Chapter 2: The System Folder
Every Macintosh hard drive has one folder that's distinct from all the others-the System Folder, home of the operating system and many other important files. The System Folder is given special treatment by the operating system, by other software applications, and by you as a Mac OS user.
While you can arrange most other files and folders on your hard drive to suit your personal needs, you can change the organization of the System Folder only in certain ways. That's because of the fundamental role that software in the System Folder plays in the operation of your computer. However, the Mac OS hasn't always been organized like it is in Mac OS 9, which is an important concept to keep in mind as you read through this chapter.
In January 1984, when version 1.0 of the system software was released with the Macintosh 128K, the System Folder contained 22 items that consumed only 225K of disk space. Using System 6 on a Mac with a normal assortment of applications and utilities could easily result in a System Folder containing 100 items or more, easily causing the total size of the System Folder to soar above one megabyte. In System 7, you could barely fit just the System and Finder files and an Enabler file on a single 1.44MB floppy disk. A freshly installed System Folder in Mac OS 9 can easily run between 100MB and 150MB in size, and although the PowerPC processor is exponentially faster than the original 68K processor, larger System Folders will almost always result in slower boot-up times and an additional effort towards the care and feeding of your computer. Figure 2.1 shows what the contents of the System Folder looked like in an older version ofthe OS. Note that everything is just heaped together instead of placed into specific folders.
The level of disorganization seen in Figure 2.1 results in a crowded System Folder that's slow to open on the Desktop. Finding what you want in the maze of files is a slow and tedious process.
Although increasing complexity has been partially responsible for the growth of the operating system software, the growing number of nonsystem software files, such as third-party fonts, sounds, Control Panels, Extensions, and System Extensions that reside in the System Folder is a more direct cause. Nonsystem software files place obvious demands on disk space and can also result in chaotic System Folder disorganization and some measure of system instability.
System 7 provided new methods of maintaining System Folder organization, but did little to slow the pace of System Folder growth. It also introduced a few basic ways to avoid the instability caused by the old System Folder organization.
In this chapter, we'll look at the System Folder organization under Mac OS 9 and offer some suggestions to help you effectively manage this important resource.
Exploring the Mac OS 9 System Folder
In Mac OS 9, the System Folder includes a number of predefined subfolders designed to hold a specific type of file. This organizational system, which is created when Mac OS 9 is installed, greatly reduces the potential for clutter (refer back to Figure 2.1 for a food example of clutter). The actual number of items in the System Folder depends on the components chosen for installation and the type of Mac (desktop versus PowerBook, for example). See Appendix C for exactly what options are available for installation. The System Folder includes many subfolders, including the following (depending on which components you install in addition to the OS):
- Apple Menu Items
- Application Support
- ColorSync Profiles
- Contextual Menu Items
- Control Panels
- Control Strip Modules
- Internet Search Sites
- Language & Region Support
- Launcher Items
- Mac OS ROM
- MacTCP DNR
- MS Preference Panels
- Note Pad File
- Power PC Enabler
- PrintMonitor Documents
- Scrapbook File
- Scripting Additions
- Shutdown Items
- Startup Items
- System Resources
- Text Encodings
Once you launch the Extension Manager Control Panel to turn off or on Extensions, Control Panels, or other System Folder items, you'll see the following folders in the System Folder as well:
- Contextual Menu Items (Disabled)
- Control Strip Modules (Disabled)
- Control Panels (Disabled)
- Extensions (Disabled)
- Scripting Additions (Disabled)
- Shutdown Items (Disabled)
- Startup Items (Disabled)
- System Extensions (Disabled)
These folders are created "on the fly" (which is computer-speak for automatically) by the Extensions Manager program; the types of folders that are created depend upon what portions of the Mac OS you disable (turn off). A display of the most basic parts of the Mac OS 9 System Folder is shown in Figure 2.2.
In some ways, the new System Folder is more complex than the old one. Fortunately, as we'll see, Apple has built in an "invisible hand" to help make sure that System Folder files are always located correctly.
Because the new System Folder and subfolders are so important to the operation of your computer, it's important to understand what type of files should be placed in each subfolder. The following section describes the subfolders and provides some basic tips for organizing and using them...