Recalling the stirring challenge of John F. Kennedy, ask not what the Macintosh community can do for you, ask what you can do for the Macintosh community. In this month’s Mac 911, I lend a hand with mapping PC files to your preferred Mac applications. I also offer bold advice on how–and how not –to speed up your dial-up connection, and help you find a better bargain than AOL.
Q. I’m having some trouble with a client’s TIFF files, which she created in the Windows version of Adobe Photoshop. When I load the files, they bear the PictureViewer icon, and they open in that application as well. I’d prefer that they open in Photoshop when I double-click on them. Is this possible?
A. Why, yes, it is. Apple’s oft-overlooked File Exchange control panel is this problem’s cause and solution.
Mac OS is fairly accommodating about opening files created on a PC–sometimes too accommodating, as your conundrum illustrates. In this case, Mac OS has determined that PictureViewer, the graphics-viewing application included with QuickTime, shall open all TIFF files created on a PC. And no, it doesn’t matter that the user created these files in Photoshop for Windows. PictureViewer is eager to open those Photoshop files and will do so until you make some adjustments.
These include opening the File Exchange control panel and clicking on the PC Exchange tab. In the resulting window you’ll see a long list of PC file extensions– .aifc, .bat, .dot, and .tif, for instance–assigned to Mac applications such as QuickTime Player, SimpleText, Microsoft Word, and PictureViewer. Scroll down this list and you’ll see that the .tif extension is assigned to PictureViewer.
To change the assignment, simply highlight the file extension you want to alter and click on the Change button. When you do, the Mac will ruminate for a bit before presenting you with the Change Mapping window, which contains a list of the applications on your Mac. You should scroll down until you find the appropriate application–Don, you’d choose Photoshop at this point–and click on Change to reassign the default application (and icon) for that file type. When next you place a PC Photoshop file on your Mac, it should display the Photoshop icon and launch Photoshop when you double-click on it.
Q. Is there a way to speed up my PowerBook modem’s dial-up connection?
A. An excellent question, Zahid, and one we’ve bandied about quite a bit in Macworld.com’s Troubleshooting forum. Some forum visitors have suggested there’s little one can do to speed up a sluggish modem connection, while others have offered the idea that with the right tool, you can make your modem perform seemingly impossible feats of derring-do. Let’s try to separate fact from fiction.
To begin with, your 56-Kbps modem will never, ever reach its maximum speed in North America (and many other delightful spots around the globe), because U.S. government regulations prohibit dial-up modems from exceeding 53 Kbps. In fact, in most cases you’ll be lucky to see them top out at 48 Kbps.
So is there anything you can do to speed up your connection? Maybe. Start by making the cleanest connection possible between your PowerBook and the phone jack. Avoid plugging the phone cord into phone-line splitters and devices such as surge protectors and answering machines. Channeling your line through this mishmash of stuff can add noise, which can cause more data-transfer errors, slowing your connection. Line noise also comes from electrical appliances and AC power cords, so if you can better isolate your PowerBook and accompanying phone cord, do so. Long phone cords can also degrade the phone signal, so use a shorter cord if possible.
Cock a keen ear and evaluate the quality of your phone line. Connect a telephone to that line, dial 1, and listen for noise. If you hear a lot of hissing or crackling, give your phone company a call and report that you have a dirty line that interferes with your voice calls. Don’t introduce the phrase data calls into the conversation, because phone companies have to maintain line quality only good enough for voice calls.
Finally, try to connect locally. A local number gives you a better chance at achieving a more direct path to the receiving modem. If a connection is routed through lots of different lines and equipment, it’s likely to slow down.
I’ll also report what won’t help you: a product from macntosh.com ( www.macntosh.com ) called Modem Magic. This $35 collection of modem scripts is aptly named: like all magic, its power is based more on illusion than on reality.
Many users visiting the Macworld.com Troubleshooting forum have recommended Modem Magic, so we decided to put Macworld Contributing Editor Mel Beckman to the task of test-ing it. Mel runs his own ISP and was therefore in a position to see Modem Magic’s effects from both ends of a dial-up connection. Mr. Beckman reports, “After extensive testing with many different modems under controlled conditions, I can conclusively demonstrate that most, if not all, Modem Magic scripts deliberately force a high reported connect speed, hiding the actual, usually slower, connect speed from the user.”
Beckman goes on to say that Modem Magic can even make throughput worse, “because the speed trick necessarily impedes compression, causing overrun buffers and flow control to kick in.” To read his complete report on the dubious benefits of Modem Magic, go to www.macworld.com/2001/07/13/reviews/modem.html.
Black Magic Jet.Net’s log shows that our test modem has connected at 33,600 bps (A), yet Modem Magic falsely reports the connection speed as 57,600 bps (B).
If you’d like to see for yourself how fast your modem connection is, regardless of your software, you can find detailed instructions at www.macworld.com/2001/09/howto/modem.html.
