Inside Information

SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - When you're more often on the road than in the office, chances are you depend on your PowerBook -- if not for your life, then at least for your money. But Apple Computer Inc.'s laptops have their idiosyncrasies, and travel brings its own challenges. Most of us have been caught at least once without a way to print, connect to a monitor, or jack into a network. In these situations -- from the embarrassing to the deal breaking -- even seasoned users can use a little expert help. That's where we come in.

Whether your portable pal has a fresh face or is somewhat long in the tooth, our insider tips will keep it running at its best and save you from "gotchas" that can wreak havoc on your workday.

Security Blanket

You love your PowerBook because you can sling it around without breaking a sweat. Thieves love that, too. Beware a common airport scam that involves a decoy stalling as he or she goes through the security check's metal detector while an accomplice grabs your computer as it comes through the baggage scanner.

PowerBook ownership also poses another kind of security threat. Whether you fear theft or simply share your laptop with coworkers, you should keep your data secure. The simplest way to protect your information from prying eyes is built right into the Mac OS. The Password Security control panel activates a password screen any time your machine wakes from sleep mode or restarts.

Password security is relatively easy to foil, but it can keep casual snoops at bay.

In OS 9, you can restrict access to certain applications and folders via the Multiple Users control panel. Multiple Users lets you specify how much access each individual has and to which files. It's also useful for shared PowerBooks because it saves each user's systemwide preferences along with the log-in information.

But say you're out hawking the idea of the century. If your data gets into the wrong hands, your dreams of a multibillion-dollar buyout go down the drain. You need serious security, such as Power On Software's $80 Disk Lock (800/344-9160, It encrypts files in two ways (including DES, the U.S. government standard) and protects them against deletion.

Another security program, ASD Software's $139 FileGuard (909/624-2594,, boasts four ways to encrypt data, including Triple DES. The cool part is that you can send encrypted files electronically to any Macintosh user, regardless of whether they use FileGuard.

Cables and Connectivity

Even road warriors can't live by laptop alone. Sooner or later, you'll want to hook up to speakers, connect to a network, or otherwise reach beyond your PowerBook.

Now Hear This

You can attach speakers via the stereo audio-out port located next to the power adapter plug on the PowerBook's back plane. A standard 1/8-inch stereo miniplug, like the one on a Walkman-like portable stereo, handles sound out. If you also have a standard dual RCA cable (available in electronics stores and Mac catalogs for about $2), you can send audio out to most consumer electronics devices.

Capture Sound

A PowerBook isn't exactly a recording studio, but when you need to capture audio with it, you can connect a microphone to the audio-in port. One caution: that port requires a powered microphone-and most mikes are not powered. The $20 NE Mic Audio Adapter from Griffin Technology (615/255-0990, comes to the rescue.

Attach SCSI or FireWire Devices

When you want to attach an external device such as a hard drive or CD drive, pick high-speed communications cables based on the PowerBook model you own. If your model has SCSI ports, pack an HDI-30-to-25-pin SCSI adapter, such as APS Technologies' $30 SCSI Doc (816/483-2749, You'll need this handy adapter to make the square SCSI port on your PowerBook work with standard SCSI cables.

You may also want to try out SCSI Disk Mode, which lets you mount your PowerBook as a hard drive on another Macintosh. This is especially useful when you need to copy a lot of files between a PowerBook and a desktop machine. To enable SCSI Disk Mode, start with the PowerBook Setup, PowerBook SCSI Disk Mode, or PowerBook SCSI Setup control panel (depending on which system you have).

Open the control panel, select the SCSI ID you want for the PowerBook (1 through 6), then shut down both machines and connect them via a SCSI cable and SCSI Doc. Your PowerBook hard drive will mount on the target machine like any other drive.

Connect to Ethernet

When your work environment may involve Ethernet, carry both straight and crossover Ethernet cables with you. The first allows you to jack into almost any corporate network; the second lets you connect directly to any other Ethernet-equipped Mac, no hub necessary. Both cost less than $10 from a variety of sources. If your PowerBook doesn't support Ethernet (that is, if you have a pre-3400 model) and you need that kind of connectivity, it may be time to buy a newer model.

Connect via Serial

If your PowerBook has a serial port (Wall Street or any prior model), don't forget a Mini Din8 serial cable (aka an ImageWriter cable). This cable can save your bacon when it comes to those smaller file transfers. Just connect two serial-equipped Macs with the Din8 cable, and then create a two-computer micro LAN by enabling File Sharing and selecting the target Mac in the Chooser. But keep in mind that the small data pipe will have you tearing out your hair if you try this trick with larger files.

Make E-mail Easy

Do you live for e-mail? Then save yourself the struggle of trying to stretch the 6-foot cable that came with your modem past the corner of your hotel bed.

Instead, plunk down a mere $2 to $5 for 10- and 15-foot standard telephone cables (known as RJ-11 cables, these are available from the usual Mac sources).

Pick up a $1 RJ-11 coupler, too-very handy when you have to connect two RJ-11 cables to reach that faraway plug.

Accessible Adapters

Adapters can bail PowerBook users out of many a tight situation, such as connecting to an unfamiliar video projector or printing a revised proposal on the spot at a client's office.

Professional Presentations

Imagine you've flown across the country to pitch your brilliant business plan.

You set up your PowerBook-and realize you've forgotten a crucial adapter. Don't make the management team huddle around your unimpressive small screen-always come prepared with the right adapter for the job. Here's what you need.

