System folder complex but essential


Unless you're an advanced or "power" user, you probably have only a vague understanding of all the software bits and pieces that make your Mac a Mac.

If you peek inside your System folder, you'll see a collection of vital files and subfolders, the names of which may not make sense. Don't be intimidated. Taking time to understand the innards of your System folder can pay enormous dividends when trouble crops up.

Don't be dismayed if your Mac's System folder contains files not described here; a lot of programs throw things in this folder, and Apple itself adds items with each operating system upgrade. In this overview, we'll stick to the basics.

* Apple Menu items folder: Anything placed in this folder shows up in your Apple Menu. Most people place aliases of their frequently used programs and data folders here for quick access.

* Claris folder: Programs made by Claris store a variety of translators here that allow ClarisWorks and other applications to import documents in other formats, such as Microsoft Word. If you're using PC Exchange, you can even open files in PC formats. The DataViz folder, if present, contains still more file translators.

* Clipboard file: When you cut and paste something, this is where your Mac stores the data.

* Control Panels: Control Panels are miniprograms that can change or adjust various characteristics of your system. In here you'll find items that control the desktop's appearance, the date and time, memory and mouse settings and much more.

Familiarize yourself with the contents of this folder. Open each item to see what it does. Remember, Control Panels allow you to customize your Mac. Use them.

* Extensions: The items in this folder add capabilities to your system. Many programs won't run, and some basic functions such as printing won't work, without certain extensions.

A Control Panel called Extensions Manager (introduced with Mac OS 7.5) lets you see which extensions are loaded. While it can disable any extension, use it with caution. Turning off a critical extension could cause problems.

* Finder file: This is actually a program, and it's on whenever your Mac is running. It's the part of the Mac OS you see every day. Along with the System File, it controls your Mac's basic functions, such as opening and closing folders, saving and deleting files and so on. Don't mess with it.

* Fonts folder: Any font (typeface) listed in the Font menus of your programs reside here. You can add as many fonts as you like, but don't go crazy. Too many fonts drag down your system speed and eat up hard drive space. On the other hand, don't delete the basic fonts that came with your Mac - it needs them for screen displays.

* Launcher items: Contains items shown as icons in the Launcher window. The Launcher allows you to open an item by clicking once on its icon.

* Preferences: Almost every Mac program stores its preferences (a set of permanently saved user settings) in this folder. For example, if you choose a particular font for your Finder display, that choice is stored here.

* PrintMonitor documents: Usually empty, this folder is where temporary printing files are stored if you use background printing.

* Start-up items and shutdown items: This pair of folders does essentially the same thing. Any program (or alias of a program) will launch either at start-up or shutdown accordingly. One might put a calendar program in the Start-up folder or a backup program in the Shutdown folder. Nifty.

* System file: Absolutely the most important chunk of code on your hard drive. Should you ever delete this file or the equally critical Finder file, your Mac won't start up. Leave it alone.

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Pub Date: 6/01/98

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