS. With OS X, to designate an item as one that launches at startup,
you must open the System Preferences application (which is found under the Apple menu or in the Dock) and click on the Login Preferences icon. In the window that appears, you'll see a list of applications set to launch at startup. To add others, simply click on the Add button and navigate to those applications.
Because some programs can be sluggish when launching in OS X--particularly on slower Mac models--I've put this feature to good use: I added a load of appli-cations to my launch-at-startup list. You see, I'm far more willing to grab a cup of tea while I wait for my Mac to launch all those applications at once than to count icon bounces in the Dock when I launch them one by one.
To give you an idea of how things are done here at Mac 911 HQ, my Login Items window contains OmniWeb, Eudora, Microsoft Word, DragThing (a wonderful file-launching utility), X-Assist (which adds an application menu to the right side of OS X's menu bar), and the System Preferences application itself. I've also configured the Classic environment to load at startup by launching Classic System Preference and selecting the Start Up Classic On Login To This Computer option in the Start And Stop pane of the Classic window.
Building a Wall
Q. I recently installed a DSL connection in my home, and I've read that if you have such an always-on link to the Internet, you should have a firewall. Is this true? If so, should I use a hardware firewall, or is a software firewall secure enough?
A. Nathan, broadband connections such as DSL, cable modem, and satellite have brought many of us--along with the ability to download massive movie trailers for films we have no intention of viewing--concern similar to the one reflected in your question. Far be it from me to suggest that the companies that market software and hardware firewalls have fed consumers' paranoia by depicting a Web peopled with miscreants. But honestly, for most of us, the level of security provided by a firewall is not worth losing sleep over.
To begin with, most "attacks" from the Web come in the form of port probes by techno-weenies who have failed to develop more-wholesome outside interests. While such probes are annoying, they rarely lead to the takeover of your Mac by a hostile foreign government; for the most part, these weenies just want to see if they can access your computer. It's unlikely they'll return to pilfer your carefully assembled database of North American garden beetles. Secondly, Mac OS is reasonably secure--more so than, dare I say it, the many flavors of Windows. Under the pre-X versions of Mac OS, you can tighten that security by switching off the Enable File Sharing Clients To Connect Over TCP/IP option in the File Sharing control panel. With this option turned off, it's much harder for malefactors to access your Mac from across the Web. In addition, you can simply turn your Mac off at night: this will ensure that no funny business takes place during your eight hours of the dreamless.
For those who'd rather be safe than sorry, I suggest Intego's NetBarrier ($60; 305/868-7920, www.intego.com ), a software-firewall application. I've installed NetBarrier on my league of Macs and then run some Internet-based port-probing utilities, which found that my network now is indeed far less visible to prying eyes. There are, however, situations in which you're better served by a hardware firewall: when you have a mixed network of PCs and Macs holding data vital to your business, for example. In such cases I recommend the $140 EtherFast Cable/DSL Router, from Linksys (949/26command-1288, www.linksys.com ).
Mac OS X, on the other hand, is a different kettle of flounder. Few of us are sure how resistant Apple's new OS, with its Unix underpinnings, is to Internet attack. For this reason, I've downloaded and installed Brian Hill's $25 shareware program BrickHouse ( http://personalpages.tds.net/~brian_hill ), with which you can easily configure the firewall settings built into OS X (see "It's Mighty Mighty"). (If you'd like to join discussions about Mac OS X security, you can post your two cents at Macworld.com's Operating Systems forum.)
Q. I've put a lot of work into creating a Microsoft Access database containing information about my DVD collection, and I would like to use the database with my new PowerBook G4. I understand that Microsoft doesn't make a Mac version of Access. Is there any way I can use this file with my PowerBook?
London, Ontario, Canada
A. I'm pleased to hear you've put a lot of work into this DVD database--it demonstrates that you're the kind of person who's willing to part with a few ounces of good, honest sweat in the pursuit of a desired result. I bring this up, Jamie, because while there's every likelihood that you can use the data in that file on your Mac, you'll have to toil to create a Mac version that's as finely polished as the Access database you now have. Allow me to explain.
You can't just launch any old database application and then open whatever database file you want from within that application. Unlike text and graphics documents that can be opened using a variety of applications, database files are generally in a proprietary format that can't be opened natively in another database application. You can't, for example, bring that Access file over to FileMaker or AppleWorks and expect it to open with everything laid out as it was in the original file.
Instead, you must open Access on the PC and export your data in a form that your Macintosh database is likely to understand--as tab-delimited text or an Excel file, for example. Then construct a layout in your Macintosh database application that mimics the layout in the original file--in your case you'd include fields such as DVD title, actors, director, producer, run time, and personal rating. This Mac database application can be as rudimentary as the database component of Apple's AppleWorks (800/692-7753, www.apple.com/appleworks/ ) or as sophisticated as FileMaker's FileMaker Pro (408/987-7000, www.filemaker.com ).
To bring data into AppleWorks, open your newly created database--with the layout matching that of your original database--choose Insert from the File menu, and then select the exported file you created with your old database. Line up the fields so that they correspond--the Best Boy and Gaffer fields should match in each database, for example--and click on OK to import your old data. With FileMaker the procedure is the same except that you choose Import Records from the File menu.
Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN would love to see your undocumented tip or trick in print, so send it via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share tips and discuss Mac problems with other Mac users in the Mac 911 forum ( www.macworld.com/subject/mac911/ ). Also send tips by e-mail to email@example.com. We pay $50 for tips selected for publication in Macworld . All published submissions become the sole property of Macworld .
Shareware and freeware mentioned in Mac 911 are available from ZDNet's Macdownload.com ( www.macdownload.com ).It's Mighty Mighty Brian Hill's $25 BrickHouse allows you to configure Mac OS X's built-in security features via this user-friendly interface.