Snow Leopard Cheat-sheet

August 31, 2009

SnowLeopardLast Friday, Apple released OS X 10.6, “Snow Leopard” to the general public. There’s been quite a bit of excitement building around it’s release, although unlike the media & PR hype surrounding the release of Leopard, this time around the buzz seems a little more organic, building more through blogs, consultants, techs, & users instead of corporate PR departments.

While I haven’t yet done extensive testing of Snow Leopard’s newest features & enhancements (I spent the days following it’s release in the mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park), I did make some time to put together a quick ‘cheat-sheet’ of key features, enhancements, & system requirements for the new OS. Be sure to stay-tuned, however. There’s sure to be more Snow Leopard posts to follow…

Snow Leopard Cheat-Sheet

$35 Upgrades!!!:

Thats correct. Apple is offering a $35 (US$30) upgrade disc for users who have OS 10.5 (Leopard). What Apple has not announced is that this upgrade disc will also upgrade your OS X 10.4 (Tiger) systems as well!  Thank you Apple for the cheapest OS upgrade in history…

Snow Leopard System Requirements:

  • Intel processor with 1GB of memory
  • 5GB of free hard drive space
  • DVD drive (for installation)

Key Features:

  • Speed – the first thing everyone is noticing is how much of a performance boost Snow Leopard is over pervious versions of the OS
  • Mail – support for Microsoft Exchange!!!
  • Cisco VPN support – Finally!!!
  • Ejecting volumes – no more “unable to unmount <NAME> because the disk is in use” errors
  • Customizable spotlight searching
  • Automatic print driver updates – boring but practical!
  • HFS+ read support for Boot Camp – access your OS X files while booted to Windows

apple-mail-iconI recently started experiencing an issue with Apple’s Mail application – every time I would select an email with an attachment, Mail would freeze for a few seconds before shutting down with the standard “unexpected quit” error dialog. I originally suspected corrupt emails, thinking back to issues with corrupt emails crashing Entourage if the Preview pane was enabled. Except that this time Mail would crash on EVERY email with an attachment – & there was no way that every email coming in was getting corrupted.

I cleared caches, rebuilt the mail index, removed Mail’s plist, even repaired permissions – all for nothing.

I finally stumbled onto a thread on the Apple Discussions forum suggesting that Mail might not be the correct version for the OS that I was running (10.5.7) & that the 10.5.7 combo updater should be re-installed.

Sure enough, here’s the version I was running when Mail was crashing:


And here’s the version that SHOULD be running under 10.5.7:

Mailv3.6How does this happen?

I had recently performed an archive & install on my laptop & being my overly cautious self, I hadn’t deleted the old System files (the Previous System folder). Turns out that when I ran the 10.5.7 combo updater after doing the archive & install, the combo updater actually updated the files in the previous System folder, not the newly installed System files!!!

The fix? Move the Previous System folder to the trash & re-run the 10.5.7 combo updater. Suddenly Mail is v3.6 & everything runs flawlessly again!

Thanks to Ernie Stamper on the Apple Discussions board for identifying this deceptive (& peculiar) bug!

wgmCreating network home folders for users in Open Directory is typically a fairly painless task using OS X Server. What can be a little more painful is trying to figure out how to create a clean, locally cached home folder on a client workstation. The only obvious options for home folders in Workgroup Manager are None & the creation of an AFP or NFS share that’s stored on the server.

While leaving the settings in WGM set to None does result in the home folder getting cached on the local machine, it’s a less than perfect solution. For starters, the profiles get cached in the root of the drive, under a directory labelled 99. Plus the home folders it creates doesn’t have the usual directory structure – they only contain a Desktop and a Library folder. Not quite what we’re looking for. Ideally, the home folder would get created in the /Users directory, using the standard home folder template just like a local machine account is.

The fix to this is to make sure the NFSHomeFolder attribute is set for all your network accounts. That’s what happens when you select an AFP or NFS share – the path to the network share is written to the NFSHomeFolder attribute in the LDAP directory. When you leave the home folder setting at None, the default value is assigned to NFSHomeFolder – a value which happens to be 99 (hence the 99 directory that appears in the root directory on client machines whenever a user without a specified home folder logs in).

Set Network Account Home Folders to the Local Users Directory (/Users):

  1. Launch WGM & login to your Open Directory server
  2. If the Inspector tab in WGM isn’t visible, enable it in the Preferences
    1. Check the box next to “Show ‘All Records’ tab and inspector
  3. Select a network user account & click the Inspector tab
  4. Locate the NFSHomeDirectory attribute – it should read 99 – & change this value to ‘/Users/username‘ where username is the shortname of the user.
  5. Save your changes.

WWDC 2009 Keynote Video

June 10, 2009

WWDC2009_KeynoteApple recently posted a QuickTime video stream of their keynote address from WWDC 2009. Highlights of this years address included the iPhone 3G S, iPhone OS v3.0 (hello, MMS!), an official announcement for the fall release of OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (with a US$29 upgrade!), Safari v4.0, (download it here!), and laptop upgrades & price cuts.

Click here to watch the full 2 hour video of the WWDC 2009 keynote address.


I recently had a drive fail in a client’s RAID setup. 3 mirrored drives in a software RAID0 (mirrored) configuration. No big deal, you say! In a 3 drive configuration like that, you can swap the faulty drive without even losing any redundancy! Simple!


Physically replacing the drive went as planned, dead easy. But the rebuild failed contiuously. It should take hours (they were terabyte drives) but instead would stop after a few minutes, showing the replacement drive status as “Failed”. RAID Status obviously remained “Degraded”.

