With their G3 horsepower and gigantic screens, today’s Mac laptops bring us closer than ever to the Holy Grail of portable computing: forgetting that we’re not using a desktop computer.
Unfortunately, one road trip will burst that bubble in a hurry, as you’re quickly mired in low-battery warnings and connection hassles you’d never get with a deskbound Mac.
But don’t despair. If you can find room in your bag for Macworld’s collection of expert tips and tricks for the mobile Mac user, you’ll be able to work in far-off places just as easily as if you were back at the office.
Pack It Up, Pal
Before heading off to the airport, your first task is to get your important files onto the laptop. You can do so the wired way, the quick way, or the space-age way.
Perform Instant Network Hookups
It’s easy to hook up a PowerBook to another individual Mac: use a standard serial (StyleWriter) cable to create a tiny, Mac-to-Mac LocalTalk network, or an Ethernet crossover cable (about $10) to create a much faster Mac-to-Mac Ethernet connection without needing a hub or router.
Try Superfast SCSI Transfers
If your files are big or your time is short, on the other hand, put your PowerBook into SCSI Disk Mode, in which your PowerBook impersonates an external hard drive for another Mac.
To set this up, you need a special cable, such as the $30 SCSI Doc from APS Technologies (816/483-2749,
) or the $28 dark-gray HDI-30 SCSI Disk Adapter cable from Apple (800/795-1000,
). (Don’t confuse it with Apple’s light-gray HDI-30 SCSI System cable.)
Now open the PowerBook Setup control panel or (on 1998 and later models) the PowerBook SCSI Disk Mode control panel. Specify a SCSI ID for your laptop, 1 through 6, just as though it’s going to be a scanner or another SCSI device. Finally, shut down both Macs, connect the far end of the Disk Adapter cable to your desktop Mac and the near end to your PowerBook, and turn on the PowerBook.
When you turn on the desktop Mac, the PowerBook’s hard-drive icon shows up just as though it were an external hard drive. You can drag huge files back and forth, reveling in the speed of the copying.
Investigate Infrared Beaming If you’re not up for the hassle of dealing with cables and SCSI addresses, try the PowerBook’s infrared-beaming feature. The infrared (IR) port, the dark translucent-plastic plate on every PowerBook and iMac, sends and receives files from one Mac to another through the air, without a single cable connection. (You can even retrofit an existing Mac with infrared features by using a $70 Farallon AirDock; 510/814-5000,
http://www.farallon.com.) Setting up your wireless Mac-to-Mac network is remarkably easy.
1. Open the Infrared control panel (if you don’t have this control panel, skip to step 2). Choose either IRTalk, a Mac-only language that’s a lot like LocalTalk, or IrDA, a faster, more universal networking scheme. (Both Macs must be set to use the same protocol.)
2. Open the AppleTalk control panel and choose Infrared Port from the pop-up menu.
3. Launch Apple IR File Exchange, a program in the Apple Extras folder on every PowerBook and iMac hard drive. Position the two Macs so that their transmitters face each other. Amazingly, any Macs in range show up as “drop-box” folder icons. Now just drag file or folder icons from your desktop onto the icons of the receiving Macs. When the progress bar indicates that the job is done, the recipient should open the Apple IR File Exchange folder. Inside is a folder named IR Receiver-which contains whatever data you just beamed through space.
Unlike traditional Mac file sharing, IR doesn’t require setting up passwords, registered users, or levels of access. You might call it don’t-plug-and-play.
A Battery of Power Savers
Once you’re out the door, you may quickly discover that your PowerBook’s “three-hour” rating is an exercise in sheer optimism. For better battery mileage, try these tricks.
Work Dimmer, Not Harder
If you can work with your screen at half brightness, you’ll add 20 minutes to each battery charge; your backlight is one of the laptop’s biggest power consumers. Also turn off AppleTalk while on that plane or train; it, too, saps away power unnecessarily.
Exercise Spin Control
A spinning hard disk is one of the PowerBook’s biggest power guzzlers; a nonspinning one, on the other hand, uses almost no power at all. If you run your laptop off a RAM disk, as described in the sidebar “Double Your Battery Life,” your battery can last four hours or more.
If the RAM-disk approach is a bit much, at least use selective spin control by pressing command-control-shift-0 (zero) to chill your hard drive when it’s overactive. Do so promptly after saving your work, for example, to prevent the hard disk from spinning pointlessly for 15 more minutes (or whatever period you’ve specified in the Energy Saver or PowerBook control panel).
