Help Me Try Out a Help File Recipe
I've got an unusual request here today--I'm inviting you to tell me if this Help File idea is worth taking into print or too esoteric for bother with.
The topic in question covers those Mac programs that require you to run an installer. That's not the usual state of affairs in OS X, in which you can normally just drag a single file to your Applications folder (something I've applauded before). I've always wondered what these installers are doing behind the scenes.
A while back, I read a post on Mac programmmer John Gruber's blog about the installer for Google Desktop for the Mac; the posting noted that Apple's regular installer program lets you see what it will do beforehand if you select "Show Files" from its File menu.
A-ha, I thought--this would be a great tip to
steal share with my readers. But when I've used Show Files with a few programs' installers, I've been treated to a painfully long list of files cited in a syntax that would only be familiar to Unix users.
For example, the installer for the Flip4Mac QuickTime plug-in reveals that it will add files to "./Applications" and "./Library." But you have to know that the "./" prefix means something at the root level of your Mac--i.e., folders that you'll see after double-clicking the Mac's hard-drive icon. You also have to know that the Applications and Library folders are both normal spots for a program to deposit its component files.
So I e-mailed Gruber and asked what sort of advice he'd give to a Mac user in interpreting these lists. His reply:
I would say, as a very basic rule of thumb, that nothing should ever go in the /System/Library folder, other than /System/Library/Extensions, which is the only location where kernel extensions may exist. But, in general, one should be wary of kernel extensions. I don't recall having installed one in many years.
I'm also always skeptical about any software that installed Input Manager extensions [in the /Library/InputManagers/ folder]. It's not a sign of bad design, necessarily, but it's the sort of thing where if you install more than one, you might start running into conflicts down the road.
But Gruber also expressed skepticism that it would be possible to provide a simple, clip-and-save type of list.
Here's where you can come in: If you've got a Mac running OS X, try using the Show Files command the next time you add a program that uses Apple's installer (the one listing six steps in the left side of its window, from "Introduction" to "Finish Up"). Take a look at that list--or just try typing "System" and "Extension" into the search form at the top, then clicking the gray triangle icons remaining below to see what matches those queries--and tell me if the advice here helps.
If enough of y'all say you now feel better able to assess a new installation, I can write up something for Help File. But if the prevailing response is "huh?", I'll have to wait for Apple to revise its installer so it provides clearer guidance.
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