Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

Readers ask about using Windows on an external drive in Boot Camp, and more.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions e-mailed by our readers.

This week, readers wrote in with questions about whether it is possible to install Windows on an external hard drive for use in Boot Camp, how to set up Time Machine to back up home folders stored on secondary drives, and how to disable the yellow tooltip popups that appear over URL links in many OS X applications. I welcome contributions from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: Using Windows 7 on external drives in Boot Camp
MacFixIt reader Anthony asks:

Can I install and run Windows 7 from my Mac Book Pro 15" 2012 with an external hard drive? If I can, how is this possible?

Unfortunately Windows 7 has some restrictions that prevent this from happening. Windows 7 apparently requires installation on a fixed internal disk, so even cloning an installation to an external drive will result in a failed boot. Some folks have been able to hack their USB drives to prevent them from being identified as removable, and while this has yielded partial success, it may lead to stability problems.

Question: How to set Time Machine to back up home folders on secondary drives?
MacFixIt reader Mitchell asks:

I am thinking of [moving my home folder to another drive]; however, I would like to know how would Time Machine treat this setup. Will it back up the user data on the second drive attached as a single volume, or back up only the boot drive (OS X)?

Time Machine by default will only back up the boot drive and any internal hard drives and volumes, but it can be instructed to back up any attached drive as well. Just be sure to include the second drive in the Time Machine backups by removing it from the "Exclude" list in the Time Machine preferences, and it should back up all your user data accordingly, keeping it on a per-volume basis within each Time Machine backup instance. For example, if you have a boot drive called Macintosh HD and a secondary drive called Data, then the latest backup path will have two folders in it that each represent the attached drives.

Question: How to disable tooltip popups in OS X
MacFixIt reader Tim asks:

Can I turn off the yellow popup messages that appear over URL links in many programs? These are really annoying!

To do this for all applications, open Terminal and run the following command:

defaults write -g NSInitialToolTipDelay -int 60000

This will delay the tooltip from showing for a minute (the value is the delay in milliseconds). Alternatively you can do this on a per-application basis, such as the following for Safari:

defaults write com.apple.Safari NSInitialToolTipDelay -int 60000

To apply this to other programs individually, reuse the second command above, but change "com.apple.Safari" to the domain for the target program. One way this can be looked up by going to the Preferences folder for your user account and look at the names of the preference files. Then use the name of the one for your target application, minus the ".plist" suffix in the file name. When finished, log out of and back into your user account.

Questions? Comments? Have a fix? Post them below or e-mail us!
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