How to Search Your Mac’s Configuration Files

It’s easier than you might think.

As you work with your Mac, installing and using software, it creates a bunch of configuration files that it stores in various places throughout your computer. Most of these files can be found in the various Library folders, tucked inside their own folders. There are hundreds of these files and every time you install and use some software — even trial software that you later delete — these files are created and hidden away in your system.

These unused files bit me this week when, for some reason, my BlackBerrry refused to sync with iCal and Address Book. The week before, I’d downgraded from Mac OS X 10.6.3 to 10.6.2. (Long story why; I don’t recommend doing this.) To make another long story short, it turns out that the BlackBerry Desktop software had lost track of some of its components. Making the matter worse was that I’d used both the Missing Sync and Pocket Mac in the past and their configuration files and extensions were still lurking about in my system, causing BlackBerry Desktop to choke.

While you can use an application like AppZapper (which I recommend) to uninstall software you no longer use, I’ve discovered that even uninstallers leave files behind. The best way to make sure a software program is completely gone is to search for and manually delete any remaining configuration files.

The trouble is, when you use the Finder’s search box to search for a file, it automatically excludes system files. This is actually a good thing for two reasons (that I can think of):

  • It minimizes search results to match what you’re most likely trying to find (which isn’t usually system files).
  • It prevents novice users from stumbling upon and possibly deleting or modifying system files that are better left alone.

So what do you do? Easy. You tell Mac OS to search the library folder where you expect to find the files.

Here’s an example. I use the program Fission by Rogue Amoeba to edit audio files. I like it; it’s good. But suppose I decided I wanted to stop using it and remove every trace of it from my computer.

I could search my hard disk for files named Fission. The results might look like this:

Search for Fission

But is that all there is? I don’t think so. I’ll open the Library folder in my Home folder and do the same search, but with the Library folder selected. Here are the results:

Fission Search

See the difference? The second search displayed two configuration files and a folder likely containing more related data. (The fourth file in the list is a data file for Yojimbo which I’d likely not want to remove.)

If I were serious about removing all traces of this program from my computer, I’d search not only by the name of the program but all or part of the name of the developer. (Rogue Amoeba is a great example because either word is likely to find just files related to software by that developer.)

You might want to repeat this process for all Library folders — the one on your hard disk’s root directory, the one in the System folder on your hard disk, and the one in any user’s Home folder (if you have access to it).

Performing this exercise for Missing Sync and Pocket Mac files this morning uncovered literally dozens of configuration files scattered all over my hard disk. Deleting them freed up space and prevented the possibility of these files interfering with incompatible software that I currently use.

Need More Information?

Snow Leopard Book CoverYou can find more information about searching your Mac in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide. Chapter 5 covers the Spotlight search feature in a great deal of detail.

Toggling Menu Bar Translucency

Your Leopard menu bar no longer has to be translucent.

One of the things some Leopard users complained about on the initial release of Leopard was the translucent menu bar. Rather than appear at the top of the screen like a plain white (or gray) bar, it now showed the desktop image through it. People with extremely “busy” desktop images found it difficult to read the menu bar.

Menu Bar
Here’s an example of the standard, translucent menu bar with the Bamboo Grove desktop picture. I don’t think it looks so bad.

(I kind of like the way the translucent menu bar looks. But then again, I don’t like “busy” desktop images.)

Desktop PanelIn Mac OS X 10.5.2, the recent Leopard update, Apple added a new setting in the Desktop panel of the Desktop & Screen Saver preferences pane: Translucent Menu Bar. Turning this check box off removes menu bar translucency, returning the menu bar to a plain gray, Tiger-like menu bar.

Menu Bar
Here’s what the same menu looks like with the Translucent Menu Bar option turned off.

Oh, and you may not have noticed this at all, but the menus, which are also translucent, are now a little less translucent than they were in the original Leopard release.

Page References

Product ImageYou can learn more about setting Desktop options on pages 166-167 of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide.

Stacks 10.5.2

Leopard 10.5.2 update adds functionality to Stacks.

Stacks is probably the most criticized feature in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Why? Because while Apple added functionality to the Dock with Stacks, it also removed functionality that many Tiger users liked and depended upon.

