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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

MacFixIt Answers

hard driveMacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions e-mailed in by our readers.

This week, readers wrote in with questions about cleaning up a Mac to keep it optimized, external drive permission errors, increasing the number of recent documents stored in the system, and options for triple-booting OS X with Linux and other operating systems. I welcome views from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: How to clean up a Mac to keep it optimized
MacFixIt reader Angel asks:

How can I get any unneeded, useless info, memory items off my Mac to safely clear up disk space and make my machine a tiny bit faster without accidentally causing malfunctions by putting something in the trash that the computer actually needs?

Most programs for OS X are self-contained packages that hold all the installed components, so besides some user settings files they can be deleted by simply removing them from the Applications folder. However, there are some that install fonts, extensions, and other system resources. If these do not come with an uninstaller then you will have to uninstall them manually. Your best bet in these cases is to contact the developer to see what needs to be removed.

As for general cleaning, sometimes temporary log files and system caches can get extraordinarily large, so cleaning these out can free up some disk space. To do this, try following the steps I’ve outlined in my article on general maintenance recommendations.

Question: External drive permissions errors
MacFixIt reader David asks:

[Upon] migrating to my new iMac I ran into a permission problem with my external drives. They were given access rights just as my main HD. What is curious though, I also noted a greyed-out icon saying “fetching”. Do you have a hint how that may come about? I presume it’s safe to delete it and/or to just ignore ownership, as you suggested?

Ignoring permissions on external drives is the best approach. As for the group being in “fetching” mode, this just means the group ID associated with the resource is not recognized in the system’s account directory (a common situation after migrating data from another system). Given that this is on an external drive it’s easiest to simply ignore the permissions setup by getting information on the drive and checking the option to do so in the Sharing and Permissions section.

Question: Increasing the number of recent documents
MacFixIt reader Michael asks:

I want to see more than the few items listed in my Textext edit menu “open recent.” Is there an app or OS edit that can help me?

You can set the number of recent items using the following commands in the OS X Terminal (change NUMBER to be the number of desired recent items):

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSRecentDocumentsLimit NUMBER

This will change the number of recent items globally for all applications, but if you’d like to change it for a specific application then you can use the following:

defaults write NSRecentDocumentsLimit NUMBER

In this approach, you use the domain-based nomenclature to identify an application, which for Apple’s programs is usually, but will be different for each program you use. You can look this up by opening the preferences folder in your account (open the Go menu in the Finder and select Library, and then open the Preferences folder). Then note the name of the preferences file for an application and remove the .plist prefix from the name to get the domain name for the program.

Question: Triple-booting OS X with Linux
MacFixIt reader Bert asks:

I have installed LinuxMint on an external FireWire drive but can only boot Mint with a “liveDVD”, since OS X cannot recognize the EXT4 partitions. How may I boot Linux from the Mac?

I was hoping to perhaps have some sort of boot loader on the primary disk, maybe an additional small partition for say, a Linux boot loader. I’m still hoping to keep the Linux install separate from the primary OS. Reason being I would like to be able to run this Linux from my MacBook Pro as well.

You will have to forgo using Boot Camp and instead configure the system with a Linux boot loader that will manage the three bootable operating systems. Doing this can take a number of steps and a bit of experimentation, but here is a decent article on how to set the system up with this.




  1. Could it be best to defrag an exterior hard disk? Could it be helpful to defrag?

  2. Demarcus Younkin

    My toshiba laptop hard disk is damaged and that i just purchased a new hard disk but it’s certainly one of individuals USB plug-in hard disk. Are you able to switch the damaged internal hard disk using the exterior USB hard disk?


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