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Ask Dave
by Dave Hamilton

He from whom all Mac knowledge flows...




USB Tips, Faster Internet, And MacOS 9
October 14th, 1999

This week we explore USB options, talk about speeding up your Internet connection, and we have some initial Mac OS 9 discussion. We also hear from a PC user who is thinking of converting from The Dark Side and are here to answer his questions before he makes the switch. If you want YOUR questions answered, send an e-mail to askdave@macobserver.com. Enjoy!

Stephen F. Polyak writes, "I have a Performa 6400 and would like to add a newer USB printer (HP 895cxi). Is this possible, and, if so, how is it done. Or am I doomed to peripheral (and perhaps computer) obsolescence?

You're in luck, Stephen. The Performa 6400 has "two industry-standard PCI expansion slots for 6.88-inch cards" in it. You can fill one of them with a USB card, like Keyspan's USB card. I had the opportunity to review one of these cards (Add USB To Your "Older" Mac With Ease), and it was a pleasure to work with. There are card from other manufacturers as well, and they all have had similar reports. One thing, though, make SURE you get USB v1.2 from Apple otherwise these cards won't work properly. Also be wary of Mac OS 9 with these cards as there have been some conflicting reports of USB support on non "USB-native" Macs out there.

John Centanni writes, "I bought my retired father an iMac. He is running system 8.0. Within the last 2 months the internet surfing speed is very slow compared to when he first started surfing. Is there anything I can do to get the speed up to where it was ? Are possibly extensions the culprit ? Can you tell me which extensions are needed only for surfing. He does no computing -only surfing."

Well, for starters, he should upgrade to MacOS 8.1, if not Mac OS 8.6. There are MANY internet-specific updates in both of these operating systems, so that's the first place I'd start. Depending on his RAM configuration, you may not want to go as high as version 8.6, as it's memory footprint is quite a bit larger than that of Mac OS 8.1. If he has more than 64MB of RAM, then 8.6 shouldn't be a problem.

With that said, there are MANY things that can cause an Internet connection to "slow down."

  • You can try a "clean" system install and see if that does anything for you, since this could be caused by an errant extension installed by third-party software. But that's probably not it.
  • Go ahead and clean out his browser cache as well, since that can get big (and sometimes damaged) which can cause things to slow down. There are options in the preferences of each major browser for emptying the cache.
  • Make sure he has enough RAM to run his software and that he's either not using Virtual Memory at all, or that he at least has enough physical RAM to keep the system from swapping out to disk a lot.
  • Check your phone lines. It's possible that he has some problems with his telephone lines that are causing the modem to connect at lower speeds. It's also possible that his modem is suffering from the Spiraling Death Syndrome (but I don't think I've heard of iMacs having this problem).
  • Get a new Internet Provider. Yeah, I know this sounds a bit drastic, but it's possible that his provider is oversaturated and he's having problems getting from his provider "out" to the Internet. Most places will give him a free trial period, so it's worth taking advantage of that and checking a few out on a Saturday afternoon.

Ricardo Rodriguez writes, "I would like to know if Mac OS 9 will work on Starmax Mac Clones or MacTell Mac Clones. I know that Mac Clones have Apple Mother boards with a different case."

That's not entirely true. Many of the Mac clones had customized motherboards that were BASED upon Apple's designs and, of course, used Apple's ROM's. That said, the Official Word is that "Mac OS 9 requires an Apple PowerPC-based computer and 32MB of physical RAM with virtual memory turned on." So, officially, all non-Apple computers are excluded from that description. That said, initial reports and tests show that Mac OS 9 should work fine on most (if not all) clones. Check back here as things progress, and we'll have more information for you.

David Sypniewski writes, "Hi there, I have been researching the iMac's for the past week now. Before I get any further, I should mention that I'm a PC user, and have been one for the past 10 years. I have been strongly considering switching to the Mac environment. I've evaluated my needs and requirements, and don't seem to find any drawbacks in switching from Win98 to MacOS. However, I would like to know what I should expect when and if I do make the switch. I know that I will have to get a copy of Office 98 for Mac, to maintain all of my files and so on. Otherwise, my needs don't stretch past MS Office, Netscape, Quicken, HTML editors, FTP software, and PALM software. Furthermore, is it true that I can transfer files between a Mac and a PC without too much headache (using a ZIP drive, with the disk formatted in PC format) ? Also, do you have any opinion on the use of a Palm with the new iMac? I read that the new iMac's have infrared built-in, so I gather that should make it a breeze? Perhaps my largest concern with that is the fact that I currently have my Netscape Address Book synched with me Palm, and vice versa. One more question, how is Apple's warranty and support structure. How does it compare to lets say that of IBM or Dell?"

Believe it or not, I get a good number of questions *just* like this one. David's seemed to have some good, specific questions. That, and he shares my name, so I chose his to answer. Since he started out by saying that he's a PC user, I should start out by saying that I really don't make a pest of myself with PC users unless they specifically ask for advice (if you want to know why, read my BeOS-centered editorial, "Hello, Kettle? Pot calling... we're both black!").

That said, I'm glad you're considering all your options here. That's a wise thing to do. To answer your questions:

  • Yes, you're correct in assuming that Office 98 is a necessary purchase for you. Heck, it should be included with the machine, in my opinion. It works well, works fast, and is compatible with the rest of the world.
  • Transferring data can be performed just as you said -- format a disk in PC (or DOS) format, copy the files to it on one machine, and the other can read it. One thing that is important is that you leave PC documents named with their appropriate extensions (".doc" for Word files, ".xls" for Excel and so on). Windows doesn't have the luxury of the Mac's "resource fork" to store filetype information, so it relies on that 3 letter extension to identify the associated application.
  • Yes, the new iMac's have infrared built in, but you'll still need to use USB to get the Palm data into the Mac. There's nothing available yet that will let you sync via IR, but I imagine it's coming. Just get Palm's USB kit and you should be good to go.
  • As far as synchronizing your Netscape address book with the Palm, that's no longer going to be possible since the Mac version of Communicator doesn't support Palm synchronization. That being said, Palm Desktop 2.5 is quite nice, and there are other packages out there that sync with the Palm as well (and maybe someday PowerON Software will get Now Up-To-Date and Contact working with the Palm, too!! We can hope, right?).
  • For a warranty, Apple isn't in quite the same league as Dell. Apple offers a one- year warranty standard, with options to buy up to others (an additional year currently approximately $100 with the iMac's, and also includes on-site service, I believe). If memory serves me, Dell typically offers a 3 year warranty, with the first year including on-site support. Without a fan in the new iMac, I'd be real tempted to buy the 1 or 2 year additional warranty. I can't help but think back to all the Mac Plus'es I saw with new power supplies every 2 years due to overheating. But that's just me!

That's it for this week! Send in your questions to me and I'll see you next week.

P.S. Have a Nice Day.

This column written while listening to They Might Be Giants: Long Tall Weekend because it's a fun album AND it's only available in MP3 format! Cool!

is President and CEO of The Mac Observer, Inc. He has worked in the computer industry as a consultant, trainer, network engineer, webmaster, and a programmer for most of the last 10 years. During that time he has worked on the Mac, all the various Windows flavors, Be, a few brands of Unix, and it is rumored he once saw an OS/2 machine in action. Before that he ran some of the earliest Bulletin Board systems, but most of the charges have since been dropped, and not even the FBI requests that he check in more than twice a year.

Ask Dave is here to answer all the Mac questions you have. Networking, system conflicts, hardware, you ask it, he can answer it. He is the person from whom all Mac knowledge flows....


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