Apple's .Mac subscription service offers a wide array of functions for Mac OS X users, from an e-mail account and the easiest Web-based photo-sharing around to virus busters, backup software, and server
space for storing your files. But many people don't realize just how much they can do with that $99 subscription. A lot of .Mac's functions are hidden in its Web site, so subscribers must dig to discover them all. The .Mac service can even keep you organized when you're between computers, and those computers don't have to be Macs. Whether you're traveling across the world or across town, .Mac can help keep your contacts, e-mail, calendars, and files accessible, but not too accessible, without much planning.
Sync Your Data
One of the most valuable .Mac features is the ability to synchronize your personal information to the .Mac server. You can access that information, even on a Windows or a Linux computer, no matter where you are. iSync, which is included with Mac OS X, lets you send three types of data from three apps to your .Mac account: bookmarks from Safari, contacts from Address Book, and calendars and to-do items from iCal.
Start by opening iSync, clicking on the .Mac button, and selecting Turn On .Mac Synchronization. (You'll see the .Mac button only if you've filled in your user name and password in the .Mac pane of System Preferences.) Choose what you want to sync by selecting the appropriate options. You can sync your data right away by clicking on the Sync Now button, or you can synchronize automatically every hour by selecting that option in iSync. Automatic synchronization has its benefits: you won't ever have to wonder whether your data is up-to-date.
Keep Your Schedule under Wraps
You probably know that iCal lets you publish calendars and subscribe to other people's calendars via the Web. (Both options are under iCal's Calendar menu.) But you can also keep track of your schedule by subscribing to your own calendar or accessing it via the URL iCal gives you when you publish it. This is useful and practical, but you surely don't want your competitors to know you'll be meeting with the CEO of a certain company, nor do you want your boss to know you've got a lunch date with a headhunter. If someone knows your .Mac user name and other basic information about you, he or she can find your calendar online and discover your schedule.
With a simple trick, you can keep your calendar safe. Instead of publishing your iCal calendar to the Web, save it as a PDF file, via the Print dialog box. You'll need to do this for each view; if you want to save daily views, you'll need to do one for each day. For weekly views, save one for each week. E-mail these files as attachments to your .Mac e-mail account, and you'll be able to view them on any computer with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader or OS X's Preview app.
Access Your Contacts and Bookmarks
Once you've used iSync to put your contacts and bookmarks on the .Mac server, you can easily access them. Go to the main .Mac page (www.mac.com), log in, and click on Bookmarks. You'll see your Safari bookmarks in a slim window, and you can access them from there. You can use any of these bookmarks to view your favorite Web pages from the computer you're using.
To use your contact information, click on the Address Book icon. You'll see the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of all your contacts. Click on a contact to see it in its entirety. You can start writing a .Mac e-mail message to that person by clicking on the Compose icon.
Get All Your E-mail
Sometimes you need to access your e-mail when you're away from your computer. You could check your mac.com e-mail account from the .Mac site -- but you can also get e-mail from another POP e-mail account and have it served to you on the Web.
Click on the Mail icon to go to the .Mac Mail page, click on the Preferences icon, and then scroll down to the Check Other POP Mail section. Enter your incoming mail server name, your user name, and your password. Click on Get Other Mail and then on Save. Jot down this information before you leave home.
(By the way, you can also use your usual e-mail software, instead of the .Mac Web site, to check and send .Mac mail.)
Stash Your Secret Files
You can also access your important files from your .Mac home page -- on any computer running any operating system -- if you've made them available on your iDisk's Public folder. Just make sure you've entered your .Mac information in the .Mac pane of System Preferences. (Whether the computer you use can open these files is a different story, so use programs or file formats that are cross-platform–compatible.)
Start by putting files in your iDisk's Public folder. (If you don't see your iDisk in OS X's Finder, select Finder: Go: iDisk: My iDisk.) Next, go to the main .Mac page and click on the HomePage link. After entering your password, you'll see a page where you can set up your own Web site. If you haven't already set up Web pages here, you'll see a blank section at the top, with room to list pages, as well as several types of page templates.
Under the Pages list, click on Add, and then click on the File Sharing tab. Click on either Graphite or Magenta to select the page's color. On the next page, you can add a title and description if you want; then click on Publish. Make a note of the URL that appears; you'll access your file-sharing page at that URL.
Keep Your Data Secret
The file-sharing page you just made (and the files on it) is available to anyone who finds it. In fact, Google indexes all .Mac Web pages; any files you put on your file-sharing page will show up in a Google search a few days after you publish them. For total security, you should set a password. Click on the Return To Home Page button, and then click on the arrow next to Protect This Site. From here you can set a password for your entire site. Enter the password and then click on Apply Changes. Now no one can access your site without your password. But if you want to share pictures of your baby or your last vacation with others, be sure to give them your password.
This password protects access to your files only via the Web; anyone can access these files in your Public folder by mounting your iDisk. To prevent everyone from accessing these files without your permission, go to the .Mac preference pane, click on the iDisk tab, select Use A Password To Protect Your Public Folder, and then enter a password. Only people with the secret word can get at these files. If you forget important files while you're on a trip, you can give a friend or coworker the password and have him or her upload the files to your Public folder, so you can access them from the file-sharing page you've set up.
Well-organized people used to swear by Filofaxes and other paper organizers. But today, .Mac is all you need to keep track of contacts, calendars, e-mail, and files -- no matter where you are.
BAGS FOR THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Laptops are meant to go anywhere, from high-fashion metropolis to rugged backcountry. But it wasn't until recently that we had the bags to carry them in.
From JZMO (www.jzmo.com) comes the $199 Milano Executive Brief Tote (right), a line of bags for professional women who want functionality and flair when carrying their laptops (as well as cell phones, PDAs, and paper files). Made from high-quality leather and suede, the totes hold a 15-inch PowerBook or a 14-inch iBook; have enough pockets to hold everything else; and sport cool, modern designs. Call it feminine geek chic.
And for rugged types who wouldn't dream of hopping on a motorcycle without taking along a portable Mac, there's the Axio Hardpack (left; $139 to $159), from Haro Design (www.axio-usa.com), a line of polyethylene hard-shell backpacks. With customizable compartments for other gadgets worthy of protection, as well as well-padded ergonomic straps, these 1,100- to 1,300-cubic-inch backpacks are comfortable and utilitarian. You'll be hitting the trails in no time, no doubt searching for a Wi-Fi connection. These bags look utterly sleek -- oh, and they'll protect your laptop, too. -- cyrus farivar