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Loss of settings in Mac OS X 10.3.x

Loss of settings in Mac OS X 10.3.x

Today we continue our investigation of a problem where Mac OS X 10.3.x appears to "forget" certain settings during the boot process - on seemingly random occasions.

Settings that are lost Based on the reader reports we have received so far, some of the most common "forgotten" settings include:

  • Desktop icons lose position
  • Individual applications lose preferences Applications that lose preferences (stored as .plist files in the ~/Library/Preferences folder) include Mail.app. Steven Gold writes "Apple Mail loses the 'View' settings: column widths keep changing as do which columns are displayed and their location. Seems to occur randomly after booting or even wake-from-sleep." A handful of other readers report similar behavior.
  • User listings Jonathan Kurtzman writes "My iMac loses login name list half the time and the name menu in upper right reads 'Unknown.'"
  • Finder view settings Christopher Boffoli along with a handful of other readers report that the "View" settings (icon, list, etc.) for FInder windows are lost upon restart or logging out and back in: "I am running 10.3.2 on a 15" aluminum Powerbook and have had similar experiences, though not as severe. Everytime I restart, my windows revert to "icon" views as opposed to the "list" views that I prefer. The only problem that I have noticed is that the view option settings for windows often revert to default. I don't see any pattern as to when it happens."
  • Browser bookmarks
  • Appearance settings Appearance settings, such as desktop pictures, can be lost. Brad Bradshaw writes "I've got a 400MHz G3 with 768MB SDRAM, and occasionally when I start her up, the desktop reverts to a standard configuration, and not the pictures file I had set. This appears to be the only thing though, all my other settings stay as per my set up.
  • Personal file sharing Several readers corroborate loss of the "Personal file sharing On" setting. One reader writes: "My G5 will lose one specific setting about every third or fourth startup. It will turn off the 'personal file sharing' feature and unlock the page. I've also had several occasions where changed preferences were not written to the .plist file upon closing the page. DD Several other readers report this behavior, including Rick Alexander who writes "On reboot or re-logging in, Panther 10.3.2 unchecks Personal File Sharing on my iBook 14" dual-usb and my iMac indigo 450 MHz."

    MacFIxIt reader EJ reports that Remote Login capabilities are sometimes also disabled after restart, when they were enabled prior: "I have often observed that sharing settings are lost at startup in Panther, specifically, remote login and personal file sharing sometimes are disabled even though they were enabled before restarting."

  • Startup Items Seth Elgart writes "I lost all my startup items this morning, and it's happened before a time or two. I'll start up my Mac, which boots normally, but none of my startup items will launch. I'll then go to System Prefs/Accounts/Startup Items and there won't be anything in the list. Once I add all my usual items back in and reboot the machine will behave normally. It's happened at least twice now, maybe three time."
  • Startup disk Wrong startup disk Bob Berry writes "After starting up, my Mac will sometimes switch to a different startup disk. (I have three; one for OS9, one for Jaguar and one for Panther.) To get back to my Panther drive, I will restart with the option key held down, choose my start up drive and continue the startup process. Then I will open the system preferences pane and select my startup drive. Then I will depress the 'lock' so it will go from the unlocked state to a locked state. Panther doesn't seem to remember that I've locked this preference in place because it happens again."

Possible causes

Low disk space? One of the most common factors in virtually all types of setting loss is low available disk space - a problematic situation under Mac OS X.

So how low can you go? Previously we've recommended reserving as much as 20 percent of your available hard disk space to avoid problems, though most users will find 10 to 15 percent is sufficient. One user writes that the problem generally happens when he falls below 650 MB on a 30 GB volume:

"I have had this happen to me when hard disk space gets below 650MB under Jaguar. It has happened to me two times before upgrading to Panther. It has not happened since but I have been extremely cautious with disk space since then. I have a G4 Powerbook, 500Mhz, 1GB ram, 30GB HD."

Bruce Stevens used the freeware application "Memory Stick" to monitor pageouts (when Mac OS X swaps data in RAM to the hard drive), with some interesting findings "I?ve experienced much milder but similar problems where I lose settings during startup.  It seems random as to the effect and I?ve only narrowed it down slightly to a possible cause.

"My desktop icons lose their position, and random applications lose their preferences or settings, though I?ve never lost any bookmarks (knock on wood).  

"I use 'Memory Stick' to monitor pageouts, and I often have to reboot when my startup disk becomes full because of pageouts and Photoshop and Illustrator cache files.  I have found more of the above-mentioned setting losses after a reboot when I have 5 or 6 pageouts and after I?ve gotten the message ?your startup disk is almost full.?

Some additional reader reports echoing the low disk trigger:

Geoff Cleary: "We too here at the University of the Pacific have experienced this phenomenon a few times with our G4 Cube (500 MHz, 512 MB RAM, 30 GB HD). Each time, the settings were lost right after running out of room on our hard disk. The drive had filled up due to large amounts of memory being paged to disk, a warning would come onscreen notifying us of the lack of hard drive space, and after restarting the computer all our settings were lost.

Edward Covelli: "I've seen OS X lose settings just like described when the HD space runs too low."

Bad application installations Problems during installation of some applications seem to wreak havoc on various settings: Jose Marinez writes "The first time I had a similar problem was when FileVault was introduced as a feature of Panther. Apple fixed that issue shortly after the introduction of Panther with a software update. Last week I had the problem after I tried to install the beta version of iChat AV 2.1. I made a mistake and didn't read the install instructions and tried to install the beta version while the original was running. When I noticed that iChat AV 2.1 was not starting correctly I proceeded to restart the machine a couple of times. The last time I rebooted the machine the settings were lost (Safari, mouse, expose settings, dock, calendar, etc.)."

Evan London reports that the problem consistently crops up after installing an Apple-distributed Mac OS X security update: "I keep having to renew some of my logins to websites I have had no trouble with. It wasn't in Panther but Jaguar 10.2.8 and it has happened on three different computers---always after a Security Update (believe the culprit was the last 12/03 Update that did it). It is extraordinarily frustrating to have to re-do all settings, re-add icons to the Dock, etc."

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