Unmask Your Mac's Hidden Problems

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Like stagehands working behind the scenes of a play, there's a hidden world of invisible files on your Mac. Don't be alarmed– they're supposed to be in hiding. What's more, without them your Mac might not even start up. So, why bother to shroud these files with a cloaking device? The usual reason is to protect them against inadvertent (or intentional) modification. However, on a few occasions, finding these files is necessary. An invisible file can get corrupted, preventing an application from working, or more rarely, it may be a virus. In such cases, you need to repair or delete the file. For the scoop on how to access invisible files, check out "Hide and Seek." Then take a peek behind the curtain of your Mac and learn how to solve a variety of Macintosh ills.

Have you ever had files lose their custom icons? Invisible files may be at work or, more precisely, may not be working as they should. You can usually trace the loss of custom icons to the invisible Desktop DB and Desktop DF files at the root level of every drive. These two files get updated whenever you rebuild the desktop. In fact, that's exactly what you must do to fix them (hold down command-option at start-up to do a rebuild). If that doesn't do the trick, you can trash these files altogether. The Mac builds new ones from scratch the next time you start up. The simplest way to trash them is with a utility such as TechTool, from MicroMat Computer Systems (800/829-6227, http://www.micromat.com ), via its Desktop Rebuild command.

Just as icons can disappear, they can also refuse to go away. If you can't replace or delete a particular folder's custom icon, the problem may be a hidden file named icon. Your Mac creates one of these files every time you give a folder a custom icon and stores the file in that folder. If you have trouble trying to change a folder's icon, just delete its icon file.

Finder freezes and crashes can happen for any number of reasons. One possibility is that you may have a misplaced copy of the invisible OpenFolderListDF file. This file, which comes with Mac OS 8.0 and later versions, keeps track of which Finder windows you leave open at shutdown and whether they are pop-ups. Normally, the Preferences folder of your start-up disk holds one copy of this file and other copies appear at the root level of every other disk. Sometimes an extra copy shows up at the root level of the start-up disk. Apple has stated that the extra copy presents no problem. However, many Mac users have found that deleting it eliminates the freezes.

After a system crash, if you have Shut Down Warning enabled in the General Controls control panel, your Mac displays a message at start-up informing you of the crash. But your Mac isn't supposed to display this message after every start-up. If you have this problem, the likely invisible culprit is the Shutdown Check file.

The Mac creates this file at each start-up and then deletes it at each proper shutdown (one performed with the Mac's Shut Down command). When the Mac finds this file at start-up, it assumes there was an improper shutdown and displays the warning message. If this message appears at every start-up, it may be that the Shutdown Check file has become corrupted and the Mac can't delete it automatically. The solution is simply to delete the file yourself.

When a particular extension doesn't load at start-up, damaged or misplaced invisible files are often the culprits. For example, when Adobe Type Manager refuses to load, claiming that it requires more memory, you may have a corrupted ATM Temp.ATM file. You'll find this file in the Preferences folder. Delete it, and ATM creates a new one.

If you move Connectix's RAM Doubler control panel to a new System Folder and find that it no longer loads at start-up, it's probably because you didn't move the invisible Load RAMDblr file (located at the root level of the System Folder) along with it. To get things working, you need to either reinstall RAM Doubler from its master disk or drag the Load RAMDblr file to the new System Folder.

Excessive disk activity, corrupted files, and unexpected restarts are just some examples of the possible symptoms of the AutoStart virus (so named because it is able to infect your Macintosh only if you have QuickTime 3.0's AutoPlay feature enabled). The virus typically arrives on your disk in the guise of two invisible files: DB (located at the root level of your start-up disk) and Desktop Print Spooler (which is found in the Extensions folder).

The names of these files make them sound harmless. Indeed, there is a valid visible file in your Extensions folder called Desktop Printer Spooler–but don't let the monikers fool you. If you find these files, trash them instantly. Or use any up-to-date antivirus utility to get rid of them.

Once you take some time to become familiar with the Mac's invisible world, you'll see Mac troubleshooting in a whole new light.


August 1999 page: 92

Appropriately enough, the easiest way to get a list of all the invisible files on your drive is to use an invisible feature of Sherlock. From Sherlock's Find File panel, hold down the option key when clicking on the Name pop-up menu. The very last item is Visibility. Select it. Then click on Find and you'll get the list. To delete a file, select it and press command-delete.

Unfortunately, Sherlock doesn't let you do much else with this list. To work extensively with invisible files, you'll need a utility such as File Buddy, which you can get from http://www.macdownload.com. Start by selecting Find Invisible Items from File Buddy's Cleaning menu and then clicking on Search. You can now use File Buddy's button bar to manipulate the files. For example, to make a file visible, click on the Reveal Selected Items In The Finder button. However, be careful: some invisible files function only when they're invisible. If you want to examine the contents of the file, open it via File Buddy's Open With button, assigning an application such as BBEdit to open the file.

File Buddy's Magic Tricks
WIth File Buddy, you can reveal, open, copy, move, or delete any invisible file. You can also access a file's Get Info window.
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