Join the Infrared Revival

The infrared (IR) port included on most PowerBooks is–how can we put this politely?–not a feature most users appreciate. Frankly, I never even noticed the tiny IR port nestled on the back of my PowerBook G3 until the day it happened to save my career. A colleague and I discovered, minutes before a seminar at a major trade show, that we needed to swap files between our PowerBooks in order to make a presentation. But neither of us had networking cables, SCSI adapters, or Internet access. We'd left our floppy drives and portable Zip drives at home.

Then we remembered the humble IR port. Moments later we were zapping files back and forth through thin air–and attracting a crowd. Apple's infrared technology not only solved our little dilemma but made passersby stop dead in their tracks. "My PowerBook can do that ?" several of them asked in disbelief.

The Infrared Macs

No need to wait for an iBook in order to experience some of the freedom of wireless networking. If you have any of the Mac models listed below, you've already got everything you need in order to make infrared connections.

•PowerBook 190
•PowerBook 1400
•PowerBook 5300
•PowerBook 2400
•PowerBook 3400
•PowerBook G3
•PowerBook G3 series
•Original Bondi blue iMac

Yes, it can. IR ports are built into every PowerBook model released over the last four years, including the latest, bronze-keyboard, 400MHz PowerBook G3 (the port is a tiny, dark-plastic window on the back panel). The first-generation iMacs also have an IR port. So, although it's true that Apple is phasing out infrared ports and introducing far-more-powerful wireless technology with the AirPort, current PowerBook users may already have free, elegant wireless technology right in their hands. Get familiar with it, and in a pinch, you can transfer files to another machine or connect to a network without plugging in a single cord. (Also, if you own a PalmPilot organizer, you can use that old infrared port to HotSync the PalmPilot with your PowerBook, without messing with serial cables or a docking station–see the sidebar "HotSync with No Strings Attached.")

Even if you have an IR-port-equipped Mac, you won't be able to use the port if you don't have the appropriate system components installed and active. The IrDALib and IrLanScannerPPC system extensions should already be installed (they're a standard part of every modern PowerBook software installation).

Before making a wireless connection, you might need to choose an infrared-based protocol–either IRTalk or IrDA–in the Infrared control panel. Older PowerBooks don't have an Infrared control panel because they support only IRTalk, an Apple-only technology, whereas the newer models support IRTalk and IrDA, an industry-standard protocol. (The IR-equipped iMacs support only IrDA.) For the quickest hassle-free PowerBook connections, choose IRTalk. Next, open the AppleTalk control panel and choose Infrared Port in the Connect Via pop-up menu.

Now you're almost ready to start beaming files. Launch Apple IR File Exchange, which comes installed on every Mac that has an infrared port. (You'll find it in the Apple IR File Exchange folder inside the Apple Extras folder on your hard disk.) The IR Sender window will open and display the message "Nobody in Range." Point another PowerBook's IR port at your port, and moments later, an icon representing the other machine will appear in the window. To transfer a file, just drop it on the drop-folder icon in the window. Received files automatically show up in the IR Receiver folder inside the Apple IR File Exchange folder.

Files en Route   When files are being beamed from one Mac to another, Apple IR File Exchange lets you monitor their progress in the Sending Status window.

Ready to Send   With Apple IR File Exchange, you can skip dealing with the Chooser, passwords, file sharing, and user privileges. As soon as an IR-equipped Mac is in range, a representative drop-folder icon, into which you can transfer files, pops into view. Use the Send To Everyone icon to send files to multiple Macs.

Infrared connections aren't terribly forgiving when it comes to placement of the IR ports. Unlike the IR communication between, say, your VCR and remote control, a Mac-to-Mac infrared connection requires careful placement of equipment. Place the two PowerBooks opposite each other, no more than 2 or 3 feet apart, with the IR ports directly lined up. Apple says the ports can pick up a signal within a 30-degree radius, but anything other than a straight shot between the ports is dicey. (But here's a secret that, at the very least, will amaze your friends and prove that you're a true wireless-networking pro: you can make your IR connection turn corners simply by diverting the signal with a pocket mirror.)

Apple IR File Exchange is fine for simple file copying, but you can also use an infrared connection for standard AppleTalk point-to-point networking. After setting the Infrared and AppleTalk control panels and putting the PowerBooks into range of each other, just open the Chooser and click on the AppleTalk icon. You should be able to log onto any PowerBook within range and mount shared volumes, just as if you were connected via LocalTalk or Ethernet.

Granted, Apple's infrared technology doesn't give you quite the freedom of an AirPort-equipped iBook. Infrared throughput, for example, maxes out at a modest 4 megabits per second. And forget about roaming through your backyard with an infrared connection. But you never know when that tiny wireless port may be just what you need to get you out of a bind.

January 2000 page: 96

WHAT'S COOLER than synchronizing the contacts, appointments, and notes in your PalmPilot with programs on your Macintosh? Doing it without wires. If you have an IR-equipped Mac that supports the IrDA protocol and a Palm III or a later model, you can perform a HotSync without using a cradle or a modem. All you have to do is point the PalmPilot at the infrared port.

The secret to pulling this off is to install a handful of special infrared-enabling files that aren't part of the standard Palm MacPac 2 package. If you have the MacPac 2 CD, you'll find the files in the Palm Extras folder. Otherwise, you can download the Palm Extras folder from http://www.palm.com/custsupp/downloads/macpacdl.html. The files you need are in a folder called IrDA Files inside the Palm Extras folder.

Wireless Palm   With the appropriate Palm Extras software on your Mac, you can configure the HotSync manager for an infrared connection.

Once the files are in place, launch the HotSync Manager on your Mac and change the Local Sync Port setting in the Serial Port Settings window to Infrared Port. You also have to change the preferences on your PalmPilot, as outlined in the document that accompanies the files. When you're done, you can perform wireless HotSyncs with the IR port.

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