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Ask TUAW: Simple spreadsheets, partitioning with Time Machine, iTunes with a NAS, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about sharing peripherals, simple spreadsheets, backup configurations, using a NAS, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify).

Andrew asks

I love opening up TextEdit or TextMate and using it for quick notes and .txt files. I hate having to wait for Word or Pages to open when all I need is to jot some quick text down, especially when I don't need to worry about formatting or anything like that. I was wondering if there was an equivalent program alternative for Excel. Something that loads up fast, isn't bloated with unnecessary formatting options, but still allows for the use of formulas and cell referencing. Something like the 'plain text editor' of spreadsheets.

As several folks have suggested, I think that your best bet is just to use Google Docs in your browser. However, there are some relatively simple Mac spreadsheet alternatives (I'm assuming you've already dismissed Numbers). Although it's a bit dated, this overview from Musings from Mars might be a good place to start. However, in your position I would (and in fact do) just use Google Docs.


delphinus87 asks

I'd like to start using the Time Machine/SuperDuper! backup arrangement I've heard so much about. I have a USB external the exact size as my HD I'd like to use SuperDuper on. Should I make a partition on my internal hard drive for use with Time machine? Also, what folders can I eliminate from my Time machine partition to save room if I'm going to have a fully bootable copy anyways?

I would highly recommend not trying to partition your boot drive (which you cannot do while booted onto it; you'd have to boot to another drive or disc to do that). For one thing that defeats the point of the backup in case of drive failure, though I suppose it might make some sense for the versioning aspects of Time Machine. All of that said, however, I think it makes much more sense just to get another external drive to use as your Time Machine drive. If you only wanted to use a single external drive what you should do is get one twice (or more) as large as your internal and partition it. Then you could use one partition of the external drive with SuperDuper to clone and the other partition for Time Machine.


Kishen asks

In "Target Display Mode", can i use the iMac's wireless keyboard and mouse to control the MBP [using the iMac as a monitor]? Any ideas?

While I cannot confirm it myself, I think this is possible. Remember that while in Target Display Mode the 27" iMac is running in the background, with all of its applications active. So what you could do is run a software peripheral sharing utility on the iMac. The one I use is teleport from Abyssoft. It's a little Preference Pane that you install on both computers and when they're on the same network it allows you to use the peripherals from one computer to control the other. So, in principle. you could set the iMac as the "server" and the MacBook Pro as the "client" and that should work. SynergyKM is a similar cross-platform alternative, though I've been happy with teleport which I've found easier to set up.


Ric asks

I have an iPhone 3 GS which is reported in iTunes to have 2.65 GB free space. Yet whenever there is an upgrade for one of my GPS Nav Apps (CoPilot, at 1.31 GB), iTunes tells me, during sync, that there isn't enough space. So I have to first delete the Nav App, thus loosing all my preferences, and then install the upgrade. Is there a better way? It seems like I have close to double the amount of extra/free space. What are the space constraints on App upgrades?

Rather than deleting the app and losing your preferences I have a suggestion. Why not simply delete some of your media (music or videos) instead? Then, of course, you can simply sync the media back after the update. Assuming you're not syncing your entire library I would imagine that you could simply unsync a few playlists or videos, install the update, and then resync those playlists or videos.


Joshua asks

I'm running Tiger on a PowerPC Mac. My question is: I'm trying to compile the original TuxKart game by Steve Baker for Mac. The configure app runs fine, but when I try "make", it gives me a very long list of errors. Could there be something major that I'm missing?

Are you doing this because you want the game, or because you actually want to build it yourself? In that latter case, of course, you'd need to supply more information about the errors, though that would be more Auntie TUAW's department. But if all you want is the game, why don't you just download it from sourceforge (a universal binary is available). While you're there, of course, you could also get the appropriate source code and or ask questions about compiling.


OG asks

I recently bought an NAS HDD and connected it to my router. I transferred all my music, pictures, videos, etc. and quickly filled up about 1/2 of the terrabyte HDD. On my windows machines, I'm able to point itunes or picasa or any other media program to the location on this external drive and it works flawlessly. On my macbook running leopard, I pointed iphoto at the external drive location, it took HOURS to add thumbnails for the photos, and when viewing the pictures they do not load in their full resolution. when I tried to add the external drive's music folder to itunes (having first told itunes not to organize files and try to move things around) it just crashed everything. is there any way to point my macbook to the NAS?

How well does it work when you just try to access the NAS drive through the Finder? If it's really slow that way, your problem isn't limited just to iPhoto or iTunes. If it works reasonably well through the Finder, however, one thing you could try is to use a symbolic link to the NAS (from your iTunes Music folder). Dave Nicoll's got a great set of instructions on his blog.

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