Choose Disk-Shy Apps
For additional spin control, favor programs that don’t access the hard disk very often. Microsoft programs, alas, are among the most disk-intensive. Instead, draft your speech in the $70 Mariner Write from Mariner Software (502/222-6695,
) or Apple’s $99 AppleWorks while on the plane.
Tweak Your Processor
Your PowerBook offers several secret controls that can minimize its processor’s energy use. On the newest PowerBook G3 models, these options are in the Energy Saver’s Advanced Settings panel; on older laptops, open the PowerBook control panel and, while holding down the option key, move the Easy/Custom switch into the Custom position.
If you turn on the Allow Processor Cycling option, you’ll permit your processor to rest between bursts of activity, saving juice (but making games and movies jerkier). The option Turn Off Power To Inactive PC Cards (in the G3 series only) may eke out a few extra minutes by cutting off the juice to any inserted PC Cards such as modems or Ethernet cards, although not every card will be able to turn off when you choose.
Finally, the Reduce Processor Speed option slows down even a G3 to a feeble 25MHz. To be sure, this is a dire last resort-but when the battery warnings are coming up and all you’re doing is finishing your speech, this option may be just the ticket.
Up in the Air
A little strategic thinking goes a long way toward making your plane trip-and your airport time-PowerBook-friendly.
Savvy PowerBookworms ask for an exit-row seat; only then do they have enough tray-table room to open a PowerBook G3 all the way.
Your wait at the gate doesn’t have to be fruitless thumb-twiddling time; power outlets lurk at every gate of every airport (and bus and train station, too). Use them. To find one, you need to think like a janitor; these outlets are generally concealed on the side of a pillar, virtually never convenient to a seat. If your need for juice is stronger than your pride, you’re going to have to sit on the floor.
Don’t expect to find outlets when you’re in the air. On some of the newer airplanes, there are power outlets right on the seats in first class-but you can use them only if you own the correct adapter (they’re not standard outlets). You can usually find an outlet in the plane’s lavatory, but we doubt that your fellow passengers would look favorably upon you if you commandeered it to use your PowerBook.
Sleep in the Air
A plane trip is a series of on-and-offs for the typical PowerBook: on for security, off for takeoff, on for the ride, off for dinner, and so on. Do what the pros do: never shut down your PowerBook. Instead, simply close the lid when you’re not using the machine (or press command-shift-0 [zero]), thus putting it to sleep. (Be sure it’s actually asleep, as indicated by the tiny blinking light on the case.) The next time you want to use your computer, all you have to do is press any key. For a speedier PowerBook wake-up, select Make AppleTalk Inactive from the AppleTalk On/Off Control Strip module.
The fact is, there’s no good reason to shut down your PowerBook ever, unless you want to change its SCSI or monitor configuration, shelve it for days, or ship it. When you’re not working, your PowerBook should be sleeping.
Surviving the Hotel Room
In some ways, arriving at a hotel is a welcome moment, since you can stop worrying about running out of battery juice. But in other ways, the hotel room presents its own challenges.
Print for Free
The first challenge-the lack of a printer-is easily surmountable. Using your PowerBook’s fax modem, fax your printworthy documents to the front desk, addressed to yourself. Presto: fresh, crisp printouts. Moreover, most hotels these days use plain paper (not that curly fax stuff), deliver the fax to your door, and don’t charge a penny. The front desk never needs to know that the fax originated in the same building.
Jack In Safely
Another traveler’s hazard is the digital (PBX) phone jack, found in virtually every hotel room. Such jacks look exactly like normal (analog) phone jacks-but if you plug your PowerBook’s modem into a digital line, you could fry the modem for good.
Fortunately, the bedside phones in most modern hotels have a special analog jack on the side, marked “Data” or “Dataport,” into which you can safely plug your modem. (Don’t forget to bring a generous amount of telephone cord with you.) If you worry that your hotel won’t offer such a jack, travel with a digital-line converter, such as the $150 TeleSwitch Plus, from TeleAdapt (
). Or try another helpful tool-the $30 Modem Saver Plus, from Road Warrior (
http://warrior.com, 714/434-8600), which tests a jack for safety before you plug in.
Simplify Your Setup
Once you’ve arrived at your temporary location, don’t bother with the usual ritual of changing your PowerBook’s clock to the new time zone, typing in the local Internet-access number, adapting to a different network setup, and so on. Instead, do all that with a single click, using the Location Manager (see the sidebar “Location Is Everything”).
After your travels, you’ve got one challenge left: returning your on-the-road documents to your desktop Mac without confusing them with previous versions.