A bit of digging around on the web turned up this Apple knowledgebase article on rebuilding software RAID mirrors, which pointed out two VERY usefully pieces of information:

  1. You should use the command-line diskutil for rebuilding a RAID. Sometimes Disk Utility will be unable to successfully
    rebuild a degraded RAID mirror.

    • (Not an issue, this is standard practice anyways.)
  2. You should not rebuild the rebuild a mirror while it is the boot volume. Rebuilding a RAID Mirror will sometimes fail if it is the boot volume.
    • (Major issue, as it defeats much of the benefits of running a RAID in the first place! Sure, the data is safe – VERY important – but now I have to take a mail server offline for 12hours while the RAID rebuilds?!?!?)

The successful rebuild of the mirror involved both the above steps. The mail server was booted to an external drive and diskutil was used to rebuild the mirror. Before doing anything, however, I created a backup image file of the server (just to be safe…). The server was offline for approximately 12 hours, but it might have needed less – once I was confident that the rebuild was progressing successfully, I tried to enjoy the rest of my Saturday.

The moral of this story is obviously that software RAID solutions are in no way a substitute of hardware solutions. If you need guaranteed uptime, you need to invest – but we all knew that already… right?

For more information on rebuilding a software RAID in OS X, read Apple’s knowledge base article: How to rebuild a software RAID mirror.

remote_desktop_128Using kickstart to activate ARD is something that I do all of the time, yet I can never seem to remember the syntax. I figure I can’t be the only one in this situation (plus this post should save repetetive googling…) so I thought I would post it up where it’s easily accessible. The following commands work with ARD v2 & later. For earlier versions of ARD, see this knowledge base article.

You need SSH access to the computer you would like to enable ARD on (obviously) & you need to login as root or run the command with sudo. Services are started using the kickstart utility, located here:

/System/Library/CoreServices/RemoteManagement/ /Resources/kickstart

To activate Remote Desktop Sharing, enable access privileges for the user “admin” with full privileges and restart the ARD Agent:

$ sudo /System/Library/CoreServices/RemoteManagement/ /Resources/kickstart -activate -access -on -users admin -privs -all -restart -agent

Deactivate Remote Desktop Sharing:

$ sudo /System/Library/CoreServices/RemoteManagement/ /Resources/kickstart -configure -access -off

To additional examples and more detail, see the complete knowledge base article.

beachballWe’ve all seen & experienced the frustration of OS X’s rainbow-coloured beach ball (frequently referred to as the Spinning Beach Ball). Applications stop responding & sometimes the entire system seems to grind to a halt once the cursor has changed into that seemingly cheery multi-coloured ball.

Despite the friendly colours, there’s really nothing pleasant about the appearance of this particular icon, & the frustration of losing control of your applications (or entire computer) is compounded by the fact that it’s never really clear just exactly what is going on & why things are locking up in the first place.

Unfortunately, there’s no single solution to this particular issue. The beach ball can be a symptom of any number of issues & the possible solutions are as varied as the symptoms. So what is happening that causes the ball to appear? & how can we minimize its occurance?

What can cause the Spinning Beach Ball

Basically, the cursor will change from the regular pointer into the multi-coloured ball any time that the processor (CPU) finds itself waiting for a response, whether from the operating system, an application or a piece of hardware. The changing cursor is meant to inform users that the CPU is stuck waiting for a response from somewhere & cannot continue until it receives one. (Please note, this is a very basic breakdown of the issue, & not at all a proper technical description!!!)

There are a number of potential causes for this system ‘hang’ & the solutions vary, depending on the cause although they can be broken down into 3 basic categories: hardware, operating system, & application. Follow the links below for more information…

Hardware Causes (coming soon…)

Network Causes (coming soon…)

Application Causes (coming soon…)

MCX Lessons from Macworld

January 20, 2009

wgmManaging OS X, Greg Neagle’s OS X sysadmin blog, has a great PDF of slides from Greg’s Macworld presentation on MCX & managed preferences in OS X. If you’re involved in client management in any way on OS X, you should probably take a minute to check this out.

You can download the PDF direct from his blog here.

keychainThe Keychain Access utility in OS X is possibly one of the most helpful & most underrated applications in OS X. No one likes trying to remember passwords, much less having to type them in every time we visit a website or check our email. And thanks to Keychain Access, we don’t have to.

But what happens when you realize that you need to access that website from another computer, or someone else needs access to your wireless network but it’s been nearly a year & you have no idea what the password is anymore?

Here’s where Keychain Access comes to the rescue again. To dig up that long-forgotten password follow these four quick steps:

1. Open Keychain Access (located in /Applications/Utilities), and click Show Keychains if the keychain list is hidden.
2. Select your keychain from the list in the left-hand pane
3. Locate the entry associated with the password you need to recover & double-click it to open the Attributes pane.
4. Check the “Show Password” button & enter your password when requested.


compresspdfworkflowOS X 10.5 does not exhibit the “Compress PDF” workflow on the Print dialog that used to appear in OS X 10.4. This has caused more than a little confusion and headache trying to get documents down to an appropriate size for emailing, etc.

The feature’s not lost, however. Apple (in their wisdom) has just decided to move the process into the Preview application. Here are the steps for compressing a PDF, as listed in Preview’s Help documentation:

To compress a PDF file:

Step 1

Open Preview, in your Applications folder.

Step 2

Choose File > Open, select the PDF file to compress, and then click Open.

Step 3

Choose File > Save As, choose Reduce File Size from the Quartz Filter pop-up menu, and choose a name and location for the new PDF file.

Step 4

Click Save.

Quite a few steps more than before, I know. Check out Part 2 for a return to 10.4-style PDF compression.