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Top Ten Things to Avoid on Your MacBook

Some MacBook owners fall prey to pitfalls. Avoid these things to keep from being one of those people. Some pitfalls are minor, and others are downright catastrophic. All these potential mistakes, however, share one thing in common: They’re easy to prevent with a little common sense.

USB 1.1 storage devices

A USB 1.1 storage device is the very definition of sluggish. Only a creaking USB 1.1 external device such as a hard drive, hub, or CD-ROM drive could be as slow as a turtle on narcotics.

Plenty of great USB 1.1 devices are still around these days, such as joysticks, keyboards, mice, and other controllers, along with printers that work just fine with slower transfer rates. However, if a peripheral’s job is to store or move data quickly — including hard drives, network connections, hubs, CD-ROM drives, and USB flash drives — opt for a USB 2.0, USB 3.0, or FireWire device.

Phishing operations

Phishing refers to an attempt by unsavory characters to illegally obtain your personal information. If that sounds like an invitation to identity theft, it is.

Phishing scams works like this: You get an e-mail purporting to be from a major company or business. The message looks genuine and warns you that you have to “update” your login or financial information, or that you have to “validate” information — and even provides you with a convenient link. After entering personal information on that bogus page, the info is piped directly to the bad guys.

Never respond to these messages. If you smell something phishy, visit the company’s site directly. Then contact the company’s customer support personnel.

Oddly shaped optical discs

Your MacBook Pro’s optical drive is a marvel of precision. Current MacBook optical drives don’t require a loading tray: Just slide your CD or DVD inside the drive, and it smoothly disappears from sight. Press the Media Eject key, right-click the disc icon on your desktop and choose Eject, or drag the disc icon to the Trash, and the disc will appear.

Avoid

  • An 80mm minidisc: Yes, all sorts of devices use them these days, from DV camcorders to digital cameras. They’re not supported by many slot-loading drives, so there’s a good chance one will refuse to eject.

  • A credit-card- or triangular-shaped disc: A square disc works in a tray-loading drive, but a slot drive will likely get indigestion and refuse to eject it.

  • A super-thick disc: Sure, a tray DVD drive can likely accept a disc with a thick, printed paper label, but if that disc is more than 1.5mm thick, it can actually damage your laptop’s slot-loading drive.

Submerged keyboards

Make it a rule to keep all beverages well out of range of keyboards, trackpads, and external devices, such as speakers and mice. If a soda spill comes in contact with your MacBook, you’re likely to be visited with intermittent keyboard problems or other major malfunctions.

Antiquated utility software

If you’re using OS X Mountain Lion, you must upgrade your older utility programs — such as an older copy of TechTool Pro from Micromat that supports only Mac OS X Snow Leopard or Lion. These older disk utility applications can do more damage than good to a hard drive.

If you use an older utility application, you could find yourself with corrupted data. Sometimes a complete operating system reinstall is necessary.

Make sure that you diagnose and repair disk and file errors by using only a utility application specifically designed to run in Mountain Lion.

Software piracy

Avoiding pirated software’s a no-brainer. Remember, Apple’s overall market share among worldwide computer users currently weighs in at around 14 percent. Software developers expect a return on their investment, or they’re going to find something more lucrative to do with their time.

Pirated software seems attractive but, you’re cheating the developer, who will eventually find Macintosh programming no longer worth the time and trouble.

The forbidden account

You might never have encountered the root, or System Administrator, account in OS X — and that’s always A Good Thing.

The root account is disabled by default. All UNIX systems have a root account. Mountain Lion is based on a UNIX foundation, so it has one, too. Anyone logging in with the root account can do anything on your system, including deleting or modifying files in the System folder.

Luckily, no one can access the root/System Administrator account by accident. In fact, you can’t assign the root account through System Preferences; you have to use the Directory Utility application located in your Utilities folder.

Unsecured wireless connections

Unfortunately, the free public wireless access you’re likely to encounter is not secure. Anyone can join, and the information you send and receive can be easily intercepted. A public network uses no WEP or WPA key, so no encryption is involved. Therefore, you have no guarantee that your private e-mail or your company’s financial spreadsheets aren’t being intercepted while you’re uploading and downloading them in the airport.

Refurbished hardware

Examine what you get when you buy a refurbished external hard drive. It’s likely that the drive was defective and sent back to the factory. There the manufacturer probably performed the most cursory of repairs, perhaps tested the unit for a few seconds, and then repacked it. They cut the price so that you’re willing to take the chance.

Before you spend a dime on a remanufactured product, make sure that you find out warranty information. Consider that the hardware is likely to have picked up a few bruises during its travels. Also, you have no idea how well the repairs were tested or how thoroughly everything was inspected.

Dirty MacBook

Clean your machine. Every computer (and every piece of computer hardware) appreciates a weekly dusting.

On the outside of your laptop, your screen should be cleaned at least once every two or three days. Never spray anything directly on your screen or your MacBook’s case. Use premoistened LCD cleaning wipes typically used for notebook computers or monitors.

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