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How the iBook Revolutionized My Life

By Blake Lange

Washington Apple Pi Journal, January/February 2000, pp. 53-55, reprint information

My life turned upside down the moment my wife Martha said the word, "I want one of those." Like an addict who wants nothing more than hooking everyone on the his drug of choice, those were the magic words. Her utterance entranced me to go directly to my supplier to fix her up with one. Thus began the odyssey.

As it turned out the iBook was not available for about six weeks. In the meantime I thought through what I would have to do to integrate the new kid on the block into my home AppleTalk network. This network includes three Macs from LC to IIvx to TAM, a LaserWriter IINTX, an AppleTalk ImageWriter II, and an HP DeskWriter, along with with SCSI Bernoulli drives, CD writer, and scanner. AppleTalk has been getting rather long in the tooth and in practice has been much to slow to function well; except for the copying of the smallest files it was just useful for printing. It was time for my network to be updated and the iBook was just the catalyst needed.

First I was able to find a couple of ethernet cards on the used market. Then I grabbed the LocalTalk Bridge from the tremendously useful Apple Pi Fillings CD-ROM put out by the WAP. This handy little piece of software ties together Ethernet and AppleTalk networks. It is free from Apple with the caveat that it is unsupported&endash;which means if you have problems no one at Apple will talk to you about it. Another piece of software called LocalBridge came with one of the Ethernet boards but the documentation said it only supported recognition of one designated printer on the LocalTalk network, not every device, so I used the Apple software, instead. One of the Ethernet cards had an old-style connector but I was able to pick up a used Apple adapter so the entire network would use standard network cables. For less that a hundred buck I picked up an Asanté FriendlyNet 8-port Ethernet Hub. Unfortunately, this piece of equipment, like so many others, came with a brick shaped power adapter plug. This made it necessary to buy a new surge protector specially designed for such "bricks." Apple showed their smarts by rethinking what a power adapter should look like and where it should be on the wire. The iBook power adapter sits on the desk and double as a place to wind up excess wire. Brilliant!

With the ethernet network set up and integrated with the LocalTalk network it was time to install the Airport. The Airport base station has only three ports: power, telephone, and ethernet. These were easy to plug in. Here, Apple provided the customary brick power adapter. Good thing I bought the special power adapter. One thing I keep telling myself is that each time I get a new power adapter brick is I should mark on it what equipment it is for. Being the lazy soul I am I have never gotten around to it. I will just have to live with the fear that some day I will become hopelessly confused as to what goes with what. But I digress. Once I had all of the cables on hand plugging in the base station only took a few minutes.

Installing the card in the iBook was not hard either. There are very clear instructions. The only complexity is that the card comes with an adapter for the iMac and the G3 which is not needed for the iBook. But it is simple to remove. Putting it into the iBook is simple once one has read the instructions. The keyboard flips up from the back giving easy access. Installing the card took about ten minutes.

Now the fun part started. Both the base station and the card came with software, one for programming the base station and the other for using the card. Programming the base station consists of two steps. The first step is to set up the computer to access the internet. When that is working well using the built in modem one proceeds to step two. Step two is to copy the settings to the base station.

It sounded easy but there is a problem with this methodology. It is so simple one cannot even see what has happened. One follows the steps and if it does not work then there is no way to see what has happened and one has to start over. That would be easy except that in order to use the Airport one has to change the internet settings on the computer. So if it doesn't work and one has to start over one has to "restore" the original settings that would connect the computer to the internet using a modem. If one did not have the foresight to record these settings before beginning the process, one would have to research resetting up ones computer which may involve some frustration.

This is how it happened for me. One Saturday afternoon I went through the above steps. I tried to connect and the connection failed. Then I found that there was no way, or at least no obvious way, to see the settings and tweak them using the utility that came with base station. The I realized that to repeat the process I needed to restore my original settings on the iBook. Fortunately for me I had another computer set up to the Internet so I just took the iBook to that machine and copied the settings. Then I went through the process again and again it failed. At this point I got the bright idea to see if I could connect to the Internet at all. So I tried with my other computer and again it failed. It turned out my Internet service was down. I felt pretty dumb that I didn't very that first before I went through the process twice. I had to shelve the whole project for the day.

Sunday I verified I could connect to the Internet, then tried to connect using the iBook and it worked like a charm. The next thing I did was change the settings on my other computer which I use to access the Internet to use the AirPort rather than dial in directly. It also worked well. Then I tried using them both at the same time and was able to do that, too! It actually works better than before because the AirPort is doing all the work. As soon as I initiate an Internet connection I can go about my business. There is no delay while the computer is going through its connection thing. The only minor glitch in the process is that the application initiating the connection often times out before the connection is complete. No big thing; the second try always goes through.

So Internet access is slightly improved. But the network if greatly improved. Copying files using ethernet is very fast compared to using LocalTalk. And copying files between a computer connected to the network by the ethernet and the iBook connected using the AirPort is just as fast. Before I had to have every computer on the network set up with removable media drives for archiving documents. Now using file sharing I can back up files from any computer to drives anywhere on the network. It all works with very little problem.

So far, the iBook seems to be getting luke warm reviews. MacWorld said that with the standard amount of RAM it had problems but increasing the RAM solved those problems. For this reason (and unavailability of the AirPort at the time they did the review) they gave it only 3 mice out of 5. I cannot argue with this. I would not have thought of getting one without lots of memory or without the AirPort. The Washington Post panned it because the AirPort was hard to set up -- something people would not expect with a Macintosh. They said that it was something PC owners were used to. Again I cannot argue with that. But if that is such a knock on the product I wonder why they do not bring that up with every story about PC's.

The iBook is a revolutionary product with difficulties. The first who buy them are the pioneers who will have to clear the path and ford the rivers. But it holds great promise for unsurpassed freedom for those willing to face up to the challenge.

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Revised March 17, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/