7 Ways to Explore OS X’s Nether Regions

Once upon a time all of us were Mac newbies. How did we get to know so much about OS X? Sure, reading is fun but for me – I learned all about OS 9 and OS X through exploring. Apple doesn’t make it obvious but they do create some great tools and tricks to allow you access into OS X’s nether regions where you can explore (and break..) your Mac. Here are seven great ways to get a Mac newbie learning all about OS X.

Warning: Proceed at your own risk. Be prepared to re-install OS X if you mess anything up and make sure you have a current backup!

1. Console:

Console is OS X’s log viewer. Almost everything that goes on in your system is logged. In Console, you can view these logs as well as current OS X activity. Peer into the past and read your crashlogs, see if something isn’t right with OS X. Console is also a great way for the pros to see why something isn’t working right. With 10.5, Console received a makeover and it’s much easier to read. You can find Console in your Utilities folder.

2. Go To Folder:

Click on the Finder’s “Go” menu bar option and choose “Go To Folder..”. It’s a nice way to quickly get around OS X without having to run through menus. What you may not know, is it’s also the key to getting at OS X’s UNIX infrastructure. Open the Go To Folder prompt and choose the following folders:
/var
/private
/usr
/tmp

To look at the files, open them with TextEdit.

Note: Some of these files will be inaccessible to you because they are owned by the system (root). To see them, you’ll need to enable and log in as root. – Be careful when doing this and disable root when you’re done.

3. Terminal:

Terminal is OS X’s command line interface. It’s where you can control OS X via it’s UNIX heritage. To learn how each command works, type help for a list of commands and type in the word “man” before any commands or applications to read that command’s documentation. Terminal is extremely powerful and learning how to use it is a great skill to have.

4. System Profiler:

System Profiler will give you tons of information about the hardware installed inside your Mac. Access it either via the Utilities folder or click the Apple in the upper left corner and choose “About this Mac”. When the box pops up, choose “More info…”

5. Property List Editor:

Property List Editor is an extra install from Apple. Property List, or .plist, files are preferences files for everything OS X does. Applications, System Preferences, Behaviors and settings are located within these .plist files. If you’ve ever tried to open one up in Text Edit, it’s nothing but gibberish. Property List Editor will open and allow you to edit files with the extension .plist.

6. Show Package Contents:

Another little secret about OS X is that many things that seem to be one file in reality are just hidden directories. Applications, iMovie projects, iPhoto libraries, New Keynote presentations, Installer files and more are some examples. You can peer into these files by Control-Clicking (Right Clicking) on them and choosing “Show Package Contents”. Be careful, if you mess with anything inside, it could mess up the App (or project).

7. Show Hidden Files:

OS X is filled with hidden files that you can’t readily see via the Finder. These files hold lots of information and are accessible by the system but because they begin with a . , they are hidden from view. To see them, open up the Terminal and type the following:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
killall Finder

Note: To turn it off, replace TRUE with FALSE and type the two commands again.

Now, before you go running off and ruining your system – Be forewarned. Have a current backup and your OS X Install DVD handy. You are treading at your own risk. However the reward of exploring OS X’s insides is the knowledge you’ll learn about how it operates.

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