Hidden preference power

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Preferences your way

Prior to Tiger, OS X saved .plist files in plain-text format. That meant you could open and read them in any text editor, such as Apple’s TextEdit. Apple has converted most of Tiger’s .plist files to binary code, which allows applications to read these files more quickly, giving the OS a slight speed boost. But the downside is that many text editors will see the files as indecipherable characters rather than readable text. Here are some other options.

Translate for Text Editors
If you prefer to use a text editor instead of Property List Editor—perhaps because you want to view and work with the actual XML format of the document—there’s a simple fix. Open the file in Property List Editor, select File: Save As, and choose XML Property List File from the File Format pop-up menu. The file will now be an XML file, readable in any text editor.

Get an Alternative Editor
You can also choose a third-party alternative, such as Night Productions’ Pref Setter (free) and Brian Webster’s PlistEdit Pro ($25). These offer more options. For example, both let you cut, copy, and paste entire properties.

Both utilities include options for showing a list of the .plist files that you can view or edit. For example, with Pref Setter, the Open Domain Quickly window lists all .plist files in your Preferences folder and in the root-level /Library/Preferences folder. Using this window eliminates the hassle of searching for the desired file.

Choose a Full-Service App
Utilities such as Marcel Bresink’s TinkerTool (free) and Kristofer Szymanski’s Cocktail ($15) can edit .plist files for you. Make simple selections from various dialog boxes, and the utility makes the needed changes behind the scenes (see screenshot).

Geek Out
Can you use Terminal (/Applications/Utilities) to edit .plist files? But of course. Use the

defaults
Unix command. For example, to change your screen-capture format to TIFF, type the command
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type TIFF
. When you use Terminal for this, you can quickly add the
sudo
command (
sudo defaults
) to edit .plist files that you don’t usually have permission to change. You couldn’t do this using Property List Editor unless you opened the application with root access using Brian Hill’s Pseudo utility ($15).

[ Contributing Editor Ted Landau is the author of Ted Landau’s Mac OS X Help Line, Tiger Edition (Peachpit Press, 2005). ]

A utility such as TinkerTool can alter preference files for you.
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