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Ask TUAW: Target disk mode, iPhoto library, upgrading an iMac hard drive, gifts for a recent Mac convert and more


Hello and welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. We hope you had a great Thanksgiving! This week we've got more questions from readers, such as using Target Disk Mode, moving your iPhoto library to an external drive, putting a bigger hard drive in an iMac, sharing a Magic Mouse, good gifts for a recent Mac convert, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify).

And now, on to the questions.

Kishen asks:

While I connect a 2009 MacBook Pro to a new 27" iMac in Target Disk Mode, is there any way to use the iMac's wireless keyboard and mouse to control the MBP?

When your computer is connected to another computer in Target Disk Mode, the connected computer is effectively just an external hard drive and nothing more. So no, there isn't a way to control the MacBook Pro because it isn't functioning as an actual computer when in Target Disk Mode. It is simply another hard drive and behaves accordingly.

Ryan asks:

I am using a MacBook Pro. I have an external hard disk I use for Time Machine. My disk space on the MBP is running low, and I would like to know how can i transfer the photos in my iPhoto library to my external hard disk or is there any way i can back up those photos to free up space?

When you use a drive as a Time Machine backup, the drive should really be used just for that purpose only. That said, you can partition your external drive into two separate parts and use one of them for Time Machine and the other for storing data such as your iPhoto library.

However, as Time Machine is running pretty much all the time and accesses the external disk frequently, my suggestion would be to get an additional external hard drive to store your iPhoto library and use your first drive solely for Time Machine. The simplest way to have your iPhoto library reside on an external drive is to copy the entire iPhoto library folder, located in Users > Your User Name > Photos to the external drive.

Then, make an alias of that folder and copy the alias back into the folder where the library resided on your MacBook Pro. Then, you can delete the file from your MacBook Pro, remove the part of your alias file name that says "alias" and rename it to iPhoto Library.

Then, when you launch iPhoto from now on it will use your library located on your external hard drive, thus freeing up that much space on the internal drive of your MacBook Pro. This is what I do with my iTunes library on my personal iMac to keep the over 100GB of music and video files from taking up valuable space on my internal drive.

Cheers bigger disk on imac? asks:

I have iMac 27" 2.4Ghz with original 320 GB disk. I need a bigger disk. What are the pluses and minuses of getting someone to swap in a bigger internal disk vs. just getting a giant Firewire disk or something, and plugging it in?
I wouldn't bother trying to put a larger capacity hard drive in your iMac. These days, the cost of a 500 GB or even some 1 TB external Firewire drive is far less than if you hired someone to replace the internal drive for you. So, just go with the external solution, get the biggest drive you can find and afford, and enjoy your new hard drive real estate.

CozartDono asks:

I'm running a late 2007 MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz, with the latest Snow Leopard. Is there any way in iTunes to specify where I keep each media type on my computer?

Like iPhoto, iTunes likes to organize everything all in one place. So, that means you have music, video, podcasts, etc. all in one folder in your users folder. That's the way it is and that's the only way iTunes can do it. You can specify where that folder resides, be it on your internal hard drive or an external one, but that's pretty much all the control you have, at least from within the application itself.

However, if you wanted to have these different file types reside on different drives, you could follow the procedure I outlined above in the iPhoto question. Inside the iTunes library folder the application keeps certain type of media in different folders. For example, movies are in the "Movies" folder, podcasts in the "Podcasts" folder, etc.

You could simply copy those folders over to whatever external drive you wanted to keep them on and then point iTunes to them using aliases in the iTunes folder you moved them from. To accomplish this is a lot of work and time and really not something I would necessarily do, but it would work.

However, if you are so inclined, I suggest a full backup of your existing iTunes folder before you proceed.

Darrin asks:

My girlfriend just got her first Mac, a 13" MacBook Pro. What would be a good gift for her for Christmas as a recent switcher?

First, congratulate her on moving to the Mac. It is an excellent choice. As for appropriate gifts for a first-time Mac user, here's a few suggestions:

First, to protect her investment and transport her new Mac, I suggest a case. I use the Incase Nylon Sleeve each and every day for my 13" MacBook Pro and it is great. It has just enough room for the Mac, the essential extras like the power adapter, a mouse, a couple small notebooks, etc. Plus, it is very lightweight but also offers good protection for the Mac.

If you need something a bit bigger, I'm a fan of the Brenthaven MetroLite BP Backpack. It has a lot more room and offers superior protection for your Mac. Plus, it is environmentally friendly.

Next, I would suggest an additional Apple MagSafe power adapter. I know, it isn't sexy but as someone who has used laptops for years, I can't tell you how many times I've been glad to have an extra power adapter around. It is just one of those things you need when you use a portable Mac.

Once you have those two items squared away, it is time for something else: a backup drive. Even though the Mac is a great computer it can occasionally have problems. So, backing up your data is extremely important. For this, I suggest an external Firewire drive I use every day: the Iomega eGo.

It is 500 GB in size and features a Firewire 800 interface, which works perfectly with your new 13" MacBook Pro. It has enough room to backup your entire internal drive with room to spare. Once you have the drive you could use Apple's included Time Machine software ans your backup software of choice.

However, as good as Time Machine is, I don't use it. Instead, I use a program called SuperDuper to make an exact copy of my drive every day, which I can also use to run my Mac should something happen to the internal drive. That said, Time Machine will work just fine and if you don't want to give her the additional gift of SuperDuper!, it is definitely better than not having a backup at all.

Another gift you could get her that she may not appreciate as much until something happens is AppleCare. For Mac portables this is pretty essential. It extends the warranty on your Mac for an additional two years and covers it for pretty much anything that can go wrong.

With the average Mac repair costing over $300.00 at the Apple Genius bar, the cost of AppleCare is worth it, especially if you purchase it somewhere like Amazon, which offers it at a discount.

Tim asks:
Ever since the Snow Leopard release, the Play/Pause button (F8) launches iTunes (or play/pauses iTunes if it's open). This is incredibly annoying when I have something like VLC open, when I most definitely DO NOT want to be using iTunes. Are there any more elegant hacks to use?
Tim, you're in luck. There is a program that will allow you to convert your Function keys back to their original purpose and eliminate the launching of iTunes when you press F8. That program is FunctionFlip, and it was reported previously right here at TUAW by my AskTuaw collegue Mat Lu.

Basically, it allows you to allows you to set the individual function keys to be regular F-keys instead of those special control keys (brightness, volume, iTunes, etc.). Just what you are looking for.

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