Start

User Settings

The Pane User

All operations available on the pane User affect a single user account only, namely the user noted at the top headline of the TinkerTool System control window. Detail information about the selected user account can also be found on the tab item Info of this pane.

Preferences

Motivation

Macintosh software is usually designed after very high usability standards. Technical problems are solved by the applications on their own, in most cases silently, without needing to interact with the user. There is one type of technical problem however, which can often not be handled by affected applications, namely cases where the applications’ preference settings have been damaged. TinkerTool System offers features to automatically find and eliminate bad preference files. It can also remove outdated files.

The Preferences System of Mac OS X

Applications send messages to the operating system to store and retrieve user settings, e.g. color preferences, the last position of windows on screen, the last saved document, etc. Mac OS X uses a core technology of the system called property lists to organize all preference settings in a kind of database. The database is distributed onto a large number of files which have the name extension plist. Each of these property lists contains settings which apply to a certain area of the system only, i.e. it forms a subset of the total preferences collection. Such a subset is called a preference domain. A preference domain usually corresponds closely with an application you have used, e.g. the preferences of the application Mail are stored by the preference domain called com.apple.mail. However, there is not always a one-to-one relationship. Apple’s Mail program also makes use of the additional preference domain com.apple.mail.searchhistory, for example.

According to Apple’s software design guidelines, the identifiers of the preference domains must be structured based on a hierarchical list of descriptive names, written from left to right in top-down order, separated by dots. The first part of the hierarchy must be the Internet domain name (DNS name) of the application’s vendor, so two different software companies can never create the same identification for a domain, even if their products should happen to have identical names.

Example: The unique identifier for Apple’s web browser Safari is com.apple.Safari, because it is published by the company with the Internet domain name apple.com and Safari is the descriptive name to identify this program in Apple’s software portfolio. Note how com.apple.Safari is written in top-down order, with the most important part at the beginning, while Internet domain names like www.apple.com are written in reverse order, with the most significant part at the end.

Software companies are free to use more than one descriptive name components to identify a particular application or aspect of an application. Examples for this are com.apple.airport.airportutility and com.apple.airport.clientmonitor to identify two different applications which are both part of the subject area “Airport”. The naming scheme guarantees that each application will have a unique preference domain.

Verifying the Integrity of Preferences Files

If the property list file for a preferences domain has been damaged for some reason, Mac OS X will feed the application belonging to the file with invalid preference settings, a situation which is not handled correctly by many programs, because they don’t expect that such a thing could happen. The application could crash or behave erratically.

Preferences
Preferences

To avoid this, you can verify the integrity of all preferences files effective for the current user. This includes all settings of all applications ever launched by this user. To do this, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Preferences on the pane User.
  2. Click on the button Check Files.

Classic Mac OS applications and legacy applications which have not been correctly ported to the Mac OS X platform use preferences files they have created on their own. These files cannot be tested because they don’t follow any standards.

While the verification process is running, you can stop it any time pressing the STOP button. After all tests have been completed, TinkerTool System will display a report table, listing all problems found. The problems are categorized by severity which is visualized by different colors:

The report table will contain a line for each of the problems found. Preference settings that are free of errors will not be listed. Each entry consists of a short problem description and the name of the preference domain.

To display detail information about a problem found, select an entry in the table. The full path to the affected property list file and a detailed error description will be displayed below the table. You can make the Finder navigate to the file by pressing the symbol with the magnifying glass. In cases where it could make sense, you can either deactivate or delete the problematic preferences file by pressing one of the buttons.

You should not delete or deactivate preference settings of applications currently running because this won’t have any effect. Quit affected applications and rerun the test before you decide to remove a corrupt preferences file.

Removing Unused Preferences Files

When you have used an application for a short period of time only, just for testing it, or you have uninstalled applications which you don’t use any longer, the preferences files of those applications will still remain stored in the users’ home folders. TinkerTool System can analyze the preferences files of the current user account to check if they have not been in use for some extended period of time. You can then decide to delete the possibly obsolete files to reclaim storage space. Perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Preferences on the pane User.
  2. Using the pop-up button Search for preferences unused for more than…, select the time period which TinkerTool System should consider as being “too old for actively used applications”.
  3. Press the button Search for old preferences….

While the search is running, you can stop it any time pressing the STOP button. After all tests have been completed, TinkerTool System will display a report table, listing all files which may be obsolete.

