Jens Lodholm

Supporting the Mobile Mac User


Mobile clients. Globe trotters. Road warriors. Envy them or admire them, traveling Mac users face unique challenges. Plan ahead for the best experience.


Theft

The best protection is awareness. Owners should keep their Mac within reach, secured against high-risk situations like security checkpoints.

Disguise is another effective technique. Since a Mac’s appeal to thieves is obvious, hide its value with an understated travel bag such as a computer-friendly backpack. Plastic shells can also mask a Mac's true nature.

For times when a Mac must be unguarded, anti-theft alarms make a piercing noise when triggered.

Should it ever go missing, Find My Mac is included in Apple iCloud. More robust solutions, such as MyMacTracker and Undercover, are also available. Get help from the proper authorities when recovering a lost Mac.


Data Protection

Often, information is worth more than the Mac itself. When data such as health information must remain private, encrypt it. Fortunately, OS X includes File Vault for this purpose. Enable it under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. Encryption takes time, depending on the data size and disk speed. Keep the recovery key in a safe place to avoid losing the data forever.

Since Time Machine can’t guard against risks on the road, employ an internet backup such as Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, iDrive, Mozy, or SOS. Cloud-based central management makes it easy to support multiple travelers.

Security

To shield against prying eyes, LCD polarizers render screens invisible except to the user. To protect against more subtle snooping when the owner is away:

  1. Enable "Require Password" under System Preferences > General. Set it for “immediately” or “5 Seconds”.
  2. Set the screen saver in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver for as short a time as is reasonable.
  3. Set and use Hot Corners... to immediately start the screen saver using the cursor.
  4. Use hardened passwords under System Preferences > Users & Groups. A password should be memorable but difficult to guess, using numbers and SHIFT-key-characters in place of letters.
  5. Disable Automatic login in System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Options. This prevents a restart from granting access to the Mac.


Damage

Well-padded travel cases protect a Mac from drops. For when the Mac is in use, shells are available from Speck, Sunrise Hi Tek, Hard Candy Cases, and more. Local Apple Stores also have a selection.

For travel in areas with lots of lightning, static electricity, or other power spikes, use a portable surge protector.


Power

No Mac can operate without power. For foreign travel, buy appropriate adapters for the destination. For long stretches of driving, own a good car adapter. Both are available from Apple and other sources.

Since Macs don’t feature user-swappable batteries, the Chugplug supplies extra power to Mac portables through their AC adapter. Companies like GoalZero and Powerenz sell solar chargers for those who need them.

Everyone can benefit from power conservation. Though Mac OS X is smarter than ever about saving power, here are ways to improve power usage on a Mac:

  • Enable “Show battery status in menu bar” under System Preferences > Energy Saver.
  • Under the battery menu, quit applications using significant energy (when possible).
  • Lower the screen brightness.
  • Disable WiFi.
  • Disable BlueTooth or disconnect unneeded devices.
  • Avoid using USB devices and other peripherals.
  • Dim the keyboard lighting.
  • Allow the Mac to sleep when not in use.
  • Enable Power Nap for better function during sleep.
  • Enable “Put hard disks to sleep when possible” under System Preferences > Energy Saver. (This may affect the stability of some software.)


Over the long-term, fully discharging a Mac's internal battery once a month can prolong its useful life. Some claim this is unnecessary, but I have seen many batteries die before their time from lack of use.


Internet Access

Most mobile users need Internet access. Fortunately, the ubiquity of smart phones makes tethering (personal WiFi hotspots via cellphone) simple if the owner’s phone plan supports it. If not, review good mobile broadband solutions at <http://mobile-broadband-services-review.toptenreviews.com>.


Home Network Access

To connect to a regular network while away, remotely accessing a workstation may suffice, using free software like BackToMyMac (part of Apple’s iCloud), TeamViewer, or Chrome Remote Desktop. Paid options include LogMeIn and Join.Me.

In other cases, such as secure networks or direct file access, a VPN connection may be necessary.

Either way, test the connection before the road trip. Make sure the owner knows how to use it and can access everything.


Video/Audio Output

Travelers giving presentations should carry A/V adapters for the connections their host supports: VGA, DVI, or HDMI. Apple and third parties sell these adapters for about $30 each. For destinations with AppleTV, Mac users can usually present wirelessly.

Mac users should know how to connect without assistance. Many IT departments cannot support Macs if travelers run into trouble.


Storage

For access to DVDs or CDs on the road, include an Apple SuperDrive or other optical disc reader (unless the Mac contains one). Supply external disk space, if necessary, for any foreseeable needs.


Data Transfer

Should a Keynote, PowerPoint, or video file need replacing on the road, chances are email won’t get the job done. Mac users should know several ways to transfer large files between local devices, such as AirDrop, file sharing, and USB thumb drives. A Windows-formatted thumb drive can transfer files between Macs and PCs in emergencies. Use DropBox or another cloud-based solution for sharing between sites.


Technical Support

Plan ahead for technical support to remotely control a traveling Mac by loading and configuring the necessary software. For times when remote access won’t help, such as a hardware problem, know the location of the nearest Apple Store or third-party Mac support resource.



Being ready for the worst will minimize risks to the business and improve recovery from adversity. Don't let a technical disaster erase the opportunity travel provides.