Monitors and video projectors usually connect via a VGA-style video cable. If you have a pre-3400 PowerBook, carry a Macintosh-to-VGA video adapter. If your model is a 3400 or newer, don't forget to pack the VGA-to-Mac adapter that ships with the laptop-it connects your PowerBook to older Apple monitors.

Owners of the G3 series (Lombard and Wall Street) can use the included adapter for S-Video to composite video.

Cross-Platform Printing

If you often print in cross-platform environments, Infowave's $100 PowerPrint USB (800/463-6928, may answer your prayers. Combining software and a USB-to-parallel cable, this package lets you print to over 1,600 PC printers from a PowerBook.

"Incompatible" Bronze Mac

Owning the newer PowerBook models (starting with the 1999 Bronze G3) presents special challenges. They were the first to ship without serial and Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) ports. Apple replaced both aging technologies with Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, alienating you from a world of perfectly functional but no longer compatible serial and ADB devices.

Two indispensable tools help owners of bronze G3s stay connected. The first is Keyspan's $79 USB Twin Serial Adapter (510/222-0131,

It plugs into one of your USB ports and gives you two serial ports-an absolute necessity for connecting to many PDAs, graphic tablets, modems, and printers.

Griffin's $39 iMate is another money saver if you've already invested in a slew of ADB devices. Plug this compact, Bondi-blue adapter into your PowerBook and you can connect to ADB keyboards, mice, trackballs, touchpads, and hardware dongles.

Networking sans Wires

Wireless networking means you can forget about fumbling with Ethernet or serial cables-go wireless instead.

Apple's wireless wonder, AirPort (which consists of the $99 AirPort PC card and the $299 AirPort Base Station), is built into only some versions of the iMac and iBook, the PowerMac G4, and the newest PowerBook. But this doesn't completely deal users of older PowerBooks out of the wireless game.

If you have a Wall Street or Lombard PowerBook, you can add a Lucent WaveLAN Silver PC Card ( or Cabletron Wireless High-Rate PC Card ( for as little as $166. Both of these identical cards are compatible with Apple's AirPort Base Station.

AirPort aside, another wireless option is Metricom's Ricochet SX (408/399-8200,, which delivers a constant Internet connection for a flat monthly fee. Ricochet gives you a solid 28.8-to-33.6-Kbps wireless connection via a small serial modem you attach to the lid of your PowerBook.

Although Metricom doesn't officially support mobile connections, you can easily use the service while traveling at under 35 mph. Service is currently limited to a few urban areas, but a 128-Kbps version of the Ricochet service is due out in 12 major markets this summer.

Backup Blues

We all know that backing up is a good idea, so why do we do it so infrequently?

Modern PowerBooks have expansion bays that accommodate Zip and expansion-bay hard drives, which could make on-the-road backups more palatable. The Zip drive will set you back about $230, and the expansion-bay hard drives start at $390 for the 6GB configuration. Both are available from VST Technologies (978/263-9700, For backups at the office, you can attach any SCSI (or FireWire, if you use the newest PowerBook) hard drive.

The Last Word

PowerBooks let us squeeze more work out of situations in which we used to jot notes on random scraps of paper or read in-flight magazines. That doesn't mean they're free of quirks and complications. Keep our advice in mind, and your PowerBook will bring you satisfaction, not aggravation.

JASON D. O'GRADY ( is editor in chief of and a member of the Macworld Expo Conference Faculty.

FireWire Tips, Gadgets

FireWire is a superfast way to transfer data to and from your PowerBook. A new PowerBook model, code-named Pismo, was recently released with built-in support for FireWire. And thanks to FireWire PC Cards that fit in the CardBus slot, any G3 PowerBook running at 300MHz or faster can join the party.

FireWire PC Cards are available from many vendors, including RATOC Systems (408/955-9229,, Newer Technology (316/943-0222,, VST Technologies (978/263-9700,, and Orange Micro (714/779-2772,

Because these cards work only in a CardBus slot, any PowerBook older than the Wall Street model can't use them without modification. If you've got an older model but are still frantic for FireWire, check out MCE's CardBus upgrade (

Models with built-in FireWire have at least one crucial advantage: they can power FireWire devices through the cable. Try the same thing with a FireWire PC Card and it will overheat. (However, the RATOC card's power jack is on the dongle that connects FireWire devices to the card, thus avoiding the problem.)Because digital video is such a data hog, video editors on the go are sure to be among the loudest voices welcoming FireWire. FireWire cables can have four or six pins; if you'll be working in an unfamiliar video studio, bring both kinds.

Many of the new digital video cameras boast FireWire input and output and are small enough to take on the road. Macworld's Editors' Choice, the Sony DCR-TRV10, costs $1,800 (800/222-7669,

Mobile video editors won't be the only people enjoying the size and speed of portable FireWire hard drives. VST Technologies' "thin" drives hold from 4GB ($360) to 25GB ($1,100) and fit in your hand. LaCie (503/844-4500, makes the PocketDrive, which holds from 6GB ($399) to 18GB ($749). It also includes USB connections for greater flexibility.

Sometimes the simplest things can give you a big performance boost. Make sure you've installed the most-current Apple and device drivers. For Apple's latest, go to For device drivers, go to the appropriate vendor's site.-TERRI STONE

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

More about Apple ComputerArizona State UniversityConsumer ElectronicsGriffin TechnologyInfowaveKeyspanLaCieLucentMetricomNewer TechnologyOrange MicroPower On SoftwareRCASonyVST TechnologiesWall Street

Show Comments