The table lists all preferences domains which have not been in use in the specified time frame. The exact date of last usage and the age of the file in days are specified in the columns at the right.

Unfortunately, some applications use multiple preferences files, sometimes “misusing” secondary files for other purposes, like storing license information or configuration data. It is not possible to distinguish such files from “real” preferences files. They appear not to be in use, although the associated applications read them. For this reason, you should never delete preferences files blindly even if TinkerTool System suggests them for removal. The preferences domain name should help you to assess for which application and what technical reason each file is being used. If you don’t understand the domain name or if you are unsure to which program a file belongs, better not remove it.

By setting the check marks at the buttons in the column Remove? you can mark preferences files for removal. Pressing the buttons Select all or Deselect all causes all check marks to be set or removed, respectively. When you press the OK button, all files that had the Remove? check mark set will be deleted. If you press the Cancel button, no file will be touched.

The radio buttons in the lower left corner of the report panel control how the removal should take place. You can either Delete files immediately, put the files into the Trash, or move the files into an archive folder which you have to specify additionally.

Removing System-Specific Preferences Files of Decommissioned Computers

In professional networks, the users’ private home folders won’t be stored on the local hard disks of the computers, but on a central file server. In this case, it will no longer matter which particular computer a certain user is working with. The user’s personal documents and all her preferences seem to automatically move with her when she is using a different computer. The account always uses the same data although no form of synchronization is necessary. Mac OS X automatically keeps track which of the preference settings of a user should be valid for all computers in the network, and which of them are computer-specific. For example, the trackpad and mouse settings should be stored individually for each computer, because each model might use a different type of mouse, or trackpad, respectively. Similar rules apply to Bluetooth, Airport, printer, screen saver, and many other settings, which are individual per user, but also per computer, because they will depend on the particular hardware equipment.

A similar situation can occur for computers of private persons, too: If you have migrated your personal home folder from an old computer to a new one —perhaps even across several generations of computers— you will have the same scenario.

After a computer has reached a certain age, it will usually be removed from the network or your personal access, so storing computer-specific user preferences for that system will no longer make sense. The feature to remove unused preferences files mentioned in the previous section will find these preferences after they have reached a certain age, but it can be useful to remove the system-specific preferences earlier, just when a computer is being decommissioned.

To use this feature, you will have to identify the computer which is no longer in operation. This must be done manually, because no program can get information about a computer which is no longer accessible. To identify a computer, Mac OS X either uses the MAC address of the system’s built-in primary Ethernet interface, or a UUID code (Universal Unique Identifier). The primary MAC address is printed on the serial number label of the computer, usually accompanied by a bar-code holding the same information. On versions of Mac OS X using UUID codes, you can find the code by starting the application System Information (formerly known as System Profiler) on the affected computer, opening the top item of the hardware list.

After you have identified the computer in question, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Preferences on the pane User.
  2. Press the button Search for host preferences….

While the search is running, you can stop it any time pressing the STOP button. After all tests have been completed, TinkerTool System will display a report table, listing the computer-specific preference sets known by the current user account. Next to the MAC addresses or UUID codes, you will find the date of last usage, and the number of preferences files available for the respective computer. By checking the buttons in the column Remove? you can mark preferences files for deletion. Pressing the buttons Select all or Deselect all causes all check marks to be set or removed, respectively. When you press the OK button, all files for all computers that had the Remove? check mark set will be deleted. If you press the Cancel button, no file will be touched.

The radio buttons in the lower left corner of the report panel control how the removal should take place. You can either Delete files immediately, put the files into the Trash, or move the files into an archive folder which you have to specify additionally.

Login Items

Login items are entries for applications, documents, or network volumes which should be opened automatically by the Finder when you log into Mac OS X. TinkerTool System can automatically check your personal list of login items to verify if some entries are out-of-date. Items referring to objects which no longer exist on your computer can be removed automatically.

Apple has changed the name for this type of objects several times during the lifetimes of Mac OS and Mac OS X. In some versions, Login Items are called “Startup Items”. TinkerTool System always uses the current and correct designation “Login Items”.

To have the login items checked, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Login Items on the pane User.
  2. Press the button Verify Login Items.

