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Network Preferences for Mobile Computing on a Mac

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Mac laptops are obviously designed to be mobile, so you already have everything you need to roam freely. It's all a matter of setup. In this sample chapter, John Tollett and Robin Williams explain a number of features to make sure you can get connected wherever you go.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Since Mac laptops are designed to be mobile, everything you really need is already installed. Mobility doesn’t always mean going places where you need a passport—moving your laptop between home and office, or between home office and bedroom, might be as mobile as you need to be.

In this chapter we’ll explain a number of features to make sure you can get connected wherever you go.

We’ll show you how to modify the various Network settings in System Preferences for different connection ports that you may need to use—Ethernet, AirPort, internal modem, FireWire, and Bluetooth. Use these settings to check the status of your connectivity, turn network methods on or off, and customize the preferences for various connection methods. See pages 26–38.

We’ll also show you how to use Internet Connect to adjust the options and settings for AirPort, internal modem, and Bluetooth connections. See pages 39–53.

And we’ll show you how to set up customized Locations so you can change the connection method and settings for various locations where you most often work (home, school, office, Internet cafe, satellite office, another country) with the click of your mouse. See pages 54–56.

The settings you will need to check most often as you connect around the world is the Network Status pane. Be sure to read pages 26–28 and become very familiar with turning port configurations on and off, prioritizing them, and checking the status of your connections!

Your Network Settings

Your Mac laptop can connect to the Internet in several different ways. It depends on the type of Internet connection available and whether or not your laptop has Bluetooth or AirPort installed.

To open your Network settings, click the System Preferences icon in the Dock (below-left). Then click the “Network” icon (below-right).

The Network Status Pane

To see the current connection possibilities, from the “Show” pop-up menu, make sure “Network Status” is selected (it probably is). The possible connections you might see in the Network Status pane are listed below. If your laptop doesn’t have Bluetooth or AirPort installed, you won’t see those options.

  • Built-in Ethernet. You can use an Ethernet cable to connect your laptop to a broadband connection, such as a DSL or cable modem. You can also use an Ethernet cable to connect to the Ethernet port of a wireless base station, such as Apple’s AirPort Base Station. See page 29.

  • AirPort. If your laptop has an AirPort card installed, you can wirelessly connect to an Apple AirPort Base Station. You can also connect to any wireless access point that transmits a Wi-Fi signal (Wi-Fi hotspots are available at many locations around the world). See pages 30–31.

  • Internal Modem. The internal modem port uses an ordinary telephone cable (RJ-11) to connect to a phone outlet. Internal modems are not capable of fast speeds, but they’re a lot faster than no connection at all. (If you want to send a fax, you have to use the internal modem and connect a phone line, even if you have access to a broadband connection.) See pages 32–35.

  • Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a wireless technology designed for short distances (up to 33 feet) and slow speeds (1 Mbps). If you have Bluetooth installed on your laptop, and if your mobile phone is Bluetooth-enabled, and if your mobile phone service plan includes Internet access, you can connect to the Internet with your mobile phone; the phone communicates via Bluetooth with your laptop. This is a nifty way to connect to the Internet when you’re on the go, but still within range of your wireless telephone network. See pages 31 and 47–49 for details about how to get connected to your Bluetooth phone.

  • Network Port Configurations. This is the pane where you can turn different connection methods on or off, plus arrange the order in which you want your Mac to try to connect. See page 28.

In the Network status pane, you see to the left of each connection a small, colored dot. The color of the dot indicates the connection status via that particular method:

Green dot. The connection is active.

Red dot. The connection is off.

Yellow dot. The device is on, but is not connected to the Internet.

Click the “Show” pop-up menu (shown to the right) to choose any current connection option and show the settings for that connection, as shown on the following pages. Or click one of the connections in the Network Status pane to highlight it, then click the “Configure...” button below to see the settings for that connection.

The Network Port Configurations pane

The last item in the “Show” pop-up menu is “Network Port Configurations,” but we’re talking about it first because it’s quite imporant. In this pane you determine which network and Internet connection options you want the Mac to use and in which order.

More than one configuration can be turned on at the same time. Why would you need more than one? Well, you might be connected through an Ethernet local area network to other computers in your home and office, plus you might have the only AirPort card in your office, and perhaps you have a phone with an occasional Bluetooth connection.

When your computer attempts to connect to a network or the Internet, it first tries the top item in the list of configurations that you have checked, as shown below. If that connection doesn’t succeed, it goes to the next item in the list.

There are two main reasons to be aware of this pane. One, you need to check the options you want to use or they won’t show up in the Status pane. Two, if you’re having trouble connecting, the first troubleshooting technique is to make sure your desired connection is at the top of the list.

To make a configuration active, click the checkbox to put a check in it. Then click the “Apply Now” button.

To rearrange the priority of configurations, drag the items in the list into the order you want your Mac to try to connect (just press on the name and drag it up or down; you’ll see a black line that indicates where it will be placed when you let go). For instance, at home you might connect your laptop through an Ethernet broadband connection, but at the coffee shop you connect to the wireless service. At different times, you might want your Mac to first try to connect through one or the other.

