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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

How do you deal with a Mac that's constantly booting to Safe mode? This and other Mac-related questions answered.

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

This week people wrote in with questions about a Mac continuously booting to Safe Mode, an apparent missing option to ignore ownership on an external volume, where and how to look up Mac model information, and ways to prevent OS X from reopening programs and windows at startup. We welcome alternative approaches and views from readers, so if you have any suggestions then post them in the comments!

Question: Mac continuously booting to Safe Mode
MacFixIt reader Andreas asks:

My iMac (late 2009 27", 2.66GHz, i5 Quad Core) booted in safe mode without me holding the shift key. Yesterday evening it was the third time. My iMac is at home, so it normally booted automatically as admin since there will be no one else using my computer. And now it started in safe mode....After seeing the spinning "thing" (wheel?) and a progress bar a grey screen with linen structure came up and I had to put in my name and password. Then, after some seconds, the normal desktop appeared, with significantly bad video performance, which is normal in safe mode, as I read in Apple support. Can you please explain, in which cases an iMac starts in safe mode from its own? A restart works normally then.

When you boot to Safe Mode, holding the Shift key in fact just sets a firmware variable that is passed to the operating system as it loads. This variable can be set in other ways; for example, you can use Terminal commands to store it in the firmware to force the system to always boot to Safe Mode. Also, corruption in firmware settings might inadvertently pass the command to the OS to boot to Safe Mode. In your case it sounds like corruption might be the problem, so try clearing these firmware variables by resetting the PRAM on your system. To do this, restart the system and immediately hold down the Option-Command-P-R keys all at the same time. Hold them until the system automatically resets (when it does, the boot chime volume might be at a different volume), and then release the keys and allow the system to boot normally.

Question: No option to ignore ownership on a volume
MacFixIt reader Bill asks:

I am on 10.7.3. When I "get info" on an attached drive (wireless through my Apple Extreme), I don't get the option to "Ignore Ownership on this Volume." Do you think this is because it is wireless?

In order to have control over the permissions on a volume, the filesystem needs to be a locally attached volume. In your case, the disk is a networked volume that is managed by a server device (your Apple Extreme). When you connect to this disk, you are essentially providing credentials to the AirPort Extreme, which in turn allows you to use the volume under its configured limitations. The Mac OS ultimately has to abide by the Extreme's rules, instead of having full access to the device. This is the case with all NAS (network-attached storage) devices.

Question: Where to look up Mac model information
MacFixIt reader Russ asks:

[With regard to your article on Mountain Lion's system requirements,] I looked and my Mac Pro is model 1,1. I didn't see where your article translates that to "Mac Pro (early 2008 or later)," so how is knowing the model no. helpful?

Following that article I wrote one on how to identify the time frame for your computer model.

In this case, your Mac Pro being model 1,1 was the first one released, built in 2006, and because it has 32-bit firmware it only supports a 32-bit kernel and therefore will not load the 64-bit kernel in Mountain Lion. Technically this should be possible, but Apple has imposed this limitation. It is a bit unfortunate because besides this detail the rest of these systems should run Mountain Lion perfectly fine, and Apple is not likely to release a 64-bit version of the EFI firmware for these systems.

Question: Options for preventing OS X from reopening applications and windows at startup
MacFixIt reader Alekos asks:

I just switched to Lion. When I open any application, all documents that were open from the last session open automatically (i.e. all windows in Safari, preview or Word). The only solution I found is to Command+W to all open documents before quit. Is there any other solution to this?

When you quit an application, you can use Option-Command-Q to close all windows and prevent them from opening again. Alternatively you can go to the General section of the System Preferences and uncheck the option to "Restore windows when quitting and reopening apps."

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