Mac OS X Administration

Once you have configured Mac OS X to create the optimum environment for Final Cut Pro, the next step is to equip yourself with some tools and techniques to help you maintain the peak performance of your system. In this part of the lesson, you'll learn how to work with user accounts, manage software updates, control permissions, perform routine maintenance tasks, and administrate processes to keep Mac OS X optimized for FCP.

Understanding User Accounts

Mac OS X is a true multiuser environment built around an established Unix file system and permissions model. To understand what this means, it's important to recognize that there's a difference between Mac userspeople who use Macintosh computersand Mac OS X accountssymbolic profiles that are a core feature of every Unix system.

Mac users work with their computers every day to perform a wide range of tasksfrom email and Web surfing, video and sound production, to enterprise server management and advanced high-performance computingbut for each task the core system remains fundamentally the same. Each of these users will log in to their Macs using a specific type of Mac OS X account, which will define their relationship and access to the system and files.

Defining Mac OS X Accounts

There are several types of built-in Unix accounts. Most of them work unobtrusively behind the scenes to support the system. There are three accounts that are usually associated with human users, which you can work with to control user operations and manage access to different files.

  • Normal (Non-admin)Users of normal accounts are able to work with applications, modify personal preferences, and perform general day-to-day tasks. They do not have access to administration tools and are not permitted to make changes to the system configuration. Normal users own individual Home directories, which they alone have access to, and which contains all their files and preferences.

    Mac OS X identifies three levels of normal user, Standard, Managed, and Simplified, which are defined by varying levels of access to applications and system controls.

  • Administrator (Admin)The first account created by Mac OS X Setup Assistant is an administrator user. Administrators are able to create and define other user accounts; configure system-wide settings; access administration utilities such as NetInfo Manager; and install applications or resources that can be accessed by every user on a system.

  • System Administrator (Superuser or root)The System Administrator is a unique account that has access to every configuration setting, preference, and file, including all the hidden system files. The System Administrator account is disabled in Mac OS X by default to help protect the system. You can activate it with NetInfo Manager or the command line, but use it judiciously, to perform only specialized administrative tasks.


    One way to protect the overall integrity of your system is to also restrict the time you use a general admin account. By logging in as a standard user, you'll be prevented from making system-level changes.

    More Info

    By default, Mac OS X installs five standard Unix system accounts: daemon, nobody, root, unknown, and www. Refer to the Apple Developer Web site for further explanation:

Account Management

Normal users can access the Accounts pane of system preferences only to modify their own account information, whereas admin users are able to change options for every user and can create or delete accounts. Standard account preferences include Password, Picture, and Parental Controls. If you're modifying the account you're using, you can also manage Login Items through this preference pane.


The Parental Controls pane is new to Mac OS X 10.4. It replaces and extends the previous Limitations feature in earlier versions.

Login Options

Administrators can access Login Options to specify a default account or define the appearance of the login screen. You can increase security by requiring each user to enter a user name and password to control use of the system, and if you need to track activity, you will be able to isolate events to individual accounts. You can also use Login Options to activate Fast User Switching.

Fast User Switching enhances multiuser support because it allows two or more individual accounts to be active on a single system at the same time. For your optimized Final Cut Pro station, it's best not to enable this feature to prevent active processes in other accounts from affecting the performance of FCP.

More Info

Refer to Mac Help for further information on how to create accounts, manage multiple users, enable root access, and specific login options.

Working with Permissions

Unix systems use a model that is based on the concept of permissions to control access to individual files. Every single file and folder in Mac OS X has an associated set of permissions. They are used to define which users can open, modify, and save files.

Understanding Permissions

In Unix systems, there are three different kinds of permissions:

  • Read (r) permission is required to open and read the contents of a file or directory.

  • Write (w) permission is required to modify and save changes to a file or directory.

  • Execute (x) permission is required to launch an application or search a directory.

