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Ask Dave
by Dave Hamilton

He from whom all Mac knowledge flows...

Networking Help & Portable Advice
May 18th, 2001

Greetings, everyone. Today we talk about how AirPort cards will cause you to reconfigure all networking on your computer, the difference between AppleTalk and LocalTalk, how to share files between a G4 and an older laptop, and whether a laptop can function as a primary machine while in college. If you have a question of your own, you can e-mail me, or ask in the comments below. Alternatively, the Ask Dave/Tech Support forums are there for everyone to take a stab answering your questions, so feel free to post it there, too! For now, read on!

Our good friend Eolake Stobblehouse writes, "I have just installed an AirPort card in my Cube, in preparation for when I get my new iBook. I have my Cube and a PC both on the Net over an Xsense MIH X-router Pro, and it works fine. Normally the two machines are also networked internally over MacSOHO. But after I installed AirPort they can't see each other. I tried turning off AirPort extensions, and now they *can* see each other, and it works fine. Any ideas?"

OK... I've never really used MacSOHO, but on a hunch I checked the README file, which states (among other things):

  • When you install an Airport [sic] adapter card, you must run the MacSOHO Setup Assistant to choose the appropriate adapter. Installing an Airport card re-orders all the network adapters on your Macintosh, so you should check your AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels as well.

This isn't surprising, and was what I guessed. Adding or removing ANY network adapter can possibly cause problems with all pre-existing network services due to this re-ordering of the way the system sees the adapters as a group. Even migrating from Mac OS 9.0 to Mac OS 9.1 changed some things in that the PPP adapter has been renamed "PPP Slot 0". I've also seen the AppleTalk Control Panel lose/change its settings, as well. And if you use the Location Manager, well, then things could change without you even realizing it!

The solution for you would be to go into your AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels to make sure they're set to the proper interfaces.

Craig Bunch writes, "Can you network a G4 Tower and a PowerBook 5300cs together in an AppleTalk network? Since G4's have no 8 pin serial port, I am not sure if it can be done with a USB to 8 pin serial adapter. What are your thoughts?"

OK, let's get some definitions out of the way first. AppleTalk is merely the set of proprietary protocols that Macs have used to share files with each other in the past, much like TCP/IP is the set of protocols that computers on the Internet use to communicate (and, yes, now you can share files over TCP/IP as well). The operating system (in this case Mac OS, but could be Windows or Linux or something else) attaches to the protocol (i.e. AppleTalk or TCP/IP), which then connects to the hardware layer (i.e. LocalTalk or Ethernet) to make the connection. So the quick answer is to the question you asked is yes, a G4 tower and PowerBook 5300cs can network together in an AppleTalk network, albeit over Ethernet cabling. But I think what you're actually asking is "Can a G4 be connected to a LocalTalk network?". The answer is yes, but you'll need to buy some hardware. The USB<->serial connectors you mention (like the Keyspan USB Twin Serial Adapter) will not work because AppleTalk won't function over a pseudo-serial interface. To do this requires something more. An add-on PCI card like the Keyspan SX Pro Serial card will work, which offers four "real" serial ports that can easily support your LocalTalk connection. The other option is to retrofit your G4's internal modem port (which is a "real" serial port) with something like Griffin's gPort, which provides a Mac-standard, external connector to fit into your machine, thus making the internal modem's serial port work just like a serial port on an older Mac. Keep in mind, of course, that this requires giving up use of that port for a modem, something you may or may not be able to live with!

David Jacobson writes, "Hey man, Do you think that a desktop in college is impractical for transportation between home and dorm. I am getting a computer for college real soon, and I can't decide between the new ibook or a new g4. Obviously a g4 will give me all the power i need to last a few years, while an ibook with a 500mgz g3 will give me enough power for now, but most importantly give me convenience. If you could add some insight to my question I would appreciate it."

Hey, um, "man"... I'm glad you asked this question. With the cost of laptops coming down, and their performance moving up, there is little reason to buy a desktop machine anymore. Unless you know that you'll never want to take your computer anywhere, I highly recommend going the laptop route. My "main" machine for the last year or so has been a 400MHz PowerBook (FireWire), and I can't tell you how much better my life is because of it. It makes things SO easy to travel, and I can't imagine how I lived without it. When I was in college, I had an SE/30. While it was portable "enough," it was still very heavy, very cumbersome to move, and certainly wasn't convenient to bring home for weekend visits when I had to pile into a friend's car with 8 other people to get home. Now, you add a monitor, a keyboard, external mouse, and the size difference between a G4 tower and a "just a little bit bigger than a sheet of paper" iBook, and you've got an easy answer on your hands. Not only will it give you ease of portability (something you definitely won't have with a G4, monitor, etc.), but the iBook also gives you a quick and easy way of getting your entire desk back should you need to do something other than compute. Just close up the laptop, and your desk is yours. With space being a premium in college dorms these days, compact size is key.

One thing neither of these computers will do for you is teach you how to correctly punctuate and capitalize a sentence. Hopefully in 4 years the college English professors will have been able to help you out in that department... :-)

That's it for today, folks! Feel free to send your questions to me at [email protected], or ask in the comments below. I'll see you in a few weeks!

PS. Have a Nice Day.

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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