After a few seconds, a report table will be displayed which lists the status of all items. By pressing OK, all out-of-date entries will be removed automatically, by pressing Cancel no change will take place.

Login items
Login items
Login items results
Login items results

Recent Items

Among a lot of other settings, each application keeps track what documents have been opened the last time you have used the program. The entries are listed in the submenu File > Recent Items of each application. Additionally, there is a central list of recently used documents and applications in the Apple menu, and the Finder maintains a list of servers to which manual network connections have been made.

To protect your privacy you may like to remove these entries because they allow to keep track how you used the computer in the past. The server list may also contain passwords in the clear that should be protected. TinkerTool System can automatically clear the following entries for you:

Classic applications or legacy applications which store recent items under their own control (which is not compliant with Mac OS X software design guidelines) cannot have their recent items removed automatically.

Additionally, the item Include internal copies invisible at the user interface allows a very deep cleaning of recent items. If you set a check mark here, TinkerTool System will also remove internal hidden records maintained by Mac OS X which could allow system experts to recover some of the Recent Item entries even after they had been deleted. This option can only be selected when you are removing items for documents, applications, and servers at the same time.

Recent items
Recent items

To remove the entries for Recent Items, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Recent Items on the pane User.
  2. Check each category for which the entries for Recent Items should be removed.
  3. Press the button Remove selected entries.

This will delete the entries, of course not the documents these entries refer to. For technical reasons, applications won’t allow their recent items to be removed while they are running. To delete entries in as many programs as possible, it is recommended to quit all applications you don’t currently need before using this feature. When removing entries for recent folders from the Finder, the Finder must be restarted for technical reasons.

Internet Privacy

Internet browsers maintain a large amount of data referring to the pages you have visited on the Internet. This information is needed to speed up the browsers, and to offer several comfort functions, like going back to previously opened pages, displaying site icons, searching for keywords, etc. Because all these items could be misused to track your activities on the Internet (in case your user account is accessible by more than one person), you may like to remove them to protect your privacy. Another reason to remove these files is that they can be using large amounts of storage space. TinkerTool System can help you to remove the following items from your user account:

Removing these items is supported for the following popular web browsers:

In case you are using older versions of Chrome (5 to 13), this will also be available as an option. However, Chrome versions 14 or later are no longer supported due to the continuous rapid changes of application variants. Firefox ESR version 31 or later is also not supported.

Internet privacy
Internet privacy

Apple’s web browser Safari additionally supports a close integration with the Spotlight search system. Safari and Spotlight create an index database of all words from all web pages you have visited in the last days. This index is used for find-by-content searches via Spotlight. It can find used web pages that refer to a given keyword. TinkerTool System can remove this data, too, if desired.

Up-to-date versions of Safari support the HTML 5 industry standard. In this standard, it is provided that web sites can use technology to create and store databases permanently in your user account. It has to be differentiated between

File sets of type “local storage” also use SQL database technology, but are not designed as fully featured databases, but more as a luxurious successor technology to replace cookies. Both types of HTML 5 databases can be used by web pages, web applications and Dashboard widgets. In case you check the item Remove persistent data stored by web applications or widgets, TinkerTool System will open a dialog window before performing the clean-up procedure, where all databases and local storage sets, as well as the Internet domains they are associated with, will be listed. (Only Safari and local application using the OS X WebKit will be affected.) You can select the entries which should be removed or be kept in detail. Further instructions can be found below.

Sophisticated applications that run within a web page displayed by Safari, e.g. text processors, can particularly depend on their respective databases. Please note that such applications may have used databases to store documents you have created. Such documents can be lost when you delete the respective databases.

Another software component which might keep track of the web pages you have visited is the Adobe® Flash® Player which is shared among different Internet browsers using a plug-in architecture. TinkerTool System can assist you in removing

To clean your user account from the aforementioned items, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Internet Privacy on the pane User.
  2. Set or remove check marks for all information categories you like to have cleaned.
  3. Press the button Clean….

TinkerTool System will automatically instruct you to quit running web browsers depending on the options you have chosen. You will receive a summary noting how much files are going to be deleted before the actual operation will be performed. You must confirm this by pressing an additional Delete button. Because this can include tens of thousands of files with cryptic names, TinkerTool System won’t list each file individually.

