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Ask TUAW: Shopping for new Macs, iPhone home screens, home folder on external disk, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we have questions about whether to buy a 27" iMac or a MacBook Pro, increasing the number of iPhone home screens, moving your home folder to an external disk, 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), or if it's an iPhone-related question, which iPhone version and OS version you have.

Bayuze asks

I have a iPhone 3G 8GB. There are 11 home screens on my device now and I noticed that when I install new apps they don't appear anywhere and are only available if I search for them. How can I rectify this? Does this mean that 11 is the maximum number of home screens?

You are correct that the default maximum for iPhone home screens is 11, though additional apps can be accessed by searching. It turns out that there is a hack that may allow you to access more than 11 home screens. However, this appears to be unreliable and is probably not the kind of thing one should depend on. If you really consistently want more than 11 home screens I think you'll have to jailbreak your phone.

Joe asks

My 27" iMac's hard drive is slow. I've decided to replace it with an SSD. OS X, applications and my Aperture Library are the only things that will live on the SSD. Everything else, which is just my user's home folder, will live on a FW800 external drive.My question is this: When I get the SSD and install a fresh copy of Snow Leopard, do I create a new user with the same name as my current user then point that account to the external drive or will SL see the user account that's already on the external drive? What's important in the Advanced Options for a user account -- i.e. should I note the User ID, Group ID, Short Name, Login Shell, and UUID of my current user and replicate that with the new install?

As it turns out, our own Robert Palmer discussed moving a home folder last year. It certainly can't hurt to note all of those things you mention (the easiest thing to do is just take a screenshot), but all you really should have to do is change the home folder location in the Advanced Options. Although I get the sense you're already aware of this, for everyone else you can get to these options simply by right-clicking on the account name in the Accounts Preference Pane. This will allow you to select the location of your home folder just by navigating to the external drive with the standard Open file sheet. Do keep in mind Robert's warning that "in the past, some security and software updates have been confused by the fact that a user's home folder isn't on the startup disk."

amiga_tone asks

I don't get the whole 3G/WiFi version of the iPad. If the device comes with BlueTooth and iPhone tethering (in general) is supported in your country then the only point of selling a 3G compatible iPad is if you don't own a mobile phone. Based on this why would you own an iPad but not a mobile phone?... If they offer no 3G tethering here in Australia then you have to pay 2 monthly service fees (iPhone and iPad) and have 2 separate caps. If tethering is allowed then you will only have to pay 1 monthly service fee but share you data cap across 2 devices - though you would be more inclined to use the iPad for data access than your iPhone - or would you?

This isn't really a technical question, but I would point out a couple of things. There are lots of people who purchase USB cell modems (or MiFi devices) even though they already have mobile phones. Furthermore, in the US, AT&T still hasn't gotten around to allowing tethering on the iPhone officially, so you're out of luck if you live in the States anyway. Finally, the pricing difference really seals the deal. Again in the US, the standard tethering price for smartphones is $60/month. So if you think about it, the additional price of the 3G iPad will be made up in only a little more than four months given the much lower monthly data charge of $30/month. Given the pricing model (and lack of contract), plus the convenience of not having to set up the tether, I think the 3G iPad is definitely worth it if you're ever going to use it outside of a Wi-Fi hotspot. And I'll put my money where my mouth is once it's released.

jakejohnson asks

I want to purchase a new 27" iMac with the i7 processor. However, the reports of DOA units and yellow screens on various forums has me worried. I have decided to pull the trigger and buy one in the next couple of weeks, UNLESS(!) there is reason to believe that the iMacs will receive a small spec bump in the coming months. A slightly more powerful i7 chip as well as the addition of an eSATA port and SSD options have been rumors. Do I have any reason to believe that any of these rumored rumors might have some truth to them, and that I might see any one of them happening in the first half of this year?

As always with Apple products, you can't really act on the basis of rumors. There's obviously no guarantee that any of those features will be included in the next revision. That said, the MacRumors iMac Buyer's Guide is a handy resource for the time since the last update. You can see that the present model is only about half-way through the normal iMac product cycle, so if you choose to wait for a new model you're likely to be waiting several months (and it may still not have those features you mention).

As regard the potential problems with the 27" iMac, particularly the yellow screen issue, a good place to look is over at Gizmodo where they've been keeping track of the problems. Their recommendation at this time is that it's safe to buy a 27" iMac, but that you should run this lcd test when you get it and return it for exchange if there's a problem.

sinX asks

Will the ipad be able to use that NetShare app that was on the app store for a bit to connect through?

Well, obviously we won't know for sure until the iPad is released, but I rather doubt it. According to this NetShare setup guide you have to create a Computer-to-Computer network for this to work. It seems unlikely to me that the iPad will be able to do that, and if so, it seems unlikely that it will work with NetShare. If you're willing to jailbreak (along with all that entails) I suspect that the iPad will be able to connect though MyWi ($10).

Jay asks

My MacBook Pro is getting pretty old (bought it with the first wave of MBPs back in law school - still running Tiger) so I'm considering upgrading to a fancy new model sometime soon. Seeing as how there haven't been any MBP refreshes lately, should I wait a little longer until they push out some new models? How long do you think I'll be waiting? I'm all for instant gratification, but if waiting an extra three to four weeks means a much better computer for the same amount of dough, I'm willing to put up with my current laptop for the time being. What say you, TUAW?

As with the last question, you can't guarantee anything with product refreshes. However, the MacRumors Guide for the MacBook Pro suggests that an update is really due. PC manufacturers are starting to put out Core i5 and i7 laptops, which is making the MacBook Pro line look increasingly dated. Part of the problem seems to be an issue with the graphics chipset, because of a licensing squabble between Nvidia and Intel. In short, in your shoes I would definitely wait for a few weeks because the performance improvements on the Core i7 will very likely be significant.

sn0man1 asks

I love the idea of the 'find my iPhone' for mobileme but was wondering if there was a 'find my MacBook' feature as well? I recently had my MacBook stolen and replaced it, but would like to be prepared if it happens again.

It wouldn't really be feasible for Apple to implement this, at least in the same way, because the MacBook lacks a GPS component. That said, there are third-party laptop recovery applications out there that do offer some similar protection by getting general location data through Wi-Fi or IP addresses. Check out our recent post on hidden for more information on one such service (and links to others). I should point out, though, that even Back to My Mac has helped recover a stolen MacBook.

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we have questions about whether to buy a 27" iMac or a...