Get in Sync
Synchronizing files is the whole purpose of the unsung but extremely handy File Synchronization control panel (called PowerBook Assistant before Mac OS 8.5). It helps you synchronize parallel folders on your PowerBook and your desktop Mac and makes the process drag-and-drop easy.
On either computer, drag a PowerBook folder onto one side of the control panel and a desktop-Mac folder onto the other. Then, whenever you click on Synchronize, the File Synchronization control panel makes sure that the two folders contain exactly the same set of files-the newest only.
Zip through Data Transfers
If you would rather avoid the hassle of networking your desktop Mac with your PowerBook after each trip, outfit your PowerBook with a $250 PowerBook Zip drive, from VST Technologies (978/635-8200,
). This way, you can keep all your documents on a single Zip disk, which you transfer between machines before and after each excursion.
The Last Word
Let’s face it: simply carrying one of today’s gorgeous, sleek, high-horsepower PowerBooks is enough to impress friends, coworkers, and passersby. But mastering the tricks of expert PowerBook use will let you venture farther. And isn’t that the reason you bought a laptop in the first place?
Contributing Editor DAVID POGUE (
) is coauthor of
Macworld Mac Secrets
, fifth edition (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998).
Four Ways to Stay Connected
The PowerBook is a vital tool because it keeps you in touch with your office and the rest of the world, no matter where you might be. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your remote connectionswhether you’re using your PowerBook in a hotel room or at home.
1. Upgrade to Mac OS 8.5. With the latest update to the Mac OS, Apple has finally created great remote-access software. In this release, the PPP and Remote Access control panels have merged to become version 3.1 of the Remote Access control panel. This version lets you dial remote-access servers and Internet service providers with equal ease from the same interface. Better still, you can now connect to the Netand even choose what number to dialall from the Control Strip, with no control panels or helper applications necessary.
2. Get Timbuktu Pro. Netopia’s (510/814-5000,
) remarkable Timbuktu Pro 4.0 software ($190 for a two-user pack) is a must-have tool if you frequently dial in to your office network from a remote location.
With Timbuktu Pro and either a TCP/IP or an AppleTalk connection, you can view the screen of any other Mac that’s running Timbuktu. As a result, you can run applications that you didn’t install on your PowerBook, search through e-mail you left at the office, and more. But Timbuktu’s not just for screen sharing: its file-transfer feature beats the Finder hands down when used over modem lines, making it the ideal tool if you want to grab those files you forgot to bring with you.
If you don’t want to leave your computer on all the time (a necessity if you’ll be using Timbuktu) but want it to be there when you need it, consider also getting one of Sophisticated Circuits’ (425/485-7979,
) PowerKey power strips. The $100 PowerKey Pro 200 features two sets of remotely controlled outlets; the $200 PowerKey Pro 600 offers six individually controlled outlets. PowerKeys can be controlled both by computer and via telephone, so you can turn your computers (and other devices) on and off from far, far away.
3. Bypass Finder copies. If your file server at work runs AppleShare IP, you may be able to access it via an FTP client such as Dartmouth College’s free Fetch (
), Stairways Software’s $35 shareware Anarchie Pro (
), or Peter Li and Vincent Tan’s $20 shareware NetFinder (
) rather than having to mount it on your desktop. You’ll be able to transfer files in a much speedier fashionFTP uses less network overhead than is used in mounting Mac volumes and performing Finder copies.
4. Save your e-mail on the server. If you use a POP e-mail client such as Eudora Pro or Light from Qualcomm (619/658-1291,
) or Outlook Express from Microsoft (425/882-8080,
), be sure to set your preferences to leave mail on the server. If you don’t, your PowerBook will delete every message after downloading it, leaving you no way to retrieve those messages and file them when you return to your work. If you set this preference, you can ensure that your e-mail in-box at work contains a complete copy of your correspondence. If you don’t, you’ll get a conspicuous hole in your e-mail trail every time you head out on the roadJASON SNELL
Off-Roading without a Mac
Just because you’re a hard-core Mac user doesn’t necessarily mean you always lug a PowerBook around with you when you’re out of the office. Sometimes it’s simply impractical to tote one along. But if you’ve got a 3Com (801/431-1536,
) Palm III (or other Palm-family handheld organizer), you don’t have to lose touch.
