X-Basics

X Files

Dave Wardell - 2002.07.24

Even Fox Mulder could have trouble understanding the filing system in OS X if he was used to the classic Mac OS.

If you're like most Mac users, you like to put your files, folders, projects, etc. wherever suits you. Well, those days are gone. Don't be too upset though, because OS X can trick you into thinking you are saving files or folders to the desktop when in fact you are saving them into your own personal home folder.

This Home Folder even has its own icon that looks like a cute little house and sits in the middle of your menu bar. You can reach this folder by clicking on the icon, using GO > Home or option-command-H or click the Home icon on the Dock if it is there.

What you will see will surprise you - all your work, no matter where you may think you stored it, is in there.

So why has Apple done this strange thing? Well as it happens it is not just Apple watching too many X Files - it's in Windows XP and 2000 also. The reason is for stability and security when sharing your computer. It also makes it easier to back up your files from one place.

Even if you are the only user of your Mac, OS X considers you to be just one of many users each with their own Home File - each one should be visible in the Mac HD.

Of course, much of this was available in OS 9, but in OS X the feature is more deeply ingrained, more secure, and more effective.

Every person who uses the computer will have their own separate, secure desktop picture, set of files, Web bookmarks, font collection, and preference settings.

Think how useful this is in school or university settings. We have been using a system similar to this at USQ (the University ofSouth Queensland) for many years now, but Apple built these computers to do the work better and more reliably.

The networking of Macs was always unreliable at USQ. If the power went off, it took at least three hours to get the system up and running from when it came back on. Maybe this will help by taking some of the work off the network and putting it onto the computer. Perhaps not.

In your HD there is a folder called "Users." If you open this, you will see the names of all who can use this Mac. Nobody can open anybody else's folder.

If you are the sole user of the machine, home icononly your Home Folder will be there - named for you. As you can see, mine is named "daveward". Obviously there is a limit to the number of letters in the name. You can ignore the "Shared Folder".

OS X imposes a fairly rigid folder structure, but this approach has many advantages. It keeps users and software installers equally regulated.Such a tight control over which files go where also gives us a very stable system.

In your Home folder, you will find another set of standard OS X folders that you are free to rename or delete. They are there only as a convenience.

I still like to have my current projects on the desktop, not only for convenience, but to jog my memory. Inside my Home Folder is a file called "Desktop", and it contains all the stuff I thought I was saving to the desktop. If I delete them from the real desktop, they disappear from the Desktop folder as well, so be wary.

Also, if you are burning a CD or making some sort of backup, make sure you are taking the real file, not just an alias. If you select the file (single click) and check its information (command-I), you can make sure it is not an alias you are about to waste a CD on.

No longer can you use "File > Get Info" to check out a folder; it's now called "Show Info" under the File menu. But I digress, more on the changes in later articles. LEM

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