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#785: Hidden Customization, Why Wasn't it Covered?, Lion Tips and Tricks


Happy Tuesday,

Much of Vermont has its first frost behind it already, and mums are starting to replace herbs and more delicate potted flowers everywhere you look. The leaves are just starting to turn, particularly at higher altitudes. I spent some time in the vegetable garden picking the last of the peppers and weeding around the brussels sprouts and other hardier items that just improve as the weather cools further.

Cleanup and reconstruction after Irene continues, and will continue for many months to come. As I mentioned last week, Vermont is open for business, and as always we expect a spectacular foliage season.

Whether you’re traveling through, helping with reconstruction, or just haven’t been to one of our stores lately, we encourage you to come check out the latest and greatest.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Hidden Customization  

There are myriad customization options in Mac OS X—some are in plain sight in System Preferences and elsewhere, while others involve manual editing of plist (property list) files or tricking the system into thinking one file is actually another. One of the most powerful interface tweaks you can make is to the menu bar, and while you can enable menu bar extras through System Preferences and elsewhere, doing so can take some sleuthing.

Mac OS X is built for multiple users. As such, each user has a home folder with that user’s preferences and settings. But there are common resources shared by all users, and these resources are for the most part located in the System and Library folders at the root level of your hard drive. Before I go further, I should note the importance of taking care when modifying anything in either of these folders. One misstep can lead to a completely nonfunctional computer!

The menu bar extras I mentioned before are located at Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras. All you need to do is drag the files in this folder up to where you’d like them to live in the menu bar. Some of the menu bar extras will not “stick” up there because they are not supported on your system. For example, the ExpressCard menu item will not stick if used on a MacBook without an ExpressCard slot. If you use Mac OS X Server 10.5 or 10.6, you can realize power savings with the CPU menu bar item, which allows you to disable and enable processors or processor cores as more or less power is needed.

Another item in the CoreServices folder is the default desktop picture, which is shown at the login window. You can replace this file with another jpeg of equal resolution and name it DefaultDesktop.jpg to change the desktop picture at the login window.

Your mileage may vary on these hints. Whatever you do, make sure you’ve backed up your computer before trying anything.

  Why Wasn't it Covered?  

Apple offers a 1-year warranty on most products, which can be extended to 3 years with the purchase of AppleCare. While Apple strives to ship the highest quality systems available, sometimes electronics fail. Because of this uncertainty, having the AppleCare extended warranty means you don’t have to pay for a costly repair in case your system decides it just doesn’t want to wake up one morning.

One of the more common misconceptions about AppleCare is that it’s an insurance policy. Chain stores like Best Buy occasionally offer their own replacement coverage in case of an accident, but that’s not AppleCare. If you bought a product replacement plan under another store, you would have to go through that store for coverage. AppleCare will cover your system if something on it fails through a defect in the product itself (such as a video chip dying or a hard drive failure). They will not cover your system if it was damaged by some physical trauma (such as being knocked off a table).

One case that comes up occasionally is with DVD drives; they can sometimes stop working through normal use. You insert a disc and either it spits right back out, or it won’t come out at all. Apple will cover this kind of repair under warranty, provided that the drive was not damaged through “misuse or abuse.” An example of a repair that is not covered would be if someone shoved something inside the drive that does not belong there, such as a paperclip or a “value card” from the local supermarket.

Note that there is a difference between “defect” and “damage.” If your display suddenly starts showing odd colors, or doesn’t work at all, that is a defect and is often covered by warranty. If your screen cracks because of a drop, it is considered damage, and you are responsible for the cost of the repair. In all my years as a service tech, I have never seen a laptop screen that just spontaneously broke of its own accord, yet I still get people trying to convince me that they opened up their laptop one morning and it had somehow cracked all by itself. More likely, a roommate or small child was involved.

Another issue that comes up is spill damage. Apple absolutely will not cover a system under warranty if something has been spilled onto it. There is no disputing this—it doesn’t matter that you’ve only owned the system for 2 weeks, or that you paid $1,300 for it, or that it was someone else that did it—Apple’s rule is firm, and as an Apple Specialist, we must follow this rule.

It doesn’t matter who did it, whether it was you, your roommate, a party attendee, your dog, or your kid. If your system was the unfortunate victim of a spilled glass of wine, got left outside in the rain, or caught in a flood, any warranty coverage it had is rendered void. The only way to reinstate your warranty coverage is to send the system to Apple for refurbishing and recertification. It costs a bit of money to do it, but in some cases it’s cheaper than buying a new computer.

So what do you do if your system somehow gets broken or soaked? First off, and most importantly, be honest about what happened. Don’t try to hide it, figuring that we won’t find out if you don’t tell us. You can’t hide a spill—even if you wiped it down with cleaner and there is no indication outside the system, there are sensors inside that will alert a tech that liquid has managed to get inside the case. However, the good news is that in most cases (provided the system wasn’t submerged) the hard drive is unaffected and we can usually retrieve your data from it. If you end up buying a new system from us, we may be able to transfer your data to your new system free of charge.

If your system was damaged or got wet (especially given how much devastation was caused by Irene recently) there may be coverage provided through your home owners’ or renters’ insurance policy. Check with them and find out what they need to file a claim; in most cases we can just do a quote for repair or replacement so you can submit it for reimbursement.

  A Few Lion Tips and Tricks  

Around the office Lion is loved and, well, not-so-loved depending who’s asked. Some features like Natural Scrolling are pretty universally hated, and luckily that feature can be disabled. A better-received feature is Resume. With Resume , you can quit an app, and come back to it later with all windows right where you left them. If you have many Safari windows and limited memory available, you can now quit Safari to free up memory, and re-launch as needed without having to navigate to pages you know you need to view.

Sometimes, though, you’ll have a bunch of windows open but want an App to re-open without all the windows from the last session. Just hold down Option while selecting Quit from the file menu. Quit will change to Quit and Discard Windows.

Lion adds the ability to sign PDFs in Preview. This is immensely useful for me as I often need to sign documents, scan them back in, and email back to the sender. Now, just open Preview, go to Preferences -> Signatures and you can then hold up your signature in front of the iSight or Facetime camera built in to your Mac. This done, you can sign a PDF by selecting the Signatures option under the Annotations toolbar.

Another very useful feature is Sandboxing. It’s transparent to the end user, but it also provides robust protection from malware. Basically each application and each website must run in its own Sandbox, with limited access to system resources. Before, should a compromised application be run with administrator access, it was much easier and more likely for that application to gain access to sensitive information and system resources.

Sandboxing is a big deal. While MacOS X has been largely unaffected by malware, this preemptive step will help keep that record going far into the future. Ars Technica has an excellent article that explains Sandboxing in greater detail.

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