Unwelcome fireworks

In what appeared to be an early tribute to my country’s most pyrotechnic holiday, my Power Mac G5 decided to begin the morning by flickering and flashing—repeatedly launching and quitting the Finder.

A couple of “unexpectedly quit” dialog boxes and the repeated advent and retreat of a login item that makes its presence known in the menubar made me suspect that a misbehaving login item was to blame. Here’s how I went about fixing the problem.

Of course I tried rebooting as Step 1. Problems like this can sometimes be cleared up with a simple restart.

But not in this case.

Step 2 was to boot into my troubleshooting account—an account I’ve created that’s pretty much stock. No login items, no special doohickies. Just as pure as Tiger can make an account.

The Mac booted into the Trouble account with no trouble so part of my suspicion was confirmed—something in my regular user account was gumming up the works.

Using the miracle of Fast User Switching, I switched to my regular use account, holding down the Shift key after entering my username and password to disable that account’s login items.

The regular account ceased its fireworks. Cool, this means there’s a very good chance that a login item was to blame.

At this point I should have been able to go to the Accounts system preference, click the Login Items tab, and remove the suspected login item. But no, the list was devoid of login items. Something was seriously amiss.

I’ll now offer what I might have done and then what I really did.

I might have located the loginwindow.plist file within the Preferences folder within the Library folder inside my user’s folder (~/Library/Preferences/loginwindow.plist) and opened it with Property List Editor (a .plist editing application that’s part of Apple’s Developer Tools).

With luck, Property List Editor would show the various login items under the AutoLaunchedApplicationDictionary heading. I could then select the number corresponding to the login item I suspected, click the Delete button, and then save the edited .plist file. Again, with luck, after quitting Property List Editor I would log out of my regular user account, cross my fingers, and log back into a cooperative user account.

However, the fact that I could see no login items was troubling. Even when you disable login items by holding down the Shift key as you log in (or boot into Safe Boot mode—which also disables login items—by holding down the Shift key after you first hear the Mac’s “bong” and then let go of the key when you see the Apple logo), you should see a list of login items in the Accounts system preference. Because I didn’t, I opted to take sterner measures and begin with a clean plate.

This I did by removing the loginwindow.plist file and rebooting. This removed all login items entries from this account, allowing me to start over with the brand new loginwindow.plist file automatically created by OS X.

  
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