A Desktop folder mystery

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This time it’s personal.

Today’s column is about an (apparently rare) bug that has been personally bugging me for weeks. None of my attempts at simple or obvious fixes have had any effect.

Until today.

I finally sat down and said: “That’s it you little cockroach. I’m gonna find where you live and stomp you out. No matter how long it takes.”

It took several hours. But I succeeded. Mostly.

The Desktop mystery. On November 18, 2010, a Desktop folder appeared at the root level of my startup drive. I did not create it and had no idea how or why it appeared.

That’s weird enough. It gets weirder. Under certain circumstances, new files on my Home directory Desktop (~/Desktop) would get moved to this new root level Desktop. I occasionally saw this happen when duplicating a file. The duplicate file flashed briefly on my screen and then vanished as it moved to the root level folder. While this was infrequent, another variation of the bug would always result in a file being moved:

1. Create a new file in TextEdit. Enter some text. Save the file to the Desktop.

2. Drag a graphic (such as a JPEG file) to the document window. Select to Save again. You get the following message, indicating that you must now save the file as a rtfd item:

Click “Save” or “Save with new name.”

3. Enter additional text and select to Save one more time. You now see the following message:

Regardless of what you choose, it’s already too late. The file has been moved to /Desktop and has vanished from the Desktop background on your screen. The file has been renamed as indicated in the figure, with a ~ added just before .rtfd extension.

On the case. Further investigation revealed:

• The bug occurred only on one of my Macs, the one with the root level Desktop folder. None of my other Macs had this folder or this problem. As such, you probably don’t have it either.

• The problem did not happen if I saved the file to any location besides Desktop (such as the Documents folder). Nor did it happen on the Desktop when I was logged into another account on the Mac.

These facts suggested that the ultimate cause of the bug was specific to my account. It was mostly likely either a login item or an item (such as a .plist file) in my Library folder.

The solution. I eventually narrowed down the cause to a login item—those programs listed in System Preferences -> Accounts -> Login Items. Further trial-and-error revealed the singular culprit: ZumoCast.

I still have no idea why ZumoCast does this, how it does it, or why it apparently doesn’t do it for all users. This remains a mystery for now.

If you are bitten by this bug, the most direct course of action is to remove ZumoCast from your Login Items list and don’t use the program anymore. Assuming you prefer to continue to use ZumoCast, I found that if I lock the root level Desktop folder (by selecting the Locked option in the folder’s Info window), documents are no longer moved to the folder. Saving works as expected. Deleting the /Desktop folder may eliminate the problem permanently (unless the folder later reappears); I haven’t tried this yet because I still want the folder around for further testing.

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