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Ask TUAW: Case-sensitive file system, writing apps, universal remotes, and more

Mat Lu

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly Mac troubleshooting Q&A column! This time we've got questions on using a case sensitive file system in OS X, applications focused on writing, controlling a Mac with a universal remote control, push email, using a MacBook with an external display, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Questions for next week should be left in the comments. When asking a question please include which machine you're running and which version of Mac OS X (we'll assume you're running Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify). And now, on to the questions.

Patrick asks

How can I enable case sensitive filenames on my Mac? ... If there are issues with case sensitivity, is it possible to enable case sensitivity for a specific directory tree? If that's not possible, is it possible to create a disk image with case sensitivity enabled and to mount that in a particular directory tree?

You can use a case sensitive file system on the Mac, but I believe to do so you would have to reformat your hard drive. You can enable case sensitivity with Disk Utility as one of the options under "Volume Format." However, I do not recommend doing so. Apparently some 3rd party applications will not work properly with case sensitivity active (including many Adobe applications). All that said, you can create a separate disk image with case sensitivity enabled using Disk Utility, but this will have to be mounted as a separate volume.

Sean asks

I am an aspiring author running on a MacBook Pro. I have been using Microsoft Word 2008 as my primary word processor, but it is buggy and screen refreshes start to lag considerably once the document has been open for a while. Do you have any recommendations for alternative word processors on the mac? I have tried open office and bean as free alternatives, but they seem somewhat quirky coming from Word.

Well, I suppose I have to mention Apple's own Pages, part of the iWork suite ($79.00). However, there are a number of applications that are more focused on creative writing. Many folks in the Mac community swear by Scrivener ($39.95) from Literature & Latte. Realizing that one size does not fit all for writing applications, the makers of Scrivener even have a links page with lots of recommendations. You might have a look there.

Josh asks

I'm looking to control my Sylvania TV, Xbox 360, and late 07 MacBook with the same remote. Do you have any suggestions or maybe an app that will allow me to use a regular IR remote to control my MacBook?

As some others have noted, I would highly recommend a Harmony Remote from Logitech. We did a review a while back, and as you can see there Logitech has provided built-in support for the Mac by means of downloadable profiles (you can also simply create your own as it is also a learning remote). I use mine everyday and couldn't get along without it.

Francisco asks

Will the Snow Leopard Upgrade come with iLife '09 by default? About SL, since the upgrade price is rock bottom, why not upgrade right?

No, the Snow Leopard upgrade will not include iLife. However, as you can see from this Apple press release they will have the Mac Box Set (Snow Leopard + iLife and iWork) available for $169. In any case, my opinion is that you absolutely should upgrade to Snow Leopard. It will feature substantial optimization improvements. Furthermore, one of the reasons Apple priced the upgrade so low is that Snow Leopard offers developers new underlying technologies that many developers are sure to implement. That means that we're likely to see a lot of 10.6-only software once Snow Leopard ships.

gregt asks

Is there a way to sync my gmail account across my mac and iphone, so if I delete a message on my mac, it deletes it on my iphone. Or do I have to splash out the cash or mobile me?

You do not need MobileMe for this. As another reader suggested that best way to do this is by turning on IMAP support. Google even conveniently sets out their recommended settings for both the iPhone and Once you have IMAP set up on both your Mac and iPhone the clients should automatically stay in sync.

Luke asks

The push cloud in MobileMe has me finally considering purchasing it. However, what I can't figure out is whether or not this cloud will include all of my existing email accounts, or does it only work with the MobileMe email? I am 99.9% sure I will never, ever use MobileMe email, and will be right back to asking "Why would I pay for that?"

Having MobileMe will not automatically give you push email on your present email accounts. There are basically three ways to get push email on the iPhone: 1) MobileMe, 2) Yahoo Mail, or 3) an Exchange Server. If your present email servers are not Exchange capable the only way to get push would be to forward all your mail to Yahoo or MobileMe, etc. (or better yet, redirect it at the server level).

All that said, there are some other handy features of MobileMe which have me thinking I will re-up despite the fact that I also don't use MobileMe email. In particular, the contacts and calendar syncing as well as Find My iPhone make it seem (just) worthwhile to me. That said, there are lower cost options for some of these things if you're willing to put up with a bit more hassle.

Will asks

I frequently hook my unibody MacBook 13" to projectors and LCDs at work for sharing at meetings. I would generally rather use the native (higher) resolution of the external display, but my options are to mirror a lower resolution that the built-in LCD supports, or to span my desktop across both displays, which is klunky. Is there any way I can use just the external display at its native resolution? Caveat: need to have the laptop clamshell open to use the built-in keyboard and mouse.

Yes it is possible to do this. You'll find some instructions over at Mac OS X Hints but the idea is simple. With the MacBook closed (and sleeping) hook up the external display. Now plug a USB device into the Mac and it should wake up (I used an extra USB mouse, but something like a flash drive should work as well). Now you should be able to open the display without it turning on. The external display may be set to the resolution of the internal display, but you can just go to the Displays Preference Pane and it should allow you to select the proper (native) resolution without turning on the internal display. The MacBook's keyboard and trackpad should also be fully functional.

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