Mac Lab Report

iDisk Public Folder More Accessible with Windows than OS 9

- 2003.01.23

My students regularly bring work from home on floppy disks. Usually what happens is that someone at home (Mom or Dad) has told them that it is a useless exercise, because Mac software isn't compatible with the home PC files. Once we get by that particular urban legend, then we pop the disk in, transfer it to my server, and proceed to work.

Occasionally, however, we have a problem. I would estimate that about one in ten kids cannot open the file for one reason or another. Sometimes because the home computer is using Lotus Notes or WordPerfect, which I can't translate directly; other times they've managed to bring the wrong floppy or only transfer a shortcut instead of the actual file itself. That can be fixed with a short lesson on "save as rtf" or "try again."

Sometimes the problem is that, for some reason, the PC disk that works at home will not mount on an OS 9 desktop - or an OS X desktop, either, for that matter. I've seen many cases of this, and as far as I can tell the problem is old, worn out floppy disks.

I don't use floppy disks much myself; actually I wouldn't use them at all if it weren't for my students bringing work in on them.

After shelling out $100 for two .mac accounts (one personal, one for school), I was delighted to discover that the iDisk Public folder could be password protected so that users could upload to my iDisk from home using a special public-user-only password that would keep the rest of my iDisk contents protected.

That would be a perfect way for my students to turn in work without overloading my email cap at school - even better, upon arriving at school they could access the public folder the same way and transfer the file to the server without my intervention. Good-bye floppies!

Or so I thought.

Upon setting up and testing the function, I discovered that the function worked as described in OS X. I could mount a read/write public folder and drag files to and fro at will.

However, in OS 9 the public folder mounted through the Chooser (or Network Browser) only allows read-only access.

Instructions were posted at .mac help for how to allow Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP users connect to the public folder to turn in work, but Mac OS 9 users can't do it.

I had visions of standing in front of the class and saying that they could use an Apple service with their PCs at home - but here at school they couldn't reverse the process to save work to continue later at home. I know I have several OS 9 users, and I just can't see implementing a service that everyone can't use.

There are undoubtedly free Web servers and home-based Web servers and who-knows-what else that will provide similar functionality, but it's too bad that it's not built into the service I've already invested in. I verified through .mac help that OS 9 users are basically out of luck.

Thus I am left in the incredible position of noting that Apple Computer has offered a service more accessible to Windows users than to the 80% of Mac users still using Apple's older operating system.

Despite all the technical reasons (can you say WebDAV?), this is an irrational and annoying situation to be in, and I hope that despite Apple's attempt at throttling OS 9 use, they will solve this problem for the folks who bought computers in the Dark Times.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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