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Why to Do It:

Preferences Files

Basics Preferences files are used mainly to store customized settings. For example, a word processor may include a checkbox to turn smart quotes on or off. Whichever selection you make, the program remembers it even after you have quit the application. It usually does this by storing your choice in the application's preferences file. This way, you do not have to reselect the desired settings each time you relaunch the application or open a new document.

Preferences files typically have names like Word Settings or Excel Preferences and they are usually located in the System Folder. They are usually in a special folder called Preferences. In some cases, preferences files can be stored in the same folder as the application. Or they may be found in the Application Support folder of the System Folder. Usually the program finds its preferences file whether it is with the application or in the System Folder. Not all programs have preference files, but most do.

Many control panels (including those that come with the System Software) also have their own Preferences files. These include, for example, Apple Menu Options Prefs, Sound Preferences, and Display Preferences.

Deleting Preferences files Preferences files are among the most often modified files on your drive. Certainly every time you change a preference setting, the file gets modified. For some programs, the preferences files is updated every time the program is launched. As such, they are especially at risk for becoming "damaged." This damage in turn can lead to a variety of symptoms, including system freezes and crashes. If this happens, the solution is to delete the preferences file. The application then recreates a new default preferences file the next time the program is launched. This probably means that all of your customized settings are lost, but at least you no longer have the symptom that led to your decision to delete the file.

A related issue can occur when you upgrade to a new version of a program. Often, even if you exactly follow the program's upgrade instructions, the previous version's preferences file is not replaced during the upgrade procedure. This can leave you with two preferences files for the same application (often with slightly different names, such as "Excel Settings (4)" and "Excel Settings (8)"). Normally, no harm will come from this. But, to be safe, it is best to delete the old, now unused Preferences file, as soon as you confirm that the updated application is working as expected.

More than just Preferences in the Preferences folder In recent years, the contents of the Preferences folder have expanded to include items that go way beyond ordinary Preferences files. Many applications now even install one or more folders in the Preferences files, each of which contain an assortment of files. Web browsers, such as Netscape Navigator and Communicator, are well-known for doing this. For example, the Netscape f contains Netscape Preferences, Bookmarks.html, Global History, MagicCookie, and several more items, including yet another folder-within-a-folder called Java. Some of these items are automatically recreated the next time you launch the application. Others are not; if you delete these, the only way to get them back is to reinstall them. Also, many applications store a file that contains registration data, needed to even launch an application, in a Preferences folder. This means that you can no longer be so cavalier about trashing preferences files. Certainly, you should never simply trash the entire Preferences folder. Some files are recommended to delete when trouble strikes. Others are not. For example, deleting the Java folder would be a bad idea. It will result in Netscape browsers no longer being able to run Java applets. On the other hand, deleting the Global History file is known to solve cases where Netscape is loading pages particularly slowly.

Instead of simply deleting your entire Preferences folder, your best bet is to try to determine what, if any, Preferences file is causing a problem and then delete that specific file. If you are uncertain of what can or cannot be deleted, check your software's manuals or ask for outside help.

Shifting System Folders One other preference file related oddity may occur: if you start up your Mac with a different System Folder and/or startup drive (such as a second hard drive) than the one you typically use, you will shift to the Preferences files in that System Folder. This means that you are likely to lose any custom settings you may have made. If this becomes a common problem, you will likely want to copy over your custom preference files to each System Folder you use. Of course, if you are starting up from a CD-ROM drive, you won't be able to do this, as you cannot write to a CD-ROM disc.

There is one unusual exception here: Netscape browsers use the Preferences file in the System Folder that was assigned when the application was installed, even if you shift System Folders.

Figure F2-1. A peek inside a Preferences folder. There are 485 Preferences files and folders within (and some of the folders have dozens of additional files within). In this peek, just about all you see are Preferences files related to Adobe software



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