You can apply different sets of permissions to each file to control access separately for three distinct Unix entities:

  • Owner refers to the user who created the file. Any file a user creates should list the user as the owner.

  • Group provides an efficient means of administrating similar user accounts and assigning shared permission profiles.

  • Others represents a catch-all category that encompasses any user who is not the owner or a member of a recognized group.

    More Info

    Refer to the Apple Developer documentation for further information on Unix file systems and permission models:

In total, there are nine separate permissions for each file: read, write, and execute for owner, group, and other. They are traditionally represented as triplets in the command-line environment. You can view the permissions of any file in a directory by using the ls command.

  1. Launch Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/).

  2. Type the command ls at the command prompt and press Return. The list command generates a list of files in the current directory.


    The default location for all Terminal sessions is the user's Home directory. If you need to return to the Home directory at any time, type the command cd and press Return. If you use the change directory command and do not specify a directory, you automatically navigate to your current Home directory.

  3. Type ls a, and press Return to list all the files, in a directory, including those whose names begin with a period (.) and are normally hidden in the Finder.

  4. Type the command ls l, and press Return to generate a long-form list. With this command, you are able to view more information about the files in a directory, including owner, group, and permissions.

    drwx--- 4 FCPeditor staff 136 Jun 17 01:14 Desktop drwx--- 4 FCPeditor staff 136 Jun 17 00:53 Documents drwx--- 20 FCPeditor staff 680 Jun 19 10:14 Library drwx--- 3 FCPeditor staff 102 Jun 17 00:49 Movies drwx--- 3 FCPeditor staff 102 Jun 17 00:49 Music drwx--- 4 FCPeditor staff 136 Jun 17 00:49 Pictures drwxr-xr-x 4 FCPeditor staff 136 Jun 17 00:49 Public drwxr-xr-x 5 FCPeditor staff 170 Jun 17 00:49 Sites 

    The first character in a long file listing represents the type of item. A hyphen (-) represents a standard file, a d indicates a directory (folder), and an l identifies a symbolic link, or alias. The next nine characters represent the file permissions. The r, w, and x abbreviations represent read, write, and execute, respectively, and are grouped together to indicate which permissions are granted to the owner, group, and others.


    Mac OS X 10.4 includes support for Access Control Lists (ACL), which expand the way permissions work beyond standard Unix configurations. An ACL offers a more flexible solution to working with permissions. For example, ACL allows for individual files to have more than one owner and for each owner to be assigned unique permissions. Refer to John Siracusa's extensive review of Mac OS X 10.4 for further information on how Access Control Lists work:

Changing Permissions Using the Finder

There may be occasions when you want to change file permissions. For example, you might want to allow non-admin users to share FCP plug-ins or LiveType effects. You may also need to modify permissions on Final Cut Project files you receive as email attachments. Mac OS X follows general Unix principles and allows users to modify permissions of any file or folder in the Finder by using the Info window.

  1. In the Finder, choose Go > Go To Folder (Shift-Cmd-G).

  2. Type /Library/Application Support/ and click Go.

  3. Select the LiveType folder and choose File > Get Info (Cmd-I).

  4. Click the Ownership & Permissions disclosure triangle to reveal the You Can pop-menu, and click the Details triangle to view the complete permissions profile.

  5. Click the Lock icon to activate the Owner pop-up menu.

  6. Choose your admin account from the Owner pop-up menu.


    The Finder may not reflect changes immediately. Log out and log back in to see modifications in effect.

  7. Choose Read And Write from the Others pop-up menu.

  8. Click the Apply To Enclosed Items button to modify the permissions of the LiveType folder and subdirectories.

  9. Close the Info window.

Changing Permissions Using the Terminal

You can also change permissions directly in the Terminal.

  1. In the Finder, choose Go > Go To Folder (Shift-Cmd-G).

  2. Type /Library/Application Support/ and click Go.

  3. Open a new session in the Terminal.

  4. Type sudo chmod -RP 766. This command will override your usual permissions and allow you to make changes to a system-owned directory. The chmod, or change mode command, allows you to set new permissions, and the RP option sets a recursive action to change subdirectories while ignoring symbolic links. 766 represents the new permissions numerically.

