Mac Lab Report

Palm Desktop Won't Install? You're Not Root

- 2005.08.17

According to MacAddict, the titles of my articles are deeper than the articles I write, so if that's the case you can stop right here because everything you need to know is in the title. (Now I need a T-shirt that declares I'm "This Guy".)

Anyway, I have an aging Handspring Visor that used to HotSync just fine with my phone, my iPod, and my .mac account. Everything was fine until Apple (in its infinite wisdom) made iSync all confusing and inconsistent by moving the iPod sync function from iSync to iTunes in Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4.x).

Okay, so to use Palm devices in what remains of your iSync functionality, you have to add the device to the iSync list of devices. This requires you to "Enable Palm OS Syncing" in iSync. Selecting this prompts the Mac to check to see if the iSync conduit is properly installed, and if it isn't, to install it.

However, the conduit won't install unless Palm Desktop has been properly installed. And Palm Desktop won't install completely unless you have your device connected to the computer when you run the installer. So, if you're like me, you finally get Palm Desktop ready to install at the same time that you have your Palm device ready, and then the frickin' software won't install because of an "unspecified error."

Try again, reboot, etc. - all the usual things you would do - and zippo.

"Unspecified Error."

Even worse, there's nothing on any website or forum that I can find. Apple's own pages are filled (as usual) with hundreds of things I already know how to do like "plug in your device." So whatever this problem is, maybe I'm the only one having it.

You already read the title of this article, so you know how to make it work.

I thought if I was the root user, maybe that would make a difference - it did once before on some older software I was trying to install. My computer is issued by a school district, and they install themselves as administrator. They also made me an administrator, but they didn't tell me the password, so I can't accidentally (or on purpose) change it. So I either have to beg them for the password or find another way to log in as root.

This is where my Web search bore fruit. It turns out that if you are classified as an admin you (obviously) ought to be able to log in as root - but you have to enable it before you can do it. Apple leaves it off by default to keep your Mac more secure. To turn on root login, you go to Applications > Utilities > NetInfo Manager, select Security / Enable Root User, and enter a password when prompted. (Insert all the usual warnings about secure passwords and not forgetting your secure password here.)

Then you set System Preferences / Accounts to allow you to log in using a user list. Log out, log back in, and a new option - "Other" - will be displayed. Choose this, use your new root password with it, and voilà, you're in. (Of course, to maintain the secure status of your computer, after you finish installing Palm Desktop you should return to NetInfo Manager and disable the root user login.)

I finally got Palm Desktop to install. No problem.

If you're getting a mysterious installation error, you might try logging in as root. Most owners probably don't have this problem, because they are the primary user instead of just another user like myself on the school's Mac. You wouldn't think an admin-level user would have these problems, but you never know.

Maybe I'm the only one having this problem, but on the other hand, who knows how many others suffer in silence.


Alan Zisman emailed me on September 3, 2005 with a new solution to this problem:

"After you wrote your LEM article about installation problems with Palm Desktop, I wrote you, discussing how even after logging on as root, I was unable to install the version of Palm Desktop recommended for my Visor Prism.

"This morning, I discovered PalmDesktop 4.2.1 rev C, at <>

"It describes itself: 'Fixed file and folders permission issue which could impair iSync functionality when installing Palm Desktop without administrator rights. If you encountered this issue, install this version (Rev C) to fix it.'

"Despite some hesitation about using a version that didn't come with specific Visor hooks, I downloaded and installed it - the installation ran fine (without having to log on as root), and it's sync'ing my Visor as I write."

You may still get warning messages, but it works.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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