Fortunately, Apple was listening to users’ complaints. In the recent Leopard 10.5.2 upgrade, it changed the way Stacks works, adding back features that were available in Tiger. Here’s an overview of the new features in Stacks and how you can set stacks options.

Setting Stacks OptionsSeeing — and Setting — Options

As with the original iteration of Stacks, you can set the options for a specific Stack by Control-clicking or right-clicking it. This displays a menu of options like the one shown here.

I’m pleased to see that Apple has done away with the submenus it used in the original version of Stacks in favor of a stacked (no pun intended) set of options that is organized by category. This will make it easier to see and choose the option you want.

New Sort Options

There are now five sort options:

  • Name
  • Date Added
  • Date Modified
  • Date Created
  • Kind

This should make a lot of people happy, since not everyone likes to view lists by name or date.

New Display Options

There are now two options for the Stacks icon display in the Dock:

  • Folder displays the stack as a folder. If you’ve assigned a custom icon to the Stacks folder, that’s the folder icon that appears.
  • Stack display the stacked icons for folder contents. This means the first icon in the folder is what appears in the Dock, with other icons mostly hidden “beneath” it. This was the only display option in the original release of Mac OS X 10.5.

The new Folder display option was added to satisfy users who complained that the icon was not intuitive or consistent. For example, if the Downloads stack folder was sorted in date order, each time you downloaded a file, the icon would change. Now you can elect to show each Stack icon as a folder that doesn’t change.

Although I’d come up with a good workaround for this — which I presented at my Peachpit Press presentation at Macworld Expo — I’m glad I don’t need a workaround anymore.

View as ListNew View Option

There’s now an additional view option: List. This displays the contents of a stack the same way Tiger displayed the contents of folders on the Dock — complete with hierarchical menus, which I covered as a useful tip in my Tiger book. In fact, this is the feature I personally missed most when I upgraded to Leopard — I used hierarchical menus in the Dock extensively on all of my Macs.

Page References

Product ImageYou can learn more about Stacks as it was originally released in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on pages 172-174 of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide.

Changing the Default Application to Open a File

Make a file open with the application you want it to — every time.

Yesterday, I explained how to use the Open With submenu. Today, I’ll take this topic a step further by explaining how to permanently change the default application that a document opens in.

It’s all done with the document’s Info window:

  1. Select the icon for the document you want to change the default application for.
  2. Choose File > Get Info or press Command-I.
  3. In the Info window that appears, if necessary, click the disclosure triangle to display the Open with options.
  4. Open With Menu in Info WindowChoose a different application from the pop-up menu (shown here). If you choose Other, you can use a standard Open dialog to choose another installed application.
  5. To change the default application for all documents of that type (as I have done with all .jpg files on my computer, changing them to open with Photoshop instead of Preview), click the Change All button. Then click Continue in the confirmation dialog that appears.
  6. Click the Info window’s close button to dismiss it.

When following these instructions, be sure to choose an application that can open that type of document. Otherwise, you’ll get an error message when you double-click the document to open it. If that happens, just follow these instructions again to change the application to a more appropriate one.

Page References

Product ImageYou can learn more this topic in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide on the following pages:

  • The Info Window, pages 143-145.
  • Using Applications & Creating Documents, pages 188-190.

Choosing the Application to Open a File

When the default application isn’t the one you want to use.

In Mac OS, each document is automatically associated with an application. Double-clicking the document icon in the Finder automatically opens the document in the default application.

But you don’t have to choose that application to get the job done. You can choose from a menu of installed applications that may be able to open the file.

Here’s how:

  1. Select the icon for the document you want to open.
  2. Choose File > Open With to display a submenu menu of applications.
    Open With Submenu
    Control-click (or right-click) on the selected icon and choose Open with from the contextual menu that appears to display a submenu of applications.
    Open With on Contextual Menu
  3. Choose the application you want.

Why would you do this? Well suppose you have an image file that would normally open in Preview, but you want to do some heavy-duty editing on it in Photoshop. While you could always drag the document icon onto the Photoshop icon to open the document in Photoshop, this makes it possible to open the document in Photoshop without displaying the Photoshop icon.

Chapter References

Product ImageYou can learn more documents and applications in Chapter 10: Application Basics in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide.