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Ask TUAW: Slowing MBP, iSyncing Verizon, DIY .Mac and more

This week we've got a wide variety of questions in Ask TUAW. We go from choosing hard drives, syncing iCal with Exchange, and troubleshooting a slow MacBook Pro to rolling your own .mac, a keyboard recommendation, finding an iSyncing Verizon phone and much more. As always, please leave your questions for next week in the comments.

Now on to the show!

Jamie asks

Anyone have recommendations for a portable external hard drive? I have in mind getting one to carry my iTunes library with me. So far I am considering the Seagate FreeAgent Go. Probably the 160GB flavor. Any other manufacturers drives I should be considering?

As I suggested last week, I'd check out Macworld's storage reviews for Mac specific suggestions. You might want to have a look at LaCie and OWC as companies that seem well-regarded in the Mac community.


Paul asks

Generally each new version of OSX runs a bit faster on PPC hardware than the last. Will this remain true of Leopard (I guess this will be more a prediction than factual now)? I'm sure on Intel hardware Leopard will be quicker than Tiger, but suspect the reverse will be true for PPC. A shame as there are increasingly sweet deals on second-user recon but good G4/G5 hardware out there.

At this point, I don't think anybody could say. Again, anybody who legitimately has Leopard would be under a NDA. But even more important is the fact that Apple will probably continue to optimize the OS until it ships. So even somebody who has the latest beta would not be able to tell you how the shipping product on PPC or Intel. It appears that the arrival of Leopard will finally mark the end of the line for the G3 processor. But if you consider that the last G3 was sold in 2003, that's a reasonably good record of supporting older hardware. I would guess that the next version of OS X might phase out G4 support, but that's going to be at least two years away I would expect.


Seth asks

Well I am looking for a solution much like all of the new iPhone users that are using exchange servers. I know through iTunes you can sync your address book and calendar. I was wondering if you knew of a program (preferably free) that would sync my Microsoft exchange server calendar and address book to the iCal and address book programs on my Mac, then each time I updated iTunes it would sync the newly pulled info that I sync from MES and iCal and the address book. It would be great if there was a program that would pull as well as push my data from the iCal and address book but if it can only pull that would be fine too.

Well the whole "preferably free" part is a problem, but I have found a possible solution for you (though I've never used it personally). Snerdware has two products that do exactly what you want. Groupcal 3 ($54.95 - demo ) syncs iCal and Exchange calendar, while AddressX ($19.95 - demo ) does the same for addresses. Fortunately, those demos are available, so you can check them out to see if they'll work in your particular circumstances. Incidentally, we've posted about a couple of iPhone to Exchange solutions you might want to check out as well.


Jonathan asks

I amd a 18 year veteran in the PC repair/upgrading/networkinf world who got tired of fixing machines and wanted to start using them. I've been very happy with the MacBook Pro i purchased in Feb. It was Speedy Gonzales back then but seems to have slowed down over the months. I started bootcamping to vista in the switching process, then I added the VMware solution to the mix, before removing vista altogether. I've removed the bootcamp partition and removed vmware form the machine since I'm MS free now, but it still isn't as quick as it was out of the box. In fact i put it side by side another identical MBP and did the boot time test. My machine wasa minute slower at booting as well as much slower working in applications like System preferences of all things. What gives? how can I figure out whats slowing things down?

Well, as you probably know from the PC side, sometimes it's almost like voodoo figuring out things like this. As one of my fellow TUAWers likes to say, OS X is not immune to cruft by any stretch of the imagination. I do have some suggestions though:

1) Check your Login Items for your user in the Accounts Preference Pane. Get rid of things you don't need.

2) Check the Activity Monitor in the Utilities sub-folder of the Applications folder (or alternately run ps and top in the terminal). Look for things out of the ordinary (you may want to compare this to what you see in new account you created).

3) Create a new account and play with that for a bit. This will tell you if your problem is in userland or deeper. Obviously, it'll be easier to fix if the problem is in your userland. If this new user works a lot better you might even consider migrating your data over to this new user account.

4) You can try your fellow reader's suggestion of booting in Verbose Mode, but that may not tell you that much if you don't know what should be there.

5) Scream, yell,* then backup your data and do an archive and (re-)install. Since Leopard is coming soon you'll probably want to do this then anyway, so if you can live with it for a while this might be your best option.

*-screaming and yelling optional, but I find it helps.


PaperQueen asks

As one of the tragic few who can't justify leaving Verizon for AT&T just to get an iPhone, I'm in serious need of guidance. Are there any Verizon phones out there that actually do sync with a MacBook Pro? I don't need music (that's what my iPod is for)-just the address book and calender. Help, please....?

Well I can't actually run down every Verizon phone, etc., but you should just check Apple's iSync Supported Devices page and see what's on there that is available from Verizon. The RAZR series, for instance, is supported.


sDawkins78 asks

Instead of getting a .mac account, I want to create my own ".mac" setup at home. What do we say I need? A server, Leopard Server...what else? What all do we think I need?

This is a non-trivial task. Basically you'll need to set up a WebDAV server and then "trick" OS X into calling your server rather than Apple's by changing your DNS settings with the hosts file. If you seriously want to do this, The Network People's Do It Yourself .Mac wiki will tell you everything you need to know. You may also like to check out the forums at the notMac Challenge.


mathmonkey asks

I'm still looking for a USB keyboard with the form factor of the MacBook. I've grown accustomed to the nice, shallow keys. Built in trackpad not necessary, but would definitely cool.

As one of your fellow readers pointed out, rumor has it that Apple may be about to grant your wish. If that doesn't pan out, however, the Macally IceKey ($49.95) features shallow travel scissor-action keys. I previously used one (before switching to an old-school buckling spring design) and I quite liked the IceKey.

UPDATE: Apple has indeed created a keyboard for you MacBook lovers, and it was announced yesterday. Avoid if you are nostalgic for the Open Apple key.


Richard asks

I have a MacBook Pro and was wondering if there was a way to configure the keyboard so that I can use the function keys for expose without having to use the "fn" key as well. I'm always using F1-5 for brightness and volume but i rarely use the ones for the keyboard backlight, and it would be useful to be able to set these keys to do expose as a default...

Fellow reader Jaime has your solution. Go to the Keyboard Tab of the Keyboard and Mouse Preference Pane and select the checkbox for "Use the F1-F12 keys to control software features."


David asks

Anyone know how to get the desktop picture in your external monitor to change when your computer is set to randomly cycle through the images in a folder? I connected an external LCD to my MBP, and the external monitor seems stuck on one desktop image, despite the fact that the main screen changes as usual. Not mission critical, I know, but still kind of annoying.

Desktop pictures are set independently for each screen. When you go to the Desktop tab of the Desktop & Screen Saver Preference Pane, you should get a window that pops up on each screen. Make sure that you have the the external monitor set to change at your desired interval.


Benny asks

I have a MacBook and an external networked hard drive with all my music and movies. I want to know if there is a way have my MacBook automatic connect to the hard drive while on the local network at home or on the road on any other network?

Your question is a little bit unclear, but I assume want you want is to mount a network share when you join a particular wifi network. If so, what you need is a location manager. My recommendation would probably be the free MarcoPolo, but there are plenty of others you might try as well.


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