Cutting the wires - it’s iBook time

I haven’t had a laptop computer for a couple of years, and I can’t say I’ve missed having one all that much. That quickly changed after I borrowed an iBook G4 for my recent trip to Stockholm. The desire to have a laptop Mac became too strong to resist, and three weeks ago I ordered an iBook G4.

While I’m waiting for it to arrive (what is it with Apple and delivery times, anyway?), I’m looking for tips from anyone using a laptop, be it a Mac or not. Utilites, tricks, online services, anything that makes writing and blogging from a laptop computer easier. Obviously any software or online services you suggest will need to work with Mac OS X or I won’t be able to use them.

Update (2004-12-20): It arrived today! Guess who’s busy installing and checking out the tips in the comments… :)

I went for the 12” iBook G4, upgraded to a 60 GB hard drive and added an extra 512 MB of RAM. I also bought a Tucano Second Skin neoprene sleeve to protect my new toy. Why not get a bigger iBook? Two reasons: price and portability. I used to have a 15” Apple PowerBook, and I found it a little too large. This time I wanted something smaller.

If money was no issue I’d have bought a 12” PowerBook, but the price/performance ratio is looking much better for iBooks right now. Yes, PowerBooks are slightly faster, but I’m not buying a portable computer for gaming anyway, so the performance difference is not enough to make me pay 70 percent more.

What really made me realise how much use I could have for a laptop was something I never really saw the point in before: Wi-Fi. When I switched the iBook I borrowed on, it found two open networks in my apartment, and asked me if I would like to use one of them. Excellent. Now I can sit anywhere I want and still be connected. At least until my neighbours realise someone is using their bandwidth and password protect their networks…

Not sure what the situation is out on the streets (make that in the cafés) of Göteborg. Perhaps there are some local readers that can fill me in on that? I think I’ve read something about some cafés offering Wi-Fi, but I can’t find anything about that now.

Oh, and anyone looking to buy an iBook had better wait a few days – Apple will probably release something twice as fast for half the money now that I’ve already bought mine. I had a quick scan through some of the rumour sites before making my decision, and couldn’t see anything about new models coming any time soon, but that is likely to change now I guess ;-p.

I’m guessing a lot has happened during the last couple of years when it comes to neat utilities, applications, and tricks for enhancing your iBook or PowerBook experience. I also know that a lot of bloggers have laptop Macs, so I’d love it if you could share your favourite “how I made my i/PowerBook even better” story. If you have any good Windows stories, feel free to share those as well.

Since I’m also keeping my Power Mac G5, there are a couple of specific syncing problems I’ll run into. One is syncing the RSS feeds I read. I currently use NetnewsWire Lite to keep track of well over a hundred RSS feeds, but that won’t work too well unless I make sure to only check what’s new from the same computer all the time. I’m also not sure how to best handle email. I currently use POP to download everything to Apple Mail. I suppose I could look into using IMAP or webmail.

Anyway, enough of me thinking out loud. You got any nice tips to share?

Posted on December 18, 2004 in Mac

Comments

  1. I own an older Powerbook G4. I use my Windows desktop as an access point, so I can browse and post from my bed. I think you could do the same with your G5, if you have always-on net.

    Regarding synchronizing, I suppose that there are solutions out there. What I do is configure my POP3 accounts in Mail.App to leave the email on the server for 1 week, and then when I check my main from the desktop I just download it again and archive it. I know I’m looking at it twice, but I don’t mind. It pases through POPFile anyway, so only the important stuff remains.

    As for bookmarks, address books and the like, it’s all manual import/export from/to Firefox/Safari and Outlook Express/Mail.

    As for free access points, I can’t say what’s the status in your city, but if even here, in Romania, we get free net at convention centers, various institutions and the like, I’m sure you can profit from it.

    Congratulations on your purchase!

  2. Im in the same situation, except with a 17” powerbook and a g5. for the RSS stuff, i dont even use a client, i use http://www.bloglines.com. Its my daily sites available no matter where i am

  3. December 18, 2004 by Martin Alderson

    Get a cheap Linksys wireless router, you can get them for about $30-$50 for a 802.11g one. It’s got the exact same chipset as the Airport one from Apple but a lot, lot cheaper.

    As for software, you don’t need anything special. I just use Wifi and do exactly what I do on my Windows PC.

    BTW: I got the 14” one because I bought it second hand and I got a good deal on it , and also I felt the 12” was just too small to ‘take seriously’. Yes, I know it’s the same resolution screen, but I just felt that it felt more like a PDA than a laptop. I agree that 15” is too big though.

  4. There are a ton of collected ‘essential Mac Apps’ lists out there, I suggest you check them out.

    The one that’s absolutely required for Mac laptops is Sidetrack, which makes your one-button scroll-less touchpad something usable.

    Or check out my del.icio.us collection of Mac apps

  5. I agree with the above posters about using online services for managing as much of your information as possible. Del.icio.us bookmarks, leaving mail on the servers, etc. As far as software goes, I can’t live without Quicksilver (for desktops and laptops) and SideTrack (for laptops).

    Sidetrack lets you scroll vertically and horizontally with the trackpad, as well as assigning “hot corners” as key combos. For instance, you can set it up so that when you tap the top left corner of the trackpad it’ll activate the Expose F9 command, and the top right corner for the Expose F11 command. Handy!

    Quicksilver is an application launcher, file finder, and much much much more. It’s great for laptops because the trackpad slows file browsing down a little bit, and being able to access everything through key commands is a real time saver. It interacts with dozens of programs, too, so you should really check it out. I know it’s a cliche, but it really has changed the way I work on Macs.

    Also, for managing bookmarks, try Cocoal.icio.us. It’s a small free program that keeps all your del.icio.us bookmarks in one place on both computers. You can add bookmarks to del.icio.us from Cocoal.icio.us, and even open websites without opening your browser.

    Finally, if you’ve got an iPod, use it. I keep most of my daily-use files on my iPod, and open and save them directly to and from there (back up frequently, of course). That way I don’t have to worry about a newer version on my eMac or work computer - the newest version is always on my iPod. It’s not ideal (the drive is slow), but it’s a great alternative to rsync-ing all the time.

    Good luck!

  6. for RSS stuff: try bloglines.com - all web based news reader/RSS feed thing.

    for mail, I use IMAP so I always have my mail no matter which computer I’m on (either at work on my g5 or at home/out with my 15” powerbook.

    another alternative to your mail problems would be to just set up your e-mail addresses to forward to gmail or some other web based service and then just use that.

  7. The iBooks were updated not very long ago, so they are pretty current, and much better value than the Powerbooks at the moment. Unlike the one I bought just 3 months ago; Santa will be bringing me a nice shiny Airport Card for Christmas.

    I actually use the 12” one with a second monitor as my main system, I’ve grown used to the small size. The page seems to be down now, but you need this hack to run the second screen at resolutions higher than 1024x768.

  8. One thing I’m surprised no one has mentioned is the heat Apple laptops give off. After a while, you’re going to feel some intense heat in your lap, especially if you wear short pants (or no pants!). Anyway, the Podium Pad from roadtools.com is a great solution. I highly recommend it. Good luck with your new toy!

  9. I would second getting quicksilver. The thing is amazing, and any computer seems…. slow … after using it. It is also my most used app.

    Apps I suggest:
    Office — Just when you thought you were rid of windows … the pull you back in
    adium — more or less trillian for mac… but open source, I happen to like it better than iChat
    VoodooPad — Wiki-Style note pad, the first app I ever bought!
    iTerm — A replacement for Apple’s Terminal (Don’t bother if you aren’t interested in Unix)
    Sogudi — search a specific site in Safari directly from the URL text box (e.g. type vt bbedit in the URL bar of Safari, you will be taken to VersionTracker’s search page for BBEdit)
    PithHelmet — Ad-Blocker for Safari
    VLC — A great free movie player
    Transmit — The best FTP tool for mac, hands down
    SubEthaEdit — A collaborative editor, I happen to only use it for its syntax highlighter (use in conjunction with the font Bistream Vera -see below and Transmit -see above)
    NetNewsWire — The best RSS reader for mac, however I happen to like NewsFire best simply for its interface
    Colloquy — IRC client
    etco or MarsEdit — For posting to a blog. I don’t use it, but then again, I don’t have a blog
    PlaintextPaste — Adds ‘Plain Text Paste’ to Edit menu
    Safari Source — Syntax coloring for Safari’s ‘View Source’
    AutoPairs — If you type (or parenthesis, etc…)
    CocoaMySQL — think PHPMyAdmin, but in a nice interface
    iLynX — Search Bookmarks
    Cocktail — Maintain your mac
    Onyx — Another Maintenance tool
    Tomato Torrent — A BitTorrent Client
    unRarX — un-rar things (un-zip .rar files)
    WhatSize — what are you wasting all of your disk space with?
    Growl — Nice looking system notification, has a growing number of apps that support it

    Tips:
    Common OS X Keyboard Shortcuts — Bookmark this
    Mac OS X Hints — If you have a problem, chances are that there is a solution here
    OS X for the Traveler Part 2 Part 3 — may be useful to you
    Panther Maintenance Tips — Read this!
    NSA’s Mac Security Guidelines

    Download Sites
    Apple’s Downloads
    VersionTracker
    MacUpdate

    Fonts
    Bistream Vera — This font is amazing for coding with (I love it with SubEthaEdit -see above)

    I think that is more than enough links to get you started, but if you want more, email me (akadis2 {[at]} hotmail)

  10. Just a little note on your price problems ;-)… I have a friend who bought an iPod, and some days after, the price of it was cut down quite a bit, since there was a new one released. He complained, and got the price difference back.

    So you might wanna try that :-).