Alternate Options for New Configurations

There are extra options hidden in the “New...” pop-up menu (shown below). You probably won’t ever need to use these, but if you’re on a corporate network, your system administrator might advise you to use them.

  • 6 to 4. The “6 to 4” option enables connections between computers using IPV4 (which currently includes most everyone) and computers using IPV6 (uncommon now, but coming soon). IPV6 is a new version of Internet Protocol that provides more IP addresses for Internet users than IPV4, the current standard. Although IPV6 is not available to most of us yet, look for it in the near future as IPV4 runs out of available IP numbers for new Internet addresses.

  • Link Aggregate. This option lets you merge two Ethernet ports into one virtual port, providing increased bandwidth.

Network Configuration for Built-in Ethernet Connections

To adjust the settings for a Built-in Ethernet configuration, make sure it is checked on in the Network Port Configurations, as explained on page 28. Then either choose “Built-In Ethernet” from the Show menu (shown below), or if you see it in the Status pane, select it and click the “Configure...” button (as shown on page 27).

  • TCP/IP. The example below shows the TCP/IP pane. In most situations, you want to choose “Using DHCP” from the “Configure IPV4” pop-up menu. DHCP automatically allocates an IP address to your computer. Most users can ignore the rest of this page.

  • PPPoE. This option (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet) combines dialup connections (ppp) with Ethernet to support multiple users in a local area network. You might find this type of connection in a large office building or apartment complex where many users share a broadband connection and are billed separately. To connect to a network that uses PPPOE, click the tab and enter your account information.

  • AppleTalk. To print to a PostScript printer, you need to check the box to “Make AppleTalk Active” in the AppleTalk pane.

  • Proxies. The “Proxies” button lets you configure Proxy Servers if you’re on a large network. Check with your network administrator for settings when a firewall or other security measure has been set up.

Network Configuration for Bluetooth Connections

Bluetooth is a short-range (usually about 33 feet maximum) wireless network technology. If your laptop is Bluetooth-enabled, you can use connect it to another Bluetooth device, such as a phone, printer, keyboard, mouse, headset, or handheld PDA. If Bluetooth isn’t built in to your computer, you can buy an adapter (shown to the right) and plug it into a USB port.

Set Up a Bluetooth Mobile Phone

For two Bluetooth devices to communicate, you must first pair them (see page 47). Keep in mind that to use a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone to connect to the Internet, your mobile phone service plan must include Internet and data access. If you have this plan:

  1. First, pair your phone as explained on page 47.
  2. Make sure you have Bluetooth checked on, as shown on page 28.
  3. In the Network preferences Status pane (shown on page 27), click “Bluetooth,” and then click the “Configure...” button.
  4. Click the “Bluetooth Modem” tab (circled below).
  5. From the “Modem” pop-up menu, choose a modem script that’s compatible with your Bluetooth-enabled phone.

For detailed instructions about using your mobile phone to connect your computer to the Internet, see pages 47–51.

Network Configuration for AirPort Connections

If your laptop has a wireless card installed and there’s a wireless base station within range (usually about 150 feet indoors, 300 feet outdoors), your laptop can automatically detect the wireless network and connect to it (unless the network requires a password to join it).

To view settings for the AirPort connection (Apple wireless):

  1. Make sure you have AirPort checked on, as shown on page 28.
  2. From the Show menu (shown below), choose “AirPort.” Or in the Network preferences Status pane (shown on page 27), click “AirPort,” and then click the “Configure...” button.
  3. Click the “AirPort” tab (circled below).

The only thing you might need to do here is make sure the box is checked to “Show AirPort status in menu bar.” If you check it, then all the options shown on the opposite page are available from the menu bar across the top of your screen.

AirPort Menu

To access the AirPort connection controls, click the AirPort icon in the menu bar (circled on the right). From this menu, you can:

  • Turn AirPort on or off. To conserve battery power, you can turn AirPort off until you need it. Some places, such as airplanes or hospitals, may prohibit the operation of wireless communication devices; this option allows you to turn off the AirPort but leave your computer on.

  • Select a wireless network when more than one is in range. When your Mac detects multiple wireless networks, all of them automatically appear in this menu. Select the one you want to join.

  • Create a temporary local network. If you and a friend both have Macs with wireless cards, you can connect them to each other wirelessly by creating a computer-to-computer network. Then turn on “Personal File Sharing” (in the Sharing preferences), and Bonjour (part of iChat) will automatically detect the local network and you can share files. To set up the network, choose “Create Network”; the window below opens:

  • Use Interference Robustness. If your AirPort signal is weak, selecting this menu item may improve the wireless signal reception. The strength of your wireless reception is indicated by how many arcs of the AirPort icon in the menu bar are black. The AirPort pane of Internet Connect also provides a signal-strength indicator (page 38).

  • open Internet Connect. Select this option to open Internet Connect, a utility where you can connect to the Internet or modify some of the connection settings. See pages 39–53 for details about Internet Connect.