If your choice has included HTML5 databases or Flash® items, you will receive detailed confirmation panels, however. The panels list each web site for which databases or Flash objects have been stored. By setting or removing check marks in the list, you can individually decide which data sets of which sites should be removed. Pressing the buttons All or None in the category columns will either set or remove all check marks, respectively. Note that the list of Flash items is sorted by site domains, respecting the hierarchical meaning of domain names. The list of HTML5 databases is sorted by the type of database as default. A search field is also included which allows you to filter sites. The deletion of databases or Flash items must be confirmed by pressing the respective Clean button.

Please note the following points:

It is not recommended to remove Flash cookies created by eBay®. The may contain security information which is needed to identify returning customers. If you like to sell items via eBay after deleting eBay cookies, you might have to re-identify yourself by a phone call. The exact details may vary from country to country and are subject to change without notice.

TinkerTool System can also assist you in modifying your personal security settings and site-specific preferences used by the Flash® Player. To use this feature, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Internet Privacy on the pane User.
  2. Press the button Change your Flash® website storage settings.

Using this feature will cause TinkerTool System to open your preferred web browser and to contact Adobe® via the Internet. An application provided by Adobe will be used to get access to your personal security settings used by the Flash Player. This feature won’t work if you don’t have a Flash Internet plug-in on your system. Adobe may not provide this feature in your preferred language.

In addition to the site-specific Flash settings, the Flash Player may also have created entries for specific sites in its list of global storage settings. This means, if you like to remove all traces of a visit to a specific Flash-enabled web site stored in your personal home folder, you’ll have to ensure to check all three types of possibly related items: the site’s cookies, the site-specific settings and the site’s entries in the global storage settings.

There are specific combinations of browser items and web browser versions where complete removal might not be possible for technical reasons. In these special cases, TinkerTool System will inform you about the details.

Many Internet browsers support their own cleaning functions. They may offer additional information categories which can be deleted. Note that neither TinkerTool System, nor the cleaning features of the browsers can guarantee that all information related to your activities on the Internet will be removed completely. Internet plug-ins, the network caches of the operating system, or the caches of your Internet router may still keep data about past activities.

Shared User Cookies

As of version 5.1 of the Safari web browser, Apple has removed the user interface in the preferences panel which allowed to review the contents of cookies and to remove them individually. To fill this gap, TinkerTool System offers a cookie table which supersedes this lost functionality. In addition, you can setup a search pattern for cookies which allows you to semi-automatically clean the cookie store from entries of certain sites, or with specific contents.

To show the current list of cookies, select the tab item Cookies of the pane User.

Cookies
Cookies

The cookies shown in the table have mainly been collected by Safari, but they may also be used and shared with other applications as well. For example, Dashboard or the documentation reader of Xcode may also create and read cookies shown in the list. It is recommended not to use such applications while you are removing cookies.

Depending on the operating system you are using, it might be impossible to get a “live” view on the current contents of the cookie store, even if you press the update button below the table. Mac OS X may feed TinkerTool System with cached information which does not reflect the up-to-date state.

To delete one or more cookies, select their entry lines in the table, then press the button Remove below the table.

You can search for cookies and filter them to automatically create a preselection of cookies that you like to remove. To do this, enter text into the search field at the bottom right of the window. The resulting search is case-insensitive and checks the domains and names of the cookies. The entered word is taken as search pattern which can appear anywhere in the domain and name fields.

To delete all displayed cookies (which might be a subset based on a search filter), press the button Remove all below the table.

In addition, you can work with a list of search patterns. TinkerTool System will then combine the search results, assuming an “or” condition to compare the cookies with all words entered. The list of search patterns is persistent between different launches of TinkerTool System, so you can reuse it any time later.

To work with the filter list, press the button Filter by list…. A list of words will appear. You can change a filter word by double-clicking it and entering new contents. You can remove a word by selecting it and pressing the button [—]. You can add a new word by pressing the button [+] and entering text. The filter list will become active after you press the button Set filter. If you like to close the word list without establishing a search filter, press the button Cancel.

To deactivate the filter list, either enter a new word into the search field to search for this single word only, or enter an “empty” word by clicking into the search field and pressing the key . In the latter case, you will see all cookies again.

