Despite some traditions of Chinese culture -- which claim that this year, the 4,700th, belongs to the sheep -- Steve Jobs has declared 2003 "the Year of the Notebook." Given my occidental roots, I've chosen to eschew questions related to cud chompers in favor of some issues associated with syncing portable and desktop Macs, keeping disparate Safari bookmark files in line, and logging in to a desktop Mac from the road. In addition, I address envelope creation in Apple's Address Book, HTML e-mail, files that won't die, and library patrons who won't behave.
Sync or Sunk?
I've owned a PowerBook for three years, and I'm finally getting a Power Mac. I'd like to synchronize the data between my two computers (both of which are running OS X). Can you recommend some synchronization software?
Dale Mericle, Reno, Nevada
If you have a .Mac account and intend to synchronize only contacts, calendars, and to-do items, Apple's free iSync will fill the bill. If you need to synchronize a greater variety of items -- the contents of your user's folder, for example -- you must turn to a third-party application.
VersionTracker (www.versiontracker.com) lists a wealth of OS X–compatible synchronization applications. From that bounty, I've selected a few utilities that should serve you well.
The first is Econ Technologies' (407/365-4209, www.econtechnologies.com) $20 ChronoSync. ChronoSync allows you to coordinate the contents of folders on your host and remote computers. For example, you can synchronize the Documents folders on your Power Mac and PowerBook.
ChronoSync offers a number of ways to determine whether files have changed -- including comparing file sizes, attributes, and creation and modification dates. The program also lets you choose between one-way and bidirectional synchronization. (One-way synchronization updates your PowerBook's Documents folder, for example, when you've made changes to the contents of your Power Mac's Documents folder. The Power Mac's Documents folder won't be updated to reflect changes you've made on your PowerBook. Bidirectional synchronization updates each Mac to reflect changes made on the other computer.) And ChronoSync includes a scheduling function so you can automatically synchronize your computers at a time of your choosing.
Jason Weber's ExecutiveSync (which can be found at www.versiontracker.com) is another worthwhile $20 synchronization utility. Like ChronoSync, it allows you to synchronize a folder between a local and a remote Mac. Unlike ChronoSync, ExecutiveSync doesn't have a scheduling feature, and it finds changed files by comparing checksum information. This method makes accidentally overwriting or discarding the wrong file difficult to do, but it also makes the program slower than ChronoSync. The speed difference between the two programs is negligible when you're synchronizing a small number of files, but when those files number in the thousands, prepare to wait a long time for ExecutiveSync to do its job.
Qdea's $30 Synchronize X Plus (800/933-9558, www.qdea.com) is also a good choice. It includes a scheduling option and -- a feature I particularly like -- the ability to automatically mount a remote volume when you begin synchronization. Synchronize X Plus compares files only by modification time, however. If you want your synchronization utility to be more discerning about changes to documents, consider the $100 sibling of Synchronize X Plus, Synchronize X Pro, a program that can also create bootable backups.
Safari So Goody
What's the best way for me to sync my Safari bookmarks between my PowerBook and desktop Mac?
Jim Tipton, Gilbert, Arizona
Climb aboard the Mac whose bookmarks are the most up-to-date, and follow this path: your user's folder: Library: Safari. Make a copy of the Bookmarks.plist file inside the Safari folder. Replace the other Mac's Bookmarks.plist file with this copy. The bookmarks on each Mac will now match.
Taking the Road Home
I'd like to log in to my home Mac from my PowerBook. I understand that OS X allows me to do this if I enter the home Mac's IP address in the Connect To Server window on my laptop. The problem is that my Mac at home has a dynamic IP address that's constantly changing. How can I access it if I don't know its IP address?
Charlie Mars, Tempe, Arizona
It's true that when you have a dynamic IP address, the address will change from time to time -- particularly if you have a cable or dial-up connection. To connect to a remote Mac, you must know its IP address. The means for learning the current IP address and providing access to your Mac is a dynamic Domain Name System (DNS) service.
A dynamic DNS service acts as a kind of office manager for your IP address. With the help of a client application installed on your Mac, the service is sent your current IP address whenever your computer is connected to the Internet. You (and others) reach your computer remotely by typing in an address assigned to your computer by the service. This address will take the form of yourmac.dynamicdnsservice.com, where yourmac is the name you've chosen for your Mac and dynamicdnsservice.com is the address of the service -- bagobolts.no-ip.com, for example.
When you want to log on to your Mac from a remote location, simply select Connect To Server from OS X's Go menu, enter the address assigned by the dynamic DNS service, and click on Connect. If you have File Sharing switched on in the Sharing system preference, you should be able to move files on and off your Mac remotely. Likewise, if Personal Web Sharing is switched on in this system preference, others can log on to your Mac and view Web pages stored in the Sites folders on your computer.
Visit this Google directory to view a list of dynamic DNS services: http://directory.google.com/Top/Computers/Software/Internet/Servers/Address_Management/Dynamic_DNS_Services. Most offer a free account and provide access to Mac-compatible client software.
Pushing the Envelopes
With the release of iSync, I've moved from Palm Desktop to Apple's Address Book and iCal. I miss Palm Desktop's ability to select a group of addresses and print envelopes. Is there some way to do this with Address Book?
