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It’s awful to be stuck without the tools (or skills) you need to stay productive with your MacBook or MacBook Pro. Here’s everything you need to keep you and your Mac in gear.
Whether you’re packing for a business trip thousands of miles away, or you just want to get out of the house for a few hours, sometimes you need to take your Mac on the road. While it’s debatable whether “getting there is half the fun,” keeping your MacBook (and your workflow) running smoothly, both in transit and when you arrive, is an absolute must. And we hate to break it to you, but with a more-mobile Mac comes increased responsibility—like making sure your precious ’Book doesn’t get stolen, broken, or disconnected from the world. We’ve got the latest tricks for keeping your precious cargo safe, secure, and connected—and some advice for coping with accidents you can’t avoid.
If a hotspot is out there, the WiFi Finder Plus can sniff it out.
Away from your home or office, a wireless hotspot is your best bet for getting online. Because free wireless hotspots seem to be a dime a dozen at airports, cafes, and hotels, finding one in a major city is usually fairly easy. But if you’re outside of an urban center, you may have to sleuth around to find a connection you can use.
T-Mobile HotSpot (www.tmobile.com/hotspot) offers a nationwide network of wireless hotspots in partnership with Starbucks, FedEx Kinko’s, Borders, and other chains. But with connection fees ranging from $6 for one hour to $40 per month, it’s way more expensive than free.
A better bet for the frugal surfer is to hunt for free Wi-Fi elsewhere. Online directories like JiWire (www.jiwire.com) and Wi-Fi Free Spot (www.wififreespot.com) offer nationwide listings of free wireless providers, so if you find yourself headed for Cascade, Idaho, you’ll know there’s free Wi-Fi at the Water’s Edge RV Resort.
Of course, if you’re already in the town where you need access, an online directory won’t do much good. In that case a Wi-Fi detector, such as Kensington’s WiFi Finder Plus ($29.99, www.kensington.com), will help you suss out a signal as you cruise the main drag.
Be smart when you use open hotspots, though. By virtue of that lovely, free openness, hotspots expose all of the traffic that runs across them, so anyone can snoop through the files you send and receive. If you’re emailing sensitive files, be sure to encrypt them first. StuffIt ($49.99, www.stuffit.com)not only compresses your files to make them more email friendly, but can also protect them from prying eyes by requiring a password to uncompress them. And if you’re logging in to your online banking service, be sure the site uses HTTPS security by looking for the little padlock in the status bar and checking that the address begins with “https” rather than just “http.”
Fast Connection Via Mobile Phone
Sprint’s AirCard 597E by Sierra Wireless ($329.99, www.sprint.com) slides into the ExpressCard/34 slot of your MacBook Pro for always-available broadband surfing over Sprint’s cellular network.
For on-the-go access in most metro areas, cellular broadband—aka 3G or mobile broadband—is the next best thing to a DSL connection. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all offer nationwide broadband service over their respective cell phone networks, making it easy to add high-speed mobile Internet service to your existing cellular account by buying a mobile broadband card and subscribing to a data plan.
The MacBook Pro’s ExpressCard/34 slot is ideal for using any of the leading 3G data cards, because you can leave the card installed and it won’t stick out of the slot too far. But if your notebook bag is a tight fit, you should remove the card when you’re in transit to make sure it doesn’t get damaged. MacBooks don’t have ExpressCard/34 slots, but users can still use 3G data cards with a USB adapter. (Your cellular provider will give you the right cable for your card.) And if you have a PowerBook, you can still find plenty of PC Card options to fit the ’Book’s PC Card slot. Most mobile broadband cards, regardless of how they connect to your Mac, cost between $80 and $130 with a two-year service agreement.
With your cellular broadband card installed, you can set your Internet connection to start automatically every time you boot your Mac, and you’ll surf the Web at speeds up to 1.4Mbps. And even if you’re outside of a 3G service area, you’re not out of luck. The card will still connect to your carrier’s lower-speed network so your essential email and Web traffic can get through.