Quick and Dirty If you’ve got electronic documents you want to read on the go without the inconvenience of paper, consider Florent Pillet’s $20 shareware Palm Buddy utility (
http://perso.wanadoo.fr/fpillet/; see the screen shot “Palm Pal”). Not only is this a great tool for backing up and installing files on a Palm device (without the hassle and overhead of 3Com’s own HotSync software), but Palm Buddy can also automatically translate any text file into a document that is readable by any Palm-based Doc reader, such as the $17 shareware TealDoc, from TealPoint Software (
), or the $30 AportisDoc, from Aportis Technologies (503/736-3240,
Mini Mail To keep up with e-mail on a Palm device, you won’t need anything faster than the 14.4 Kbps of 3Com’s teeny $120 PalmPilot modem. If you’re on a budget, you can use Ian Goldberg and Steve Gribble’s free Top Gun Postman (
), which downloads mail from a POP/SMTP server directly into the Palm OS’s built-in Mail program. For more full-featured e-mail, consider the $40 MultiMail Professional 2.0, from Actual Software (978/475-2690,
), or the $50 HandMail 2.0, from Smart Code Software (619/597-7544,
Dainty Data At press time, 3Com had not yet released the much-promised version 2.0 of its Mac HotSync software (see ”
Mac’s Best Friend,”
August 1998). But when that software does appear, Rob Tsuk’s Jfile to FileMaker Conduit (
) will let you sync FileMaker databases with the $20 Jfile from Land-J Technologies (
), a popular Palm flat-file database. That means you’ll also be able to look up and edit flat-file databases in the palm of your hand.JASON SNELL
Location Is Everything
Few things are more frustrating than settling down with your PowerBook and realizing that before you can check your e-mail, you’ve got to change the settings in a half dozen control panels.
That’s why Apple created Location Manager, a powerful tool that lets you change dozens of preferences with just one click. It’s quite tricky to set up, but once you have properly configured Location Manager, you can finally stop tinkering with settings and get to work.
How It Works
Location Manager is a lot like the Extensions Manager control panel: you can create different sets, or collections of preferences, and turn them on and off in one fell swoop instead of one at a time. Using Location Manager 2.0 (a part of Mac OS 8.5), you can remotely control AppleTalk, TCP/IP, printing, Extensions Manager, File Sharing, Internet preferences, Modem settings, Remote Access settings (including dial-up phone numbers), your time-zone settings, and even the volume of your PowerBook’s speaker. (Previous versions of Location Manager offer a more limited amount of control.)
Just because you can control all of these settings doesn’t mean you’ll want to. Based on your particular situation, you may need to control only a handful of these items. If you use a PowerBook both at home and at work, you might want to create a different set of AppleTalk and TCP/IP settings for each locale, as well as a different default printer and a separate set of Internet preferences. If you travel frequently, you may just want to create settings for your most common destinationscomplete with each city’s time zone and the local number for your Internet service provider.
No matter what you use your PowerBook for, chances are good that Location Manager can save you time. That’s why it’s worth it to take the time to get to know more about it.
Step 1. Getting Started
To begin, open Location Manager either directly from the Control Panels list in the Apple menu or via its Control Strip panel (an icon that looks like two sets of preference files joined by a pair of red arrows). Use the File menu to create your first new location. If you’ve already configured your PowerBook for a certain place, it’s important that the first location set you create includes all these preferencesotherwise you might lose them when you create another set.
Step 2. Describe Your Preferences
Location Manager refuses to work with any preference named Default, so you must open all the control panels you plan to modify with Location Manager and give your preference settings descriptive names. The method involved is the same for the AppleTalk, TCP/IP, Remote Access (which integrates the pre-OS 8.5 Remote Access and PPP control panels), and Modem control panels: choose Configurations from the File menu, click on Rename, and give your settings names like Work Ethernet TCP Settings or Remote Access 800 Number. The Extensions Manager and Internet control panels have a more intuitive interface for creating and managing multiple sets of preferences via pop-up menus.
If you want to be extra-safe, hit the Export button and export your settings to files. That way, if anything bad happens to your settings, you’ll still have a copy you can import later using the Import button.
Step 3. Create a Location
Now you’re ready to create your first location. Location Manager learns settings by picking up whatever ones are currently active and storing them away. If you’ve got things just the way you want them, you should be able to click on items one at a time in the Settings area of the Location Manager window and click on Apply to add that setting to your location. If you need to make changes, click on the Edit button, and Location Manager brings up a dialog box that lets you open the control panel you need to edit.
When you’re making changes to settings, remember to be extremely careful. Location Manager works by remembering the name of the configuration setting you use in a particular control panel, not the actual setting itself. If you open the Remote Access control panel, replace your user name, password, and phone number, and close the window, saving your changes, you’ve overwritten your previous settings and there’s no way to get them back.
