Problems with OS X? Have you repaired your permissions?

Funny things, those permissions.  Similar to the Registry of Windows in a couple of ways.  If it gets out of whack, your computer acts bizarre, or just doesn’t act at all.  Also, if you install and remove programs frequently, the likelihood of your registry (in OS X’s case–permissions) have a greater chance of getting screwed up.  The similarity really stops there.

Permissions in OS X are the default values for the system’s read/write/execute access, meaning who has “permission” to read a file, write to a file, and/or make it run.  If these permissions somehow get incorrectly set, you as a user of the computer may run into problems trying to perform one of those actions.

Lots of things can happen when your permissions get messed up.  Some programs, like iTunes, may not authorize to your account.  Sometimes disks or drives won’t mount.  Some programs may not even start, let alone give you an error.  The permissions set up on OS X can easily be repaired, however, so don’t panic.

It is always a good idea after installing or removing a program to repair your permissions with OS X’s built in Disk Utility application; it’s found in /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility (this is true since OS 10.2, Jaguar.)  For the directorily challenged:

Disk Utility on Hard Disk

Disk Utility on Hard Disk

Once you have found it, open it up and select your hard drive on the left.  Then at the bottom of the page, click “Repair Disk Permissions”.  This may take a little while if you’ve never done it, but usually less than 10 minutes in my experience (even on my PPC G4.)

Here are screen shots before and after on my MacBook Pro:

Disk Utility "First Aid" Tab

Disk Utility "First Aid" Tab

Disk Utility Repair Complete

Disk Utility Repair Complete

This repair took 2m:34s to complete, on my 2.4Ghz Mid-2008 MacBook Pro, 4GB of RAM.  Not too bad at all, and my permissions aren’t in that bad of shape.  You will notice there are two things in the list, and they will not be repaired.  When this happens, it is always a good idea to check out Apple’s Knowledge Base , if for nothing else than peace of mind.

Every couple months or so, for an average web surfer/emailer, it’s probably a good idea to run the Disk Utility found on your installation disks (assuming they are the version of OS X you have installed, of course.)  This is especially helpful to have if you run into serious problems, as you don’t need to rely on the hard disk to boot in order to run your permissions check.  If it is that bad, you may want to Verify the disk as well, as that checks the actual drive itself for errors, not just a file structure problem.

Downloading and Installing Applications on OS X

If you are a new Mac user, switching from Windows, or just new to computers in general, you may not know there is something a little bit different in the way you install programs on Mac OS X.
Many people I know run into trouble installing applications they download from the internet, simply because they are not used to dropping an application into the “Applications” folder from a mounted virtual disk. My brother had 4 copies of Google Earth downloaded, none installed, and wondered why it was “reset” every time he tried to run it. So, for those of you out there trying to figure out why you cannot just drag the icon into the dock and run it at will, here is a tutorial made just for you.

First, download your application. In OS X, on Safari, the default location for your downloads is in your “Downloads” folder, located inside your “Home” folder. To access this location, find “Finder” on the left hand side of your dock (by default.) It looks like this:

Finder

Finder

When you click on the icon in the dock it will open a new Finder window.  You can accomplish this same task by holding down ⌘ and hitting N, or “Command-N”. Be sure it says “Finder” by the  in the menu bar, upper left hand corner of your screen.  You should see something similar to this:

New Finder Window

New Finder Window

I am currently running OS 10.6.1, Snow Leopard, but the above ⌘-N works throughout OS X.  Also, I have already clicked on the “Home” folder (looks like a house) and the Downloads folder inside of Home.  That is why they are highlighted in blue.  If you do not have this view enabled, it may look like this:

Cover Flow View in Finder

Cover Flow View in Finder

You can see the top center of the window shows my Home Folder, meaning this is the directory you are currently located in.  You can use your arrow keys to navigate down the list shown in the bottom half of the window until you get to the “Downloads” folder.  Hitting enter, however, will not get you into that folder.  You can use ⌘-Down Arrow to go into the folder, or you can use ⌘-Right Arrow to open the folder’s contents and display it in the list.  As a matter of fact, when you select any file and want to open it, using ⌘-Dn (I’ll list command-down arrow like ⌘-Dn from now on) will work.  You can also hit spacebar to see a QuickView of the file.  Yet, I digress.

So, now that you are in your “Downloads” folder, you can find the file you have recently downloaded.  I will use Google Earth as my example here:

Google Earth Download Page

Google Earth Download Page

When you click the “Agree and Download” button, you see a new “Downloads” window open, and the file begin to transfer to your computer:

File Transfer In Progress

File Transfer In Progress

After the file transfer completes, a bunch of stuff happens.  First, OS X verifies the disk image is not corrupted, and then it will mount.  A file with “dmg” after the period means “Disk Image”, which basically means it is just like a CD or DVD you would put into your drive.  If you had a physical disk and stuck it in your DVD drive, it would show up on your desktop, and you could click on it.  Same goes for .dmg files, but you don’t need the physical disk:

Google Earth Downloaded and "Mounted"

Google Earth Downloaded and "Mounted"

The download automatically verifies, and “mounts” on your desktop, just like you had a Google Earth CD and put it in your drive.  The white thing above the disk name on my desktop there is the icon for a virtual disk, or some USB drives as well.

You can also see the actual Google Earth application in the window titled Google Earth and the virtual disk picture just to the left of it.  If you close that window, the disk stays mounted on your desktop.  What you want to do now is actually install the program by dragging it to somewhere on your computer.  This is done simply by holding down the left mouse button (trackpad button, or sometimes your only mouse button) and moving it off of the window it is currently in.

I recommend always installing programs into your “Applications” folder, to keep everything nice and tidy.  Open a new “Finder” window, and below your home folder it says “Applications”. Click on the link, and it will open your “Applications” folder to the right hand side:

Installing into Applications Folder

Installing into Applications Folder

One thing to note here is above the “Applications” link, there is the Google Earth disk image with an Eject symbol next to it.  More on that in a second, first let’s install Google Earth. Get your two windows side-by-side on your desktop, and drag the Google Earth application from it’s current window and drop it on the list in the “Applications” window.  Before you let go of the mouse button, be sure there is a little green “+” sign, letting you know the file you are moving is going to be copied into this location.  If you see it, go ahead and drop it in there:

Side-by-Side

Side-by-Side

Look for the + Sign :)

Look for the + Sign :)

Now that you have installed and application, you can unmount the disk image.  First, close the window titled “GoogleEarth-Mac”.  Next you can either click the eject button next to the GoogleEarth disk in the “Applications” window you still have open, or you can click once on the disk image on your desktop to highlight it.  You can then drag it to the trash can in the dock (with turns into a big Eject button), or you can use the keyboard shortcut ⌘-E (command-e for  ”e”-ject.)

Lastly, if you want to back up your GoogleEarthMac.dmg file, you can do so.  You can leave it in your “Downloads” folder, or you can delete it.  To delete it, navigate back to your “Downloads” folder, in your home directory, and highlight the .dmg file:

Highlight the File in Finder

Highlight the File in Finder

To send it to the Trash, simply drag it there and let go, or hit ⌘-Delete.

That’s all there is to installing an application on OS X.  Once you can effortlessly find your way around the windows, installing is as easy as drag and drop!

Safari and Firefox Cache Preferences

I have a MacBook Pro, and I’m always trying to keep it running the best that it can.  Most of the time, the trouble I have is related to the amount of space Safari and Firefox use to store files in the cache.  If you would like to limit Safari’s space on your hard disk, you are kind of stuck as far as the options in the file menu’s “Reset Safari”  go.

In order to reset ( or clear ) your cache, history, cookies, etc., you can easily do this by clicking Safari in the menu bar, and either selecting just “Empty Cache” or “Reset Safari” from the drop-down menu.  There is a lot of options in Reset Safari, and you can partially clear certain things as you like.

You may also be interested in limiting the actual size of the cache, of which you have but one option–WebPreview, or CoverFlow.  You can check here for instructions on how to disable that feature. Unfortunately, there is no option in Preferences to limit the cache size of Safari, or if there is I couldn’t find it.  There is a cryptic “database size” option in the advanced section of preferences, and I am trying to find out from Apple what that is in reference to (as I have none listed in the box.) The “Database Size” in the advanced section of Preferences has been an option to JavaScript developers to store code client-side rather than server-side as a way to avoid code getting trashed by storing it with a user’s cookies.  Unfortunately, after my call with Apple, there is no way to limit the size of the Cache.db file yourself (from Apple directly.)  They did mention that there “may be a third party”  application out there that could do this for me, of which I will have to scour the intrawebs to find.  My cache.db is 180MB after only two days of having cleared it.  Bummer.

Firefox, on the other hand, does give you the option to limit the cache size in Preferences –> Advanced –> Network:

Firefox Preferences

Firefox Preferences

This is nice to have, and the default is a modest 50MB.  I’ve had Safari’s WebPreview images top 500MB, which is just out of hand.

Firefox also has the ability to start sessions and save information as you’d like, found under Preferences–>Security:

Custom Security Settings

Custom Security Settings

Private Browsing Option

Private Browsing Option

The private browsing feature should show in your window’s title bar letting you know it is activated.  With this feature enabled, you just aren’t saving anything to your cache, history etc.  You are not surfing the web anonymously, however, so don’t do things you wouldn’t normally do!