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Mac OS X Troubleshooting Basics

Part 1: Application misbehavior and preference files By Dave Nagel
I don't know why I never started this series earlier. Both my e-mail and my user forums are inundated with requests from users for help with some of the most basic troubleshooting topics. Why? They've recently switched to Mac OS X, and they don't know where anything is. Me to the rescue!

By far the most frequent occurrences of troubles are with individual applications that suddenly stop working "right." Whether it's the color in an image editor or frequent crashes in your NLE, the solution is often no more complex than a good, solid trashing of the prefs.

Well, in Mac OS 9, this was simple. Everyone knows where the prefs are located. But where are they in Mac OS X? Well, that depends on the application. Owing to the multiple user "feature" forced on OS X users and the inability of software developers to stick to simple standards, preferences files can be located in several places at once--and even under multiple names in the same place. But once you figure out the four primary folders and two primary file types that preferences use in Mac OS X, the process becomes much easier.

Most applications store preferences in your user library folder. That is, Macintosh HD/Users/Your Name/Library/Preferences. Here you'll find two kinds of preferences. I'll use Adobe Photoshop as an example, since we'll find Adobe prefs all over the place in Mac OS X. If you look at the example below, you'll see folders containing specific preferences and individual preferences files.

Move down a bit in the list, and you'll see a bunch of preferences files starting with "com." For example, "com.adobe.photoshop.plist." This is a file that stores a variety of properties--the "p" in ".plist"--especially navigation services (default open and save locations, etc.)

If you're having trouble with any one application, go ahead and delete all of the associated prefs files in these two locations. They'll be rebuilt the next time you launch the application. (Note: For some applications, you may need to reenter serial numbers once you delete these files. This warning applies to all of the techniques listed in this article.)

Then, move up in your user library folder to Application Support, and you might see another file or folder relevant to the application that's giving you trouble located in there. Go ahead and trash that too.

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