A/B box allows printer sharing


Your recent column about Hewlett-Packard printers that have two input ports built in got my hopes up until I checked and found my particular HP only has a single connection for a computer. I have a Mac and a PC sitting side-by -side in my home office, and I would like to use this printer with both of them.

The best way to mix and match computers and printers other than buying a dual input printer is a device called an A/B box. These boxes have an output connector identical to the one on a PC that you link to the printer. They also have two input ports. You connect one of them to each computer with regular parallel port cables. (Macs take different style cables than do PCs.) A switch on the front of the box activates each in turn.

A/B boxes also work with modems. There also are A/B/C/D boxes and other combinations. You'll find A/B boxes at just about any computer store big enough to have a display case, but you should keep in mind mechanical wear and tear hits these devices hard, and once the internal connectors get worn, your printer will start acting erratically. It's therefore a good idea to look for A/B boxes that have gold connector points.

Q: Your column recommending the Character Map accessory which comes with Win95 was good, but there is a faster way to get those pesky foreign characters into documents. The lower right-hand corner of the Character Map shows the numeric keypad equivalent to whatever character is highlighted.

Once someone determines what the ALT+number combination is for the character he/she wants, he/she need only hold down the ALT key and punch in the numbers on the numeric keypad (it doesn't work with the ones at the top of the keyboard), the character will appear on the screen.

I use this trick all the time when I have to write German; I keep a note pinned up with the character equivalents I need so I don't have to look at the map all the time.

A: My work gets better every week because I hear from readers who teach me something new. To recap, click on Start, then Accessories and then Character Map to find the tool that lets one clip and paste special characters into word processing documents and other applications. Read on for still more reader insights on this question.

You recently sent a reader on a Herculean task to put a tilde above his "n." On the PC keyboard, there is a tilde key, to the left of the 1 key. To make the "n" with the tilde on top, hold down shift and control, hit the tilde key and then hit the n. This works in Win95 file manager, as well as most word processing programs.

Now how did she ever figure that out, I asked myself after checking your fix and finding it works like a charm for the tilde over the "n", although it doesn't address umlauts, cedillas, acute and grave accents, etc.

I am currently a Mac user (5300cd) and I am in the process of buying a PC. Are all clones equal in quality? Should I just go on price or name? If so, which name? I love the Mac but I'm losing touch with the real world.

You ask a very big question for a column that strives to offer short answers. Nevertheless, the short answer is brand name has virtually nothing to do with hardware quality because every company in the PC game is cobbling together basically the same components before slapping on their logo. Chips come from Intel, hard drives from Seagate, CD-ROM drives from NEC, and so forth.

The most basic criterion should be not what box by what maker you buy but where you buy it so you can take it back for service or a refund if things go amiss. If you're new at computer buying, it's a great idea to look for a seller that has service department on the premises accredited for the machine you buy.

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