You’re in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere, using a PowerBook to catch up on your work e-mail. You see a message from your manager asking about something you discussed in last week’s project meeting. The nitty-gritty details you need are in an e-mail exchange you had with your company’s consultant yesterday while you were using your desktop machine at work. Will you go through a long, confusing hunt for the e-mail messages, or will you be able to access them immediately? The answer depends on your level of e-mail savvy.
We’ll show you some techniques for keeping track of all your e-mail when you’re gone from your usual Mac for more than a few days, and then show you how to bring it all home. (If you use IMAP-based e-mail, you won’t have these issues. But most people still rely on POP-based e-mail accounts. We’ll give directions for organizing POP-based e-mail in Apple’s Mail and Microsoft Entourage in OS X, but the settings are easily translatable to other programs; see “Mail Strategies” for guidance.) If you need to switch Macs more frequently, we have some tips for that situation, too.
Set Up E-mail on Both Macs
First things first: to prevent confusion, designate one computer as your primary Mac (the one you use most of the time, probably your desktop machine or the one you use at your workplace) and the other (the one you use on the road or at home) as your secondary Mac.
Now make sure you can send and receive mail on both Macs using the accounts you’ll want to read on both computers. You’ll need to know your settings for each account: you can find them in your e-mail program (under Accounts in Entourage’s Tools menu or in Mail’s Accounts preference pane). Enter the settings in your primary Mac if they’re not already there. Next, set up e-mail access on your secondary Mac, using the same settings. You’ll probably need to enter a different SMTP, or outgoing mail, server for the secondary Mac — that of your ISP at home, for example.
On the secondary Mac, select the option that removes messages from the server when you check your e-mail (this may mean deselecting an option named Leave Messages On Server or something similar). Now, mail you receive on the secondary Mac won’t be downloaded to the primary Mac upon your return. When you return, be sure the primary Mac is set to remove copies from the server, too. (In Mail, the option appears under the Advanced tab in the Accounts section; in Entourage, it appears under the Options tab in the Edit Accounts dialog box, which is accessible through the Accounts command.) There is an exception to this practice. It’s always possible that mail will be lost or damaged. If that possibility concerns you, leave messages on the server until you back them up.
Put It All in One Place
If you’re traveling and will be away from your primary Mac for a couple of days or longer, you can ensure that you’ll be able to access all your e-mail messages and addresses by copying them to your secondary Mac via removable media, such as CDs, or your network.
It’s much easier to move your mail between the two machines if you use the same e-mail program for each, because you can be sure the file formats don’t conflict. To move your e-mail and address book wholesale in Mail, copy and move Users/username/Library/Mail/ and Users/username/Library/Preferences/com.apple.AddressBook.plist to their corresponding places on your secondary Mac.
The downside to this method is that you’ll overwrite your mail and addresses on the secondary Mac. If you have e-mail on that Mac that you want to keep, save the relevant e-mail boxes to another part of your hard drive, and then incorporate them into your mail program after you’ve overwritten the mail folder.
Moving your mail around in this piecemeal way is a little more difficult in Entourage because addresses and e-mail are stored in one large file called the Entourage database. So you’ll want to drag and drop individual mail folders to your desktop or another place, then drag them to the secondary Mac’s Entourage mail folder list. Then, export your contacts as text and import them into Entourage on the secondary Mac.
If, for whatever reason, you use two different e-mail programs, you’ll need to import your mail into your secondary Mac’s e-mail client, rather than simply copying mail from one place to another. The best mail-import features belong to Mail and Entourage, both of which can bring in messages from Eudora, Netscape, Microsoft Outlook Express, and Claris Emailer, among others. If you use another client, visit
to find utilities for importing e-mail from various programs. Just keep in mind that importing e-mail is a pain — not something easy to do at the end of every trip.
Moving mailboxes works best when you plan to be away from your primary Mac for some time. Your PowerBook or home Mac can function as your main e-mail machine until you return to the primary Mac and reverse the process.
All this is fine if you’ll be away from your primary Mac for a while, but it’s probably too much trouble if you just work at home a couple of days per week. In that case, you may want to change e-mail methods. POP, a commonly used protocol, copies or moves messages from a server to your computer. It isn’t the best choice all the time for e-mailers on the go because, as we’ve shown, it takes some time and effort to move mailboxes between two Macs.
If you need quick access to your e-mail all the time, you might want to use IMAP, which stores your messages on a server that you connect to when you want to access your mailboxes. Since messages don’t reside on your computer as they do with POP, you can view them from any Mac or e-mail client, download them to your Mac if you want, or leave them on the server for later access. The downsides are that many IMAP servers let you store only 5MB to 15MB of e-mail, so you have to keep an eye on how much space you’re using; IMAP isn’t available from all companies and ISPs; and if you store your mail on the IMAP server, you must be connected to the Internet to read it.
If you have to suddenly leave town or are unexpectedly home sick (but not too sick to check e-mail), another method, Web mail, can be a truly convenient fix. Many ISPs let you access your account via the Web, but the drawbacks are that you can’t use any of the filters, rules, or spam catchers you use with your mail application; the interfaces are often poorly designed; you can’t import either your existing mail or your address book; and you must be connected to the Internet to see your e-mail.
If you want to use your e-mail on an iBook or PowerBook for an extended period of time, and transfer everything to your main Mac when you get home:
If you want to access all your e-mail on both machines a couple of days a week or with little notice:
Mice for the Road
Let’s face it: sometimes your iBook’s or PowerBook’s conveniently located trackpad isn’t so comfortable, but a full-size mouse will eat up a lot of space in your laptop bag. If you’re looking for an alternative, one of a new crop of tiny mice may suit you perfectly.
The Kensington PocketMouse SE ($40;
) is a stylish and small USB mouse with two buttons and a scroll wheel.
Macally and Logitech also make cable-clutter–free (read: wireless) mice with a transmitter that plugs into a USB port. The Macally rfMouseJr ($49;
) has an ingenious docking station you use with an AC adapter; you can leave the docking station at home and instead use the included rechargeable batteries, which last for two to three weeks on a charge. The Logitech Cordless Optical Mouse for Notebooks ($40;
) uses regular AA batteries. The Kensington and Logitech mice come with their own tiny carrying cases. (Cordless mice for laptops are also available from Kensington.) —
‘Book Bag of the Month: Marware
For the on-the-go Web surfer, nothing beats a spongy neoprene bag with real surfer appeal. The SportFolio II ($40) has a tidy body (it just fits 12-inch iBooks), a full-size inside pocket, zippered and open outer pockets, plastic-reinforced sides, a cushioned handle, and a detachable strap. We like it because its shoulder strap is bouncy, reducing that pack-animal feeling. Marware (954/927-6031,
) offers larger SportFolio bags ($40 to $58) with more pockets, and an even slimmer pocketless, handleless, strapless slipcase, the SportFolio Sleeve ($30 to $40). Marware bags fit the 12- and 14-inch iBook, the 12-, 15-, and 17-inch PowerBook G4, and the iPod, and range in price from $20 to $58. They’re available from Apple’s online store and various other retailers (see the company’s Web site for listings). —