Lewis Hofmann, Crofton, Maryland
With the help of a third-party utility, yes. If you'd like to print a group of addresses in one shot, look at Eric Hanson's $15 iDress 1.2 (415/474-3332, www.incarna.com). This utility can create envelopes and Avery labels from the information contained in an Address Book group (see "Getting iDressed"). Just select the group of addresses you want to print (from iDress's Address Book Group pop-up menu), choose the medium you want to print to (envelope or label, for example), and choose a size (a standard number-ten business envelope, for instance). Click on the Go button, and iDress will create a template for your envelopes or labels within Adobe's Acrobat Reader (you must have Acrobat Reader configured as the default application for PDF files).
If you need to print only one envelope at a time, download Nik Sands's free Snail Mail (www.nixanz.com). This easy-to-use utility presents a list of all the names in your Address Book. Just set the margins of the envelope you want to print, choose a recipient from the list of addresses (your return address is taken from the information entered in My Card), configure your printer to print an envelope, and click on Print Envelope Immediately to, well, print your envelope immediately.
How can I send a message that contains live Web links from Apple's Mail application?
Frank Christel, Tulsa, Oklahoma
If you intend to make a habit of sending messages formatted in this way, select Preferences from Mail's Mail menu, click on the Composing button in the resulting window, and choose Rich Text from the Format pop-up menu. If you normally send messages as plain text (the other option in the aforementioned Format pop-up menu), open a new message and select Make Rich Text (shift-1-T). Once your message is formatted in such fashion, feel free to type in URLs (which your recipients will view as clickable Web links) and drag pictures into the body of the message (which, depending on how your recipients have configured their e-mail client, may be viewable from within the body of the message).
A word of warning: For the love of all that's sacred in Saskatoon, use Rich Text formatting sparingly. Many people prefer plain text because they find it easier to read and messages formatted as plain text open more quickly. Also, many newslists choke on messages formatted as Rich Text (usually earning you a sharp -- and public -- rebuke from the list monitor).
There is a StuffIt file on my OS X Desktop that cannot be trashed. It appears as a file with a rip through the middle. The warning "Item is being used by another task right now" appears when I attempt to trash the file. Is there a way to get rid of it?
Daniel Fishbein, Davis, California
If you intend to trash only a single file, open Terminal (found in the Utilities folder), type rm -f followed by a space, drag the problem file into Terminal to enter its path, and press return. Your file will be deleted, and you won't be asked for confirmation.
To trash a folder (or, in Unix-speak, directory), type rm -R followed by a space, drag the problem folder into Terminal to enter its path, and press return. Be very careful with rm -R. That -R means "recursive" and indicates that the directory and all its contents will be deleted (not just placed in the Trash -- vaporized) without warning. Should you drag the wrong folder into Terminal and press return, it's gone. Worse yet, if you type rm -R *, all the contents of the currently selected directory (which is likely your user's folder) will be deleted.
I work in a children's library with four snow iMacs that provide CD-ROM-based games for children. Because these games don't work in OS X, we use OS 9.2. The children and parents love to eject the discs by dragging their icons to the Trash. How can I keep them from doing this?
Laurie Strommen, Glen Head, New York
The first option is to rid the iMacs of discs altogether. Simply launch Disk Copy -- found inside the Utilities folder inside the Applications (Mac OS 9) folder at the root level of the hard drive -- and drag your disc to the Disk Copy window. When the Save Disk Image As dialog box appears, select Read Only from the Format pop-up menu and 663,000K (CD-ROM 12cm, Full) from the Size pop-up menu. Click on Save, and your disc will be converted to a disk image.
Now move that disk image into a folder tucked way down inside those iMacs -- somewhere a kid or parent is unlikely to venture. Open Apple's Launcher application and drag the disk image into it. Clicking on the image will mount it just as if it were a CD. Although the "disc" can still be dragged to the Trash, it's available again with a single click in Launcher.
OK, OK, so this won't keep them from dragging the disc to the Trash. If you want to get tough, turn to a third-party utility that severely limits the options of those using your computers.
One such utility is Power On Software's On Guard (800/344-9160, www.poweronsoftware.com). Among its many features, On Guard allows you to bar users from ejecting removable discs. When you're ready to swap discs, just enter a password to regain control of the computer. The downloadable version of On Guard costs $60; the CD-ROM version, $70. On Guard is compatible with OS 7.X through 9.X, but not with OS X.
Tip of the Month
Apple's Address Book contains a limited number of fields. To avoid having to create additional fields in each card you create, make a template card that contains all the fields you desire and give it a name such as A, Blank. When you need to create a new contact, copy and paste this card and press 1-L to edit it.
Charles S. Saunders, Skokie, Illinois
If you happen to install the Palm component of iSync -- the Install iSync Palm Conduits package -- and, just for old times' sake, later attempt to synchronize your Palm Computing device with Palm Desktop, you'll discover that iSync has a tendency to throw its weight around in regard to other conduits. Evidence of this tendency is that you will be unable to synchronize your Palm device with Palm Desktop, Microsoft Entourage, or Now Software's Now Up-to-Date & Contact.
When you install the iSync Palm conduits, the installer moves any conduits it considers incompatible to this directory: Library: Application Support: Palm HotSync: Disabled Conduits. If you decide that you gained greater syncing satisfaction from an application you used previously, you must move the disabled conduits from this directory to Library: Application Support: Palm HotSync: Conduits, and then configure the conduits with Palm's HotSync Manager.