Limited Multiple Users
Q. After configuring my Mac to use Multiple Users (in Mac OS 9), I’ve tried to get Microsoft Word to work in a limited account. However, when I launch Word, I receive an error message that reads, “Microsoft Visual Basic cannot start program,” and then Word quits. What’s going on?
A. I’m afraid you’ve discovered one of a handful of Multiple Users’ shortcomings. You see, Multiple Users lacks a certain subtlety. If you set up a Limited or Panel account, Multiple Users blithely bars access to folders that may be necessary for certain applications to function. Such is the case here.
My guess is that you installed Microsoft Office and then–without running Word for the first time–set up this Limited account. When any component of Microsoft Office runs for the first time, Office flings a number of files into various places within the System Folder. Because Limited users don’t have access to the System Folder, Office can’t install these necessary doodads, and you see this inevitable error message. The workaround is to open Word in the Owner account. Once you’ve done so, it should launch properly from any user account.
Rather than backtracking this way, you’d do well to think ahead before configuring Multiple Users. For instance, keep in mind that Limited and Panel users can’t configure the Startup Items and Shutdown Items folders in Mac OS 9 and earlier. This means Panels users can’t use the Launcher at all and Limited users can use it only if the Owner creates an alias of it in the Startup Items folder (inside the user’s folder). Likewise, Limited users who want Stickies to appear at startup must have an alias of Stickies in the Startup Items folder within their user’s folder.
Q. America Online (AOL) recently increased my monthly fee to $24, and I’m starting to wonder if I couldn’t do better elsewhere for less money. I’m still a little unsure of my Mac skills, but is it that difficult to make the transition from AOL to a “real” ISP?
Salt Lake City, Utah
A. While I believe America Online offers some real benefits and convenience–particularly to new computer users–I agree that it is a bit difficult to swallow this price increase when AOL has traditionally treated Mac users like poor relations. The Mac versions of AOL’s software inevitably trail months and months behind the Windows releases, many areas of AOL are useful to Windows users only, AOL’s browser is weak and slow, and AOL continues to handle e-mail attachments from other ISPs poorly. I firmly believe that with a little knowledge and pointers to some helpful sites around the Web, you can do as well–or better–with another, less expensive ISP.
Let’s start with an alternative ISP–EarthLink (404/815-0770, www.earthlink.com ). There are many worthy ones, but EarthLink has some distinct advantages. It’s easier to configure than many of its competitors. It’s a nationwide service, so you’ll have a better chance of finding a local number when you’re visiting Aunt Vilma than if you sign on with Big Joe’s ISPs-Is-Us. It also provides 6MB of storage space for a personal Web page, offers round-the-clock tech support, and supplies the software you need to get on the Web–all for $22 a month.
What will you miss if you abandon AOL? Other than the derisive sneers you get from your computer-savvy friends when you mention that your e-mail address ends with aol.com, very little. AOL’s Instant Messenger–an application for sending live messages back and forth to your buddies–is now available outside AOL. The free Netscape Communicator ( https://home.netscape.com/browsers ) includes it.
You can duplicate the experience of seeing the day’s headlines and weather the instant you log onto AOL by designating any of hundreds of Web portals as your home page. These pages–such as Apple’s My Apple Start Page–act as a gateway for other information sites and provide such niceties as the day’s headlines, sports scores, weather, financial news, and entertainment tittle-tattle.
Using a portal, you can also create a personalized stock portfolio and track the progress of your stocks, much as you would on AOL. Excite, via My Apple Start Page, offers stock tracking, as do a host of other portal sites, including Netscape ( https://my.netscape.com ) and Yahoo ( https://my.yahoo.com ). These sites, like AOL’s, allow you to create and maintain an online calendar. Many portals offer personalized e-mail accounts as well.
One feature introduced in AOL 5.0 is You’ve Got Photos–a way to process and view your photos online. Ofoto ( www.ofoto.com ) and Snapfish ( www.snapfish.com ) offer this kind of service. As for AOL’s bulletin boards, you’ll find more lively, knowledgeable, and uncensored discussions in the Web’s many Usenet newsgroups–accessible via newsreaders such as Newswatcher (many flavors of which you’ll find at www.macdownload.com ) or the news servers in Microsoft’s Outlook Express.
So if you can get the best features of AOL on the Web, what good is AOL? Because AOL screens its content, it’s a reasonably safe place for your kids to surf. And it’s a good starting point for users new to computers and the Web. But it’s only a starting point. Once you’re comfortable with your Mac and the basic structure of the Web, it’s time to take off the training wheels and save a few bucks in the process.
Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN asks only that the Macintosh community support the principles of truth, justice, and the American way.
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Shareware and freeware mentioned in Mac 911 are available from ZDNet’s Macdownload.com ( www.macdownload.com ).