The Keeper of the iBook

Data Management

By Mark Newhouse, <>
January 8, 2000

How can I get data from my desktop Mac to my new iBook?

I recently received an email asking this question from someone who received an iBook for Christmas - a Merry Christmas indeed! So I've broken down my answer into several categories based on cost. After examining each possibility I'll give the pros and cons of each so you can make a more informed decision about how you want to tackle this problem.

Free: Apple's iTools
Go to Apple's web site and open up an iTools account . Then you'll be able to access your iDisk, which gives you 20 MB of free storage space. For sharing a few small files, this is a simple solution. Simply mount the iDisk on your desktop (see Behind the Scenes for more on how to do this), and drag the files you want to move into the Documents folder on the iDisk. Then put away the iDisk, and connect to it from the other computer, dragging the files out of the Documents folder on the iDisk onto your other Mac. If your desktop Mac is not running OS 9 or later you'll need to update your file sharing software to be able to mount the iDisk. See the iTools Tricks web site for more information.

Pros: It's free, and easy to use.

Cons: Slow and cumbersome - especially over a dialup connection. You are limited to transferring 20 MB of data at a time. Cannot use the File Synchronization control panel (or other, similar, utilities) to "synch" your iBook and desktop Mac.

Cheap: FireWire Target Disk Mode
If you have a new FireWire iBook,and your desktop Mac is also equipped with FireWire, you can use Target Disk Mode and a FireWire cable ($6-12) to turn your iBook into a FireWire HD. See this Apple TIL article for more information. [Thanks to Chris Shatara and Tom Barta for pointing this out to me!]

Pros: Fast and easy. Can use File Synchronization.

Cons: Requires both computers to have FireWire.

Cheap, part II: crossover cable
Crossover cables are inexpensive (about $15) ethernet cables that allow you to connect two computers via their ethernet ports, but without an ethernet hub. Then simply enable filesharing (via AppleTalk) on one computer, connect the computers with the crossover cable, and use the Chooser in the other computer to mount the shared folder from the first computer, and drag files back and forth.

Pros: inexpensive and easy to use once you've set up filesharing. Can use File Synchronization.

Cons: Can be complicated to set up and you can only share files between two computers at a time.

Not so cheap: ethernet hub
You can filesharing as above, but with regular ethernet cables and a hub (total cost of about $100-250). This allows more than one device to be shared among multiple computers, including printers, and more computers (you are creating a small network in this case). You'll still connect via filesharing and AppleTalk.

Pros: can connect to more than one printer or networked device at the same time. Can use File Synchronization.

Cons: Can be complicated to set up (complexity increases as you add more devices/computers). More expensive than above options. May need to add ethernet cards or AAUI adapters to older Macs.

Not so cheap, part II: USB Zip or SuperDisk Drive
For about $150 you can purchase a Zip or SuperDisk drive and sufficient media to transfer files between your iBook and desktop Mac. Your choice of drive may depend on whether you already have an internal Zip drive in your desktop machine (as I do). [Thanks to Tom Barta for pointing this out to me!]

Pros: Quick and easy. Also provides a means of backing up your files.

Cons: Getting into the realm of expensive again. Can't use File Synchronization utilities.

Not so cheap, part III: AirPort
While Apple touts AirPort as a great way to connect to the internet (and it is!), you can also do wireless filesharing between two AirPort enabled computers without connecting to the internet at all. You have the computers, so the total cost here is about $200 for two AirPort cards - you don't even need a Base Station. Once again, you'll set up at least one computer to share files, and then use the Computer to Computer option available from the AirPort application or the AirPort Control Strip Module to connect to the other computer. Then drag files back and forth to your heart's content... wirelessly!

Of course you can also use the AirPort cards to surf the internet wirelessly, and you can use your AirPort enabled desktop Mac as a base station if you enable the software base station option on it. Then configure your new iBook to use DHCP to access the internet, and you can use both machines to surf from the same isp account, at the same time (and without the expense of a Base Station).

You can always buy a Base Station later if you find that the software base station option slows things down too much on the G4.

Pros: share files and surf the web from anywhere in your house. Can use File Synchronization.

Cons: configuring everything to get it to work consistenly can be difficult. This is potentially the most expensive choice, unless you already have some of the necessary equipment.

How'd you manage without me?

Mark Newhouse is the Web Designer for the public outreach arm of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, AZ, where he has been known to use four of the six options depending on whether he's at work or at home...

The iBook image is courtesy Apple Computer, Inc. The iBook icon is courtesy the Iconfactory.

Keeper of the iBook Copyright © 2000, Mark Newhouse, all rights reserved

Keeper of the iBook, new every Monday