Network Configuration for Internal Modem Connections

Another way to connect to the Internet is with your laptop’s internal modem. Although dial-up connections are slow, they’re usually available when broadband connections are not. But you must have access to a dial-up account, a password, and an ISP (Internet Service Provider) phone number to dial. Connect one end of an ordinary phone cable (RJ-11) to your laptop’s modem port and the other end to a phone jack. The Internal Modem pane (below) can do the rest.

To change the Internal Modem settings:

  1. Make sure you have “Internal Modem” checked on, as shown on page 28.
  2. From the Show menu (shown on the opposite page), choose “Internal Modem.”

    Or in the Network preferences Status pane (shown on page 27), click “Internal Modem,” and then click the “Configure...” button.

  3. Click the “ppp” tab (circled, opposite) to display its settings.
  4. Enter your ISP dial-up information (account name, password, and the ISP’s dial-up number).
  5. Click “Apply Now.”
  6. If you want to dial up right now, click “Dial Now....” Otherwise, you can connect at any time using Internet Connect or a menu option; see page 44.

There are several disadvantages of using an internal modem connection. One, of course, is that modem connections are slow compared to broadband connections. However, for Road Warriors, a slow connection is better than no connection.

The other disadvantage is that your computer has to dial the local phone number of your ISP every time you want to connect to the Internet. This is perfectly fine when you’re home, but becomes a long-distance expense when away from home. If you think you might need a dial-up connection elsewhere in the world, see page 45 for tips on using a national or international ISP.

Dialing Modifiers

When the telephone number you enter requires other connections, such as an outside line or credit card calls that have to wait for an automated response, you might need to add a modifier to force the number to pause and wait for a result. Here are some dialing modifiers that can come in handy.

  • ,(pause for two seconds). Enter one or more commas between numbers to add a pause; each comma equals a two-second pause. If you enter a 9 for an outside line, you might want to put a comma or two after the 9 so it waits long enough (or use the W, as explained below).

  • @ (wait for silence). This modifier after a series of numbers tells the modem to wait for silence on the line (as opposed to a tone) before dialing the remaining numbers.

  • & (wait for credit card tone). When entering a phone card number for dialing, put an ampersand (&) in the series of numbers where you know that the phone card tone signals that it’s ready for the next numbers to be entered. The ampersand tells the modem to wait for the credit card tone.

  • W (wait for dial tone). Put this modifier before a series of numbers to make the modem wait for a dial tone before dialing the remaining numbers.

PPP Options

When you click the “ppp Options...” button (shown on the previous page), a sheet (shown below) drops down. Most users will be satisfied with the default settings, but here are a couple you might want to think about.

Session Options

  • Connect automatically when needed. This button is particularly useful for dial-up users on Mac OS X because your Mac wants to go to the Internet all the time to access help files, the dictionary, Dashboard items, and much more. It can do so automatically if you check this button.

  • Disconnect if idle for [10] minutes. If your connection quits on you too often (usually because it thinks you’ve left the room when actually you’re sitting right there writing an email), change this to a higher number of minutes. Or uncheck the box to disable the function completely. Your ISP can still terminate your connection when it feels you’ve been on too long.

Advanced Options

We’ve never had a reason to modify these settings, and they’re useful mostly for troubleshooting by network administrators. For instance, if you check “Use verbose logging,” your Mac will create large (verbose) log files of your Internet activity, something only a network administrator can appreciate.

TCP/IP Options

Click the “TCP/IP” tab at the top of the Internal Modem pane to check the configuration settings for your modem connection. You probably never need to open this; the only option you might ever use is the “Configure IPv4” menu:

  • Manually. If you need to connect using a network modem, choose this option, then enter the IP address for the network modem.

  • Using PPP. To connect to an ISP other than AOL (America Online), choose this option. It was automatically chosen for you when you when through the original setup process on your Mac.

  • AOL Dialup. To connect to an existing AOL account, choose this option.

Be sure to click “Apply Now” if you change any settings.


The Proxies tab (shown above, to the right of the circled TCP/IP button) opens a pane in which you can set a proxy server. This is a security feature for connecting through a network that has a firewall set up to protect the privacy of information on the server. If you need to configure a proxy server, get the information you need from the network administrator.


The “Modem” pane reveals some useful and important settings. The “Modem” pop-up menu contains a list of modem scripts that control how your modem connects to the Internet. It’s a very long list of scripts, many of which are designed to work with modem brands other than the Apple Internal modem built in to your Mac laptop.

Don’t change this setting unless you just cannot get connected using the default setting. Sometimes you can’t get connected because the phone lines in your area have been compromised by old age, or because the phone company has for many years (in some cases) split phone lines to share them rather than install new lines as demand increased. This was okay for a long time because ordinary voice transmission requires much less speed and line quality than is needed for today’s high-tech data transmission.

If you’re sure your settings are correct, but the connection isn’t working, select one of the other modem scripts from the pop-up menu that is slower—one that has a similar name to the default script, but has a lower number. In the example below, the default modem script has “(v.92)” at the end. The v.92 is a version of the script designed to provide the fastest connection possible on a 56K modem. Choose instead the (v.90) script, as if for a slower connection. If the connection still doesn’t work, try the (v.34) script, which is even slower.

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