Creating a portable work environment was one of our major motivations in starting an internet business. My main computer is a Mac desktop but I wanted a platform-independent setup for the times when only an internet cafe or a friend’s computer is available. I recently began experimenting with running the business remotely and ran into a few unique problems.
The first hurdle was switching from Mail.app to Thunderbird. All of our email accounts have web interfaces but I prefer using stand-alone applications. Creating the mbox files for Thunderbird from the .emlx files in Mail.app appeared to go smoothly using the instructions here (I also tried emlx to mbox converter). When I double checked the message counts, I realized that Thunderbird had fewer email messages for several of the mailboxes. It turns out the export does not correctly escape the “From” field. A page on Mac OS X Hints got me around that but it was a pain in the butt to do.
The second hurdle was importing my addresses from Address Book.app into Thunderbird. I used the instructions here to do that but lining up the fields took forever. In the end, I still had to do some hand-editing of the addresses to get everything correct. There is not a good way to keep the two lists in sync either.
The third hurdle was moving my passwords into Firefox. I already use Firefox regularly but only use my Keychain to store passwords and notes securely. I could not find a good way to import them (maybe there is one) so I had to manually go to each site and enter the information. A few sites did not ask to store them for some reason and I am still not sure why. A separate password manager tool with hooks into Firefox might work better (it would be perfect if it synced with my Keychain). Maybe Safari 3.0 would work as it becomes more stable?
The fourth hurdle was moving the profiles for Firefox and Thunderbird securely onto a USB flash drive. There is a fabulous program called TrueCrypt which creates encrypted volumes but, unfortunately, does not work with Mac OS X yet. For now, I am clumsily using SFTP to get around the lack of Mac OS X support in TrueCrypt. I installed smaller, portable versions of Firefox, Thunderbird, and a few other programs from PortableApps in the encrypted volume. I got this idea partially from a nice blog post here.
I am getting ready to use this setup for the second time. So far it works fairly well. I still need an automated way to sync the profiles between my Mac and the USB flash drive and am not quite used to using Thunderbird. Overall, this appears to be an inexpensive, viable alternative to purchasing a laptop. I would love to get a MacBook though 🙂
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