  11. funny just got a 12” ibook myself, yes i like it small, yo can use a big external screen at work/home…

    I use launchbar (a quicksilver alike thingy) to let me access stuff via the keyboard (don’t like using the trackpad too much). You need one of these !! There’s also Butler (which does a lot more)

    I also use the linksys WRT54GS to surf at home/work … can’t really afford everything Apple

  12. December 19, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Thanks for the tips so far. Plenty of stuff to take a closer look at. Quicksilver and Launchbar look like they could be useful for the G5 as well.

    Sidetrack looks like an excellent idea. I don’t like the trackpad, but with Sidetrack it should be bearable.

    And I guess I’ll have to finally take a look at del.icio.us and/or Bloglines.

    Keep ‘em coming!

  13. LaunchBar is just fantastic. And yeah, that doesn’t really matter if your portable or not. It’s a fantastic app. The question is if you have any real need for the dock any more when you use LaunchBar. For now I use both, but …

    There is an rss client that checks in with a web interface, Shrook. Kinda the best of both worlds. You can log into an account from several computers, that syncs your unread items, but you can also check into the web site - bloglines style. I ran into some problems using it though. Like if the rss feed was malformed it wouldn’t display at all in Shrook. Even if just one post was malformed. Quite irritating, even though I’m all for correct code in general.

    I read somewhere that Netnewswire was looking into something similar. But that was a while ago.

    And sure, use IMAP instead. IMAP is your friend.

  14. Bloglines is good, eventually bloglines and netnewswire will be synced so if you read one on the other etc etc

    http://www.bloglines.com/services/api

  15. I love my 12-inch iBook. :) One of my friends just bought one today, too. And now I come to this blog and see you’re joining the clique, too — welcome! :)

    As for software, honestly most of what I use came with the computer. And, of course, BBEdit. (HyperEdit is good too, but BBEdit is still my favorite.) Three utilities that make my life easier are WordService, CocoaMySQL, and PHPfi.

  16. No new iBooks expected soon, but new PowerBooks (probably both faster and cheaper) should be coming in January… ah well :)

  17. December 20, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Small Paul: I’m not too worried about that. I don’t want to wait until March or April, which is when I’d realistically be able to get hold of anything released/announced in January. I’m not in the US, remember ;)

  18. Haven’t been able to read all the comments yet, so forigve me if this has been mentioned.

    I just discovered (thanks to Jon Hicks) a spectacular tool called Desktop Manager. This thing is great for any Mac user, but especially for an iBook user with it’s low screen resolution.

    It’s a typical virtual desktop tool, but it’s:

    1. Free and open source.
    2. Filled with aqua-licious transitions.
    3. Easy to use (great key combos).

    and, the negative:

    1. Very early beta (a bit buggy).

    Still, it’s workth checking out. I already love it!

  19. Very true Roger, very true. Yup, the iBooks are looking excellent value at the moment, especially according to these benchmarks: http://www.macintouch.com/perfpack/comparison.html

    Oooh, you got it! Ah, that new Mac smell. Marvellous. Unfortunately I dropped the only laptop I’ve ever had, so my only advice is, well, try not to drop it.

    You probably have that covered.

  20. iBook running hot? Strange. I’ve had a G3-900 14” and a G4-1200 12” (first was stolen couple months back), and neither of them have run hot. I wouldn’t suggest using them in shorts, but they’ve been comfortable enough in jeans or on a blanket. Can’t ask for better than that. For the guys out there, laptops in general are bad news for your fertility (zdnet.com).

    I can’t live without the virtual desktop manager, even though it won’t let me access the first desktop on 10.3 (worked perfectly in 10.2). I’m also a big fan of fink for installing various open source programs, such as extra games, The GIMP, or Scribus.

  21. December 21, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Jeff: I played around a bit with Desktop Manager, and it does seem very useful. Like you say it’s a little buggy (quit it and all your window disappear), but I’m sure that will be taken care of.

    Stephen: It does run a bit hot, but all my previous PowerBooks (especially the TiBook) did too, so I’m used to it. I rarely keep it in my lap anyway ;-)

  22. I have a 12” iBook (G3/800) that has been going strong since November 2002 (except for two trips to Apple repair…once for the infamous logic board issue, another for a broken trackpad). It’s a great little machine.

    Two tips that I haven’t seen mentioned:

    1. AppleCare. I don’t know if you got it, if you didn’t, get it. iBooks have had some quality issues and you want to protect yourself.

    2. Get protection for the keyboard. I have an iSkin on mine. http://www.iskin.com/protouch_PB1.html If you’re going to be using this thing from the kitchen table or a cafe, it could save your keyboard from disaster.

    Connecting to a wi-fi network is just as easy as you already described.

    NetNewsWire will eventually have syncing with Bloglines which will help you keep your feeds in sync between computers. Personally, I’ve sacrificed NNW in favor of NewsGator so I can read feeds no matter which computer I’m at.

    Enjoy your new computer!

  23. i’d use del.icio.us and the firefox import plugin, or there’s another plugin (don’t remember the name of it) that syncs your firefox bookmarks. you can have it save to say 456bereastreet in a non public folder and then tell the other computer to do the same. the last time i checked it out there was a lag each time you opened the browser as it checked the links though. not incredible lag but enough to bug me.

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