Before you make any changes, be sure to create a new set of preferences. In the TCP/IP, AppleTalk, Modem, and Remote Access control panels, you do that by choosing Configurations from the File menu, clicking on Duplicate, giving this new setting a descriptive name, and clicking on Make Active. Now you can make all the changes you need to.
When you’ve finished changing settings in a control panel, you close it, and Location Manager reappears. Now when you click on the Apply button, your newly changed settings are added to the location you’re editing.
Once you’re done, you can create as many locations as you need to fulfill your travel requirements. For each new location, choose New Location (or Duplicate Location if the location you want to make is similar to an existing one) from the File menu. Then go through all the relevant control panels, make changes to your settings, and apply those changes to your new location.
The least documented of Location Manager’s settingsthe Auto-Open Item settingmay be its coolest. It can instruct Location Manager to open files, applications, or other items whenever you select a new location. One of the best uses for this is to designate server aliases as Auto-Open Items so that server volumes remount automatically. By making an AppleScript an Auto-Open Item, you can also have your Mac perform customized tasks.
And whether you’re using a Mac at home or on the road, if you share space on that Mac with other users, you’ll find Location Manager a blessing. Since Location Manager can change your TCP/IP, Remote Access, and Internet settings at the same time, you can use it to quickly shift between different Internet accounts, right down to different home pages and default Web browsers.
Caveat User Location Manager is quite powerful, but it could be both easier to use and more comprehensive. Although version 2.0 is an improvement over its predecessors, Location Manager is still one of Apple’s uglier interface efforts. Switching locations is accompanied by a pop-up window filled with scary streams of text and the occasional hard-to-comprehend error message.
Ideally, Location Manager should let users make changes to preferences without having to click through individual control panels (and without risking accidental destruction of their settings). It should also be able to control more preferences, including power-management settings and perhaps even Mac OS 8.5’s themes.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, but as it is, Location Manager is quite useful today. If you’ve grown tired of wrestling with your PowerBook’s settings every time you travel, you should invest the time to configure it now. Your effort will pay off down the road.JASON SNELL
Double Your Battery Life
Frustrated by the short life of laptop batteries? Then replace your juice-guzzling hard drive with a disk that doesn’t move and uses no battery power at all. That’s the purpose of a RAM disk, a portion of memory the Mac treats like an additional (but extremely fast) floppy disk. When you work off a RAM disk with your hard drive spun down, a fresh PowerBook battery can last four hours or longer per charge. The bad news is that setting up a RAM disk as your in-flight hard disk requires some dedication and effort, but the good news is that it’s a onetime setup.
1. First, figure out how much disk space your RAM-disk contents will requiretotal the disk-space requirements of, for example, your word processor, your documents, and a stripped-down System Folder. (At minimum, a basic Mac OS 8.1 setup should include the following: System, Finder, PowerBook Enabler, Text Encoding Converter, Geneva 9-point, and the Appearance extension.)
2. Open the Memory control panel; turn off virtual memory and click on the RAM Disk On button. Move the slider to the right until it shows the size you calculated (or larger, if you can afford the RAM). Turn on Save On Shut Down or Preserve RAM Disk Contents so that you won’t have to repeat this business later. Restart.
3. Now a RAM-disk icon appears at the right side of the screen. Copy your filesthe mini System Folder, your word processor, and your documentsonto it. Also copy onto it an alias of the Startup Disk control panel.
4. Finally, use Startup Disk to select the RAM disk as the start-up disk. Restart again. (If the laptop doesn’t boot, press command-option-P-R during start-up to nuke the RAM disk and start over.) You’ll be shocked at how fast your Mac now starts upin about three seconds. At this moment, however, your hard disk is still spinning; you aren’t getting any extra battery mileage until you complete the next step.
5. Drag your hard-disk icon to the Trash! The Mac warns you that you’re doing something nutty; click on OK. (If the disk is still spinning or spins up unbidden from time to time, press command-control-shift-0 [zero] to stop it cold.)
At last you’ve arrived at an amazing point. Your PowerBook is absolutely silent, runs about three times as fast as before, and uses very little battery juice. Everything on the RAM disk is safe, even if your laptop crashes, sleeps, or restarts. Only removing both battery and power cordor shutting down without having used the Save On Shut Down option in the Memory control panelobliterates your RAM disk.
To summon the hard disk back to the screen (to back up your document, for example), double-click on the Startup Disk alias on your RAM disk. And to terminate your RAM disk, use the Startup Disk control panel to choose your hard disk, restart, erase the RAM disk, turn off the RAM-disk option in the Memory control panel, and restart again.