Tutorial: Common workaround -- create a new user account

Tutorial: Common workaround -- create a new user account


One of the most consistently successful workarounds for eliminating a broad group of problems under Mac OS X is the creation of a fresh user account.

The problems that can necessitate creation of a new user account are many, but usually involve corruption or some other conflict caused by a file in the User Library folder (~/Library) -- particularly a problematic .plist file, font, or kernel extension.

Creating a new account is easy enough -- simply open the "Accounts" pane of System Preferences, click the padlock and enter your administrator password, then press the " " (plus) button to create the new user. You'll probably want to check the box for "Allow this user to administer this computer" at first, then uncheck it when you've made the necessary changes (Using a non-administrator account for day-to-day tasks is recommended for security purposes).

Next you will want to delete the old, corrupt user account while retaining the data that you would like to transfer into the new, working account.

Login to your new administrator account using the password you specified, and again go to the "Accounts" pane of System Preferences. This time, select the old account and click the "-" (minus) sign at the bottom. Click the "OK" button (do not click "Delete Immediately).

The old user account will be deleted, and all of the information, documents, and preferences for that user will be stored in a disk image (.dmg) file -- located in the "Deleted Users" folder of the Users directory (/Users/Deleted Users/). Mount this disk image, and begin the somewhat tricky process of transferring your personal preferences and data into the new user directory.

Here are a list of places you will want to check for files to move. As we note below, you may not want to transfer one or more of these folders if the problem you were experiencing is specific to the associated application. For instance, don't move the Keychains folder if you were having a problem with passwords before creating the new user account. In fact, you may want to move these folders one at a time, then logout and back into your account to check for persistence of your prior problem -- a tedious but worthwhile process.

  • "Documents" -- You can safely move pretty much anything in this folder to your new user directory without worry of causing the same problems that affected the old account, except for items that are used by some third-party applications and may be corrupt (Microsoft Office User folders, for instance).
  • ~/Music/iTunes -- This is where all of the old user's music is stored. Unless you were having a problem with iTunes that you think might be caused by a corrupt music or other media file, you can copy the entire folder to the new user account.
  • ~/Pictures/iPhoto Library -- These are all of the old user's photos. Again, unless you were having a specific issue with iPhoto, you can safely transfer this entire folder to the same location in the new user account.
  • ~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook -- All of your Address Book contacts. A problematic contact can cause issues with Mail.app, iCal and the Address Book application, so check for problems after copying this folder.
  • ~/Library/Keychains -- All of your passwords. Transfer the whole folder unless you were having an issue with passwords before the transfer.
  • ~/Library/Mail -- If you regularly use Mail.app, you will need to transfer this entire folder in order to retain download mail data
  • ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.mail.plist -- Again, if you use Mail.app, transfer this file which contains all mail account settings and other preferences. Be careful though -- if you were having a problem with Mail.app before the transfer, this file may be corrupt.

Scour your ~/Library/ folder for any other Application Support or other files that you need to transfer, but remember to check for persistence of the problem after re-adding each item.

Problems logging into the new account In some cases, you may have issues with booting into your new account. The solution in many cases is to startup from your retail Mac OS X 10.4.x Tiger DVD (hold the "c" key at startup while the disc is inserted) and use the "Reset Password" utility to set the password on the newly created account.

Examples of problems that can be resolved by creation of a new user account Here are a few recent examples of instances where the creation of a fresh user account resulted in resolution of a given issue.

iDVD 6.0 gets stuck at the "Loading Themes" phase -- seems to be a problem with theme corruption on the current account

Slow login process -- after entry of the user login and password, an inordinate amount of time passes before the appropriate user desktop appears.

Alternative to creating a new user account As a less intrusive alternative to creating a new user account, you can go through the tedious process of checking the User Library folder for potentially problem-causing files.

The process is as follows:

  • Move your User library folder (~/Library) to a different location, such as the Desktop
  • Log out of your account, then log back in. A new user library folder without any customization you may have performed will be created.
  • Perform the task that was previously causing issues (e.g. launching an application, etc.), which should now work as expected.
  • Move a few folders from the old user Library folder (on your Desktop, or wherever you placed it) back into the new Library folder.
  • Again, log out and back in.
  • Perform the task that was previously causing issues and check for persistence of the issue.
  • Repeat steps 4-6 until the problem returns. At this point you will have narrowed down the potential culprits. When a batch of folders causes the problem to return, examine the just re-added folders for user added elements that could be causing the issue, and eliminate them.
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