Launch Services

Mac OS X keeps an internal database which lists all applications accessible by your computer. The data is used to display the correct icons for documents, and to keep track which application should be launched when you double-click a document. Under normal circumstances, Mac OS X will constantly update the database in the background. In rare cases, the database might contain invalid information. Typical symptoms are:

Launch Services
Launch Services

In this case you can force Mac OS X to rebuild the database for the current user. Perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Launch Services on the pane User.
  2. Press the button Rebuild database.

This will also reset the security feature which prevents that documents are opened with unknown (potentially dangerous) applications. If you open a document associated with an application which has never been used before, Mac OS X will ask for re-approval to launch the application.

If applications have been put to a folder outside an Applications folder (which is generally not recommended), Mac OS X may forget that they exist, so they may disappear from the Services and the Open with menus. You’ll have to use the Finder to open the folder containing the applications to make the system aware of these programs again.

After rebuilding the database, TinkerTool System asks whether it should restart the Finder. This way you can immediately verify if repair of the database had a positive effect on the Finder.

Dictionaries

Mac OS X contains a system-wide spell checker service supporting the core languages which are part of Mac OS X. The spell checker can be controlled via the menu item Edit > Spelling and Grammar in all applications which use its services. When the spell checker is processing text of a document, the user can add unknown but correct words to her or his personal spell checking dictionary. There can be one dictionary per language and all added words are shared by all applications which use the Mac OS X spell checker.

Some applications come with their own spell checkers. They don’t participate in the mechanism described here.

Spelling dictionaries
Spelling dictionaries

TinkerTool System can give you access to your personal dictionary of words you have added to the system’s spell checker. You can change, add, or remove words if necessary. Perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Dictionaries in the pane User.
  2. Use the pop-up button Language to select the dictionary you like to work with.
  3. Edit a word in the table Learned Words by double-clicking it, or press the button [+] to add a new word, or select one or more words and press the button [—] to remove them.

In addition to the dictionaries for the languages you are using normally, Mac OS X provides another dictionary which is listed by TinkerTool System by the name Automatic Language Selection. This is a multi-lingual dictionary accessed whenever the spell checker is not set to use a fixed language.

Current versions of Mac OS X may have technical problems to inform all open applications that changes have been made to your personal spell checker dictionaries. To ensure that all applications learn the changes you have made to your spell checker word list, log out and log in. You should avoid changing the word list from multiple running applications simultaneously. Some or all of your changes might be ignored.

Repair

Repair “System Preferences”

Some versions of Mac OS X have internal defects which can cause strange effects for the display of icons in the application System Preferences. If you open System Preferences and you are seeing one of the following problems in the overview of preferences panes, you should use the repair feature of TinkerTool System:

If you are affected by one or more of these problems, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Repair in the pane User.
  2. Press the button Repair Now in the section Repair “System Preferences”.

TinkerTool System will guide you through the repair process.

Repair “Help Viewer”

Some versions of Mac OS X have internal defects which can cause the Help Viewer application built into Mac OS X to fail. Help Viewer acts like an invisible application and will be used each time you open an application’s online manual via its menu Help. A floating help window will appear, pretending it would be part of the running application. As a matter of fact, the window is displayed by the Help Viewer application, although the viewer does not appear with a Dock icon or a separate menu bar.

Repair features
Repair features

If you have trouble with the online help window, no matter if you are using Apple or third-party applications, this will usually be caused by defects of the Help Viewer application. Typical symptoms are:

TinkerTool System can temporarily repair Help Viewer, so that it will work for some time. Perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Repair in the pane User.
  2. Press the button Repair Now in the section Repair “Help Viewer”.
Repair Translation of Folders in your Private Home Folder

If your personal preferences for languages are set to use a language different from English, the Finder will show translated names for most system folders and the preconfigured folders in your home folder. For example, the folder Desktop will be displayed as Bureau if French is your preferred primary language.

When you have removed, then recreated some of the preconfigured folders, or if you have upgraded a user account which was created under control of Mac OS X Puma (10.1), this automatic translation feature might not work correctly. To repair this, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Repair in the pane User.
  2. Press the button Repair Now in the section Repair Translation of Folders in your Private Home Folder.

This will only affect folders in your own home folder, not system folders or folders of other user accounts.

Info

The tab item Info can be used to display advanced information about the current user account, not visible in the System Preferences application. Note that the panel is designed for information purposes only. You cannot use it to change any of the data. The following items are listed in addition to the full user name already displayed at the top of the window:

Info
Info