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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

We answer questions about moving data to new user accounts, larger virtual memory allotments, and more.

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

This week people wrote in with questions about the best way to move data from an old user account to a new one, the purpose for the key given to you when you enable FileVault, and how to add new menu extras to the menu bar. Others asked how to manage exceptionally large virtual memory used by programs, and how best to move an OS installation to a new partition. We welcome alternative approaches and views from readers, so if you have any suggestions, post them in the comments!

Question: Managing exceptionally large virtual memory allotment for processes
MacFixIt reader Sassi asks:

I have a solid-state drive (SSD) in my laptop and with that I'm naturally picky with the space I have. If I start my Mac, it shows [the kernel_task process taking up over 7GB of virtual memory], which I think is a little bit over the top, is it not cleaning up the virtual memory at all. Can I delete it manually?

You cannot manually clean up the virtual memory configuration. OS X manages memory on its own and any tampering with this will likely result in instability or slowdowns.

The virtual memory size is not the size of what is used on the disk. Virtual memory includes real RAM and the paged RAM on disk, along with the space that the system recognizes as being available on disk for storing memory information, if needed.

The virtual memory available for my kernel_task process is currently 10.63GB, though it is only using 1.11GB of real RAM. This does not mean it is using 10GB of disk storage. By looking at the Activity Monitor window, the kernel_task process is using only 51.4MB of disk space in its virtual memory allotment (look at the "Virtual Memory" column in Activity Monitor to see this).

Should all processes use their full virtual memory allotment as disk space, then you would run out of storage space very quickly. The overall virtual memory size on my system is currently 381.8GB (you can see this in the "VM Size" reading in the "System Memory" section of Activity Monitor), even though there is only 197GB of space available on the hard drive.

Question: Moving data from an old user account to a new one
MacFixIt reader Trevor asks:

I'm having issues running an application and I learned online that opening up a new user account may resolve the problem. I did that and the application that I was having issues with now runs perfectly in the new user account. Now, I want to move all my data from the administrator account to my new account. Do you have any suggestions how I can do this without too much pain??

The best way to do this is to remove the admin account in the system preferences, and when you do this the system will ask you if you want to delete the home folder or keep it. Choose the option to keep the home folder and you will then be able to open it and read the contents. If not because you don't have access privileges, then you can change ownership of the home directory by getting information on it in the finder, and changing the "Sharing & Permission" section such that your username is at the top of the list. Then give yourself read and write permissions, followed by choosing the option to apply the changes to enclosed items from the little gear menu at the bottom of the window.

Question: The purpose for the code given to you by FileVault
MacFixIt reader Nicolas asks:

I noticed that when I created my FileVault, Lion gives me a secret code (a 24-digit string of letters). What is it for? How can I use it? What happens if my disk gets partially corrupted?

This code is the key used to decipher the encrypted files on the drive. The system secures this key with your password so you only need to supply your password in order to use the FileVault volume. If you ever forget your password, then you can use this key to access your files. Without either, then all the files will be lost, so be sure to store it in a secure location.

Question: Adding menu extras to the menu bar
MacFixIt reader Warren asks:

How do you add menu extras to the menu bar? At the moment, my interest is in adding a dictionary link to my menu bar. Beyond that, I'd like a list of menu extras that are available for adding to the menu bar. I assume that such a list exists, but I haven't yet been able to find it.

Menu Extras are add-ons that a developer can create. Sometimes they are extensions to system settings or settings for running applications (usually available in the system preferences or the application's preferences), or other times are in themselves full applications. Apple does not have a Dictionary menu extra that you can use, and I am not sure whether a third-party one is available. I am only aware of Super OS X Menu Items as a menu extra resource, but it has not been updated for several years and is not very complete by any means.

Question: Cloning an OS X installation to a new drive
MacFixIt reader Andreas asks:

How can I clone the Lion partition to the then new upmost partition? Do you mean copying? Or should I use an application to "clone" the LION partition, perhaps the CarbonCopyCloner?

When copying an operating system installation from one partition to another, use a program like Carbon Copy Cloner. These programs will ensure all the files are properly copied and set up exactly as they are on your current partition. Using the Finder will change permissions and other properties of the files, or miss hidden files that are necessary to run OS X.

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