Sometimes Mac OS X has everything you need. But sometimes it doesn’t. Occasionally you need to do some kind of system work that your operating system just doesn’t support. In those cases, you need to turn to specialized tools like one of the three programs here.
The open-source GeekTool (free) turns your OS X desktop into more than just a holding pen for folders and files. It embeds shell-command output, text files, and images on the desktop, giving you instant access to all kinds of information without a lot of eye candy.
After you download and install GeekTool, it appears in System Preferences. You use its preference pane to add and configure items you want to appear on the desktop. To add a new item, you just click on the New Entry button. From a drop-down menu, you then choose File (for text files), Shell (to display the output of Unix commands), or Picture (for images).
For example, to keep an eye on what’s going on inside your Mac, you could choose File from the drop-down menu, and then set the path to
/private/var/log/system.log. As events occur on your Mac, the system log will update live on your desktop.
Anything you can do from the Terminal command line, you can do with a GeekTool Shell entry. To see how long your Mac’s been up and running, for example, select Shell, and then type
uptimein the Command field. You can also use piping, as in
ifconfig en0 | grep netmask(which displays your Mac’s current IP address). To monitor the CPU and memory usage of active processes, combine the shell’s top and tail commands:
top -FR -o cpu -n 20 -l 2 | tail -21.
Finally, if you want to embed local or Web-based images on your desktop, you simply choose the Picture option, and then supply a URL.
No matter which of those three options you choose, you can specify a location on screen (using x-y coordinates), a size in pixels, and text formatting. When you’re specifying a color for text or shell output, remember to take your desktop background into account: if your desktop is dark, choose a lighter color for the output (and vice versa).
To keep GeekTool entries from hogging unnecessary system resources, try to be as conservative as possible with each entry’s refresh rate. By default, shell commands refresh every 10 seconds. If you need to run your script only once an hour, set Refresh to
3600instead. Your daily Web graph should update only once a day (or every 86,400 seconds).
For more information on this and other features, see the documentation.— Gina Trapani
By default, OS X formats drives with HFS+ (Hierarchical File Sys-tem Plus), aka Mac OS Extended; OS X can also format drives using the MS-DOS File System (FAT), or the Unix File System. MacFUSE (free; macfuse.googlecode.com) is an open-source project that makes it easier to add support for new file systems to your Mac.
Why would you want to do that? One of the biggest reasons is that while you can read Windows NTFS volumes in OS X, you can’t write to them. Or you may want to do something more obscure, such as treat an FTP server as just another volume in the Finder, or use your Gmail account to store files and e-mail messages. Whatever the reason for using an alternative file system in OS X, MacFUSE will let you do it.
MacFUSE is based on an open-source project called FUSE (short for Filesystem in Userspace), which lets you work with all sorts of file systems, no matter which ones your operating system supports natively. Because FUSE has been available for a while in Unix, programmers have created a bunch of file systems for it; now Mac folks can use them.
Installing MacFUSE is simple: You download a disk image from macworld .com/2846 and run the installer package. You then need to install one of the file systems that MacFUSE supports. If, for example, your goal is to get full access to a Windows NTFS volume, download the NTFS-3G package. That’s it. Your Mac should now be ready to mount, read from, and write to NTFS volumes.
(Although NTFS-3G is getting the most buzz, there are many more FUSE-compatible file systems you can try. Check out the full roster at macworld .com/2848. Note that not all of these other systems will work in OS X.)
One warning: While most users report that MacFUSE and NTFS-3G are quite stable, we’re talking about a file system here, so use caution: Try out the software before you rely on it for anything critical.
If you need help, the MacFUSE project site has installers, source code, and news updates. (Note that I’m listed there as a team member. In reality, that simply means that I’ve uploaded some documents to the site.) For information specifically about NTFS-3G, including downloads, background information, and a handy FAQ.— Scott Knaster
Occasionally, something may go wrong with your system that requires you to reinstall a missing or corrupted system file. Or you may have a specific program component that just won’t launch and you need to get a fresh copy of it. Whether you’re replacing specific files from the Mac OS X installer or a single file from an application installer, Charlesoft’s $20 Pacifist ( ) can do the trick.
To use Pacifist, you drag an installation package (a .pkg or .mpkg file) or a disk image into its window. The program then displays a list of all its files and their default installation destinations. Unlike Apple’s Installer, Pacifist allows you to select individual files to install. It can also install system files on a bootable volume that is not the current startup volume.
Pacifist’s Find function makes finding specific files or programs easy, even in large packages. For example, if you need to replace a corrupted font that was installed as part of OS X, load your OS X installation disc, go to /System/Installation/Packages on that disc, and drag OSInstall.mpkg into the Pacifist window. Click on the Find button and type the font’s name, and the results will display in a drawer. Click on one of those results, and the list in the Pacifist window expands to show that item. You can then install or extract the item you need.
If you have doubts about whether you’ve installed a particular program correctly, open its installation package, or its receipt (a record of the installation, located in /Library/Receipts), and click on Verify in Pacifist’s toolbar. Pacifist can check the installation, as well as file permissions and file contents; the latter option verifies the checksums of the files against those listed in the receipt to determine whether they have changed in any way. Pacifist then lists any missing files, changed permissions, or changed files. (Changed files are not necessarily a problem; Software Update or a program’s updater may simply have updated them.)
Finally, Pacifist has a useful Display Kernel Extension Report command; when you run this, Pacifist displays a list of all kernel extensions installed on your Mac. This report tells you the kernel extensions’ names, bundle IDs, and receipts (indicating which package installed them), and also whether Apple or a third party provided them. You can use this information to quickly spot any kernel extensions that might be causing system problems.
Pacifist is powerful, and as such it can be dangerous. If you use it to install an older version of a program that you’ve since updated, you might render your system unstable, especially if you install elements of OS X. But savvy users will realize that, in spite of these risks, Pacifist is an irreplaceable software-maintenance and -troubleshooting tool.— Kirk McElhearn
[ Scott Knaster is a technical writer at Google. Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his Web site, Kirkville. Gina Trapani is the author of Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge Your Day (Wiley, 2006) and the founding editor of Lifehacker.com. ]GeekTool: Using GeekTool’s preference pane, you can specify which files, shell-command output, or images you want to appear directly on your OS X desktop. Pacifist: From within Pacifist, you can look inside installer packages and pick which specific components you want to reinstall.