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File Sharing Tips from the Newest Take Control Ebook

Even non-techies know about file sharing, mostly due to music that’s illegally uploaded and downloaded through peer-to-peer systems like Gnutella and Kazaa. Other types of file sharing exist, but they don’t tend to make the covers of mainstream magazines. This article is about those other types – the routine file sharing that takes place in homes and offices for tasks such as managing project files shared by individuals in a group and creating a central archive of important files.

File sharing usually engenders frustration: we only think about sharing files when it doesn’t work, or when a system we think we know acts unexpectedly. I’m fascinated by the topic, so I wrote "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther" with the hope of taking the sting out of file sharing frustration and introducing you to time-saving techniques that will improve security, increase flexibility, and simplify file transfer. To give you an idea of what’s in the ebook and provide some useful help, here are three of my best stand-alone tips from the book.

IP over FireWire for Small Ad Hoc Groups — Mac OS X 10.3 Panther can use FireWire cabling as a networking method, just like Ethernet or AirPort. Because even FireWire 400 is a few times faster than 100 Mbps Ethernet, IP over FireWire can be a great way to hook up small networks on the fly.

You may already know about FireWire Target Disk Mode, in which you connect a laptop, for instance, to another Mac, and then power up the laptop while pressing the T key on the keyboard. When the laptop finishes booting, it shows a FireWire symbol on its screen (and nothing else) and on the other machine, the laptop’s drive appears in the Finder just like any other mounted hard disk.

IP over FireWire extends and simplifies the Target Disk Mode notion and eliminates the need to put one Mac into a special state. You can daisy chain from 2 to 63 Macs together using standard FireWire cables, or link the computers via FireWire hubs.

You enable IP over FireWire just like any other network connection:

  1. Open System Preferences.

  2. Click the Network preference pane.

  3. Choose Network Port Configurations from the Show menu.

  4. Click New.

  5. Choose Built-in FireWire from the Port pop-up menu. You might name the service "IP over FireWire".

  6. Click OK and then click Apply Now.

Now, when you plug Macs together with FireWire cables, each computer assigns itself its own address, and the Rendezvous auto-discovery services enable each computer to see resources on other machines. You can even use Internet sharing (in the Sharing preference pane’s Internet tab) to share an Internet connection over FireWire.

Turn Off Guest Access in Personal File Sharing — There’s a fundamental problem with Panther’s built-in AppleShare server: when you enable it, a guest user – one without a user name and password – can connect and view or copy files from any user’s Public folder. This is a security hazard, and one I think Apple should offer an easy way to disable through a checkbox.

Until they do, however, you can follow this procedure for turning off default AppleShare guest access:

  1. Open the /Library/Preferences folder.

  2. Find the file named and copy it to the Desktop or another folder by pressing the Option key while dragging. (You may be able to edit it in place by authenticating when saving, but it’s best to have a backup copy anyway.)

  3. Open the file in TextEdit or any text editor, such as BBEdit.

  4. Find the lines in the file that read:

  5. Change <true/> to <false/>.

  6. Save the file.

  7. Drag the original file to the Trash or save it in a backup location elsewhere.

  8. Move your edited version back into /Library/Preferences.

  9. If you’ve already turned on Personal File Sharing, restart it by stopping it and then starting it in the Sharing preference pane.

Restore Jaguar-like Server Browsing — Panther 10.3 through 10.3.2 creates a split in the way that you mount shared file servers compared to earlier versions of Mac OS X. Under Jaguar and previous releases of Mac OS X, all file servers were "hard mounted." A hard-mounted file server appears as an icon on the Desktop (assuming you have that option turned on in the Panther Finder’s Preferences window), and is for most purposes exactly like a local hard disk. But with hard-mounted servers, if the server becomes unavailable – your network connection goes down, the server crashes – your Finder can lock up for quite some time, even under Panther, until it decides to release the missing server.

You can still hard mount servers under Panther by choosing Connect to Server (Command-K) from the Finder’s Go menu and entering the server’s details manually, but Panther also offers an interesting, but flakey, new option for mounting servers on a local network, long available in Unix: "soft mounting." A soft-mounted server is more like a folder. Instead of it showing on the Desktop, you browse to it using the Network browser (the Network icon in the Finder’s sidebar). If the server or your network becomes unavailable, Panther doesn’t complain or pause even when you try to access the unavailable server, of course – it’s just not there any more. When the server becomes reachable once again, you can browse that folder and find the server’s contents in it.

Originally, I thought that soft mounting was an excellent alternative to servers on the Desktop because soft-mounted servers are always available without any login process. But in practical use, I continually find strange behavior: having to re-enter a password, not finding servers that I think were soft mounted, mounting servers as both hard and soft at the same time. It’s too much to manage compared with the relative ease and few disadvantages to hard mounting servers.

To avoid soft mounting entirely and to skip entering machine numbers or names in the hard-mounting dialog, you can mostly restore the Jaguar-style Connect to Server browsing dialog. My colleague Dan Frakes gave us this one-line AppleScript script which triggers a version of the old software interface.

  1. From the /Applications/AppleScript folder, launch Script Editor.

  2. Enter the following in the default Untitled window that opens:

        open location (choose URL) with error reporting
  3. Save the file in /Library/Scripts/Finder Scripts/ as "Old Hard Mount" or whatever you choose.

  4. Turn on the Finder Script menubar menu by running Install Script Menu from the /Applications/AppleScript folder.

  5. While in the Finder, select the script from the Finder Scripts submenu of the Script menu, and there’s the beautiful old Jaguar network browser. This version, however, makes you select which type of server you want to browse for through a pop-up menu.

"Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther" — In addition to the tips above, the 96-page ebook covers all the built-in methods of sharing files using the Web, AppleShare, Samba, and FTP (it even gives a few pointers on NFS and several lesser-known options), while guiding you through changing configuration files and using third-party software to avoid pitfalls and problems. For example, I give steps for changing Apple’s configuration files to enable WebDAV file sharing using Panther’s Apache Web server and to use Apache to share folders other than the defaults (a useful option that I also demystify for AppleShare and Samba).

For Panther users who find themselves in mixed Mac and Windows networks, the ebook covers both how to connect to a Panther system running the built-in Windows-style Samba file server, and how to connect from a Panther machine to a Samba file server running on a Windows computer (or another Mac or Unix system, even).

In researching the ebook, I found that Panther changed the equation for many aspects of file sharing, from browsing on a local network for servers to turning servers on with the right amount of security. I addressed these problems with specific, step-by-step instructions, plus I wrote a long section detailing how to connect to Panther servers from major platforms, including Panther, Jaguar, Mac OS 9, and Windows XP. The book also covers sharing music and photos with iPhoto and iTunes, both in ways that Apple recommends and in alternative, more flexible ways. I hope you find the book helpful!

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[Editor’s note: If you’ve been following our Take Control ebook series, you’ve noticed that previous books have carried a $5 price. This one costs $10, but the increase is not simple price inflation of the sort Consumer Reports loves to document ("Smaller size, bigger taste, same great price!"). At 96 pages, Glenn’s ebook is nearly twice as long as the others, was considerably more work for all of us, and will probably grow even larger when we release free updates. -Tonya]

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