    Decimal Number


    English Translation



    No permissions



    Execute only



    Write only



    Write and execute



    Read only



    Read and execute



    Read and write



    Read, write, and execute


    The sudo command lets you act as though you are a superuser. Use it with extreme caution.

  5. Drag the LiveType folder into the Terminal.

    The directory path appears after your command.

  6. Press Return and enter an admin Password.

  7. Type ls -l and drag the LiveType folder into the Terminal. All the directories should have rwxrw-rw- permissions.

    drwxrw-rw- 15 root admin 510 May 11 10:53 Effects drwxrw-rw- 14 root admin 476 May 26 11:24 Images drwxrw-rw- 3 root admin 102 May 6 2003 LiveFonts drwxrw-rw- 2 root admin 68 May 6 2003 LiveType Data drwxrw-rw- 4 root admin 136 May 26 11:24 Movies drwxrw-rw- 9 root admin 306 May 6 2003 Objects drwxrw-rw- 10 root admin 340 Apr 18 2004 Templates drwxrw-rw- 11 root admin 374 May 6 2003 Textures 

  8. Type exit and press Return to end the session. Every user should now be able to share LiveType Effects and other media using the top-level LiveType directory.

Repairing Permissions Using Disk Utility

Occasionally, permissions may be set inappropriately, creating inconsistencies in your system. Most of the time this will occur when an installer has made modifications to the system; you should not need to repair permissions frequently. If you find that you need to fix permissions regularly, you should review your practices to see if you can isolate the root cause of the problem.

More Info

Some prefer the use of the terms restoring, or resetting, permissions. Refer to John Gruber's article on Software Update procedures at

  1. Launch the Disk Utility application (/Applications/Utilities).

  2. Select a Mac OS X volume.

    If the Permissions buttons are dimmed, you have selected a volume that has no Mac OS X system installed. You can repair permissions while booted to the Mac OS X system partition, unlike with Disk Repair, which you cannot use when you are booted to the partition in question.

  3. Click the Repair Disk Permissions button.

    Permissions repair doesn't alter critical directory information; it just resets the Apple-installed files and folders permissions to what they should be for the system to operate at peak efficiency. So, don't worry about Repair Disk Permissions upsetting your personal files' permissions because it affects only Apple-installed files and folders.

    More Info

    For more information on this subject, consult Apple's Troubleshooting Permissions Knowledge Base document:

Repairing Permissions Using the Terminal

You can also run the repair permissions process directly from the command line.

  1. Launch the Terminal (and log in as an admin user if necessary).

  2. At the prompt, enter the command diskutil repairPermissions / and press Return.

  3. When the process is complete, type exit to log out.

Manage Software Updates

There are many reasons to update your software, including access to new features, compatibility requirements, bug fixes, and security patches. If you're working with a range of hardware and software solutions, there's a lot to keep track of. To maintain your station most effectively, you need to develop strategies around updates to preserve performance and protect the overall integrity of your system.

Before you install anything new, spend some time researching a particular update. Things to consider include features of the updateconfirm that it will address your needs; specific system requirementscheck that the update is intended for your system; and compatibility issuesmake sure the new software, especially any third-party solutions, supports your system. You should also ask yourself why you're installing the softwareis it to enhance general performance, for security, or to fix a problem with your current software? If you're in the middle of a project, do you need the update to be able to continue? Do you have time to troubleshoot any problems that may arise? Have there been any reports of issues regarding an update? You need to be well informed to properly weigh the benefits and costs before you make a decision.


Although there are valid reasons why you might need to update your system in the middle of a project, especially if an update should resolve an issue, it's generally a good idea to plan major updates when there's nothing critical on your system.

Once you have decided to install new software, the next step is to make a complete backup of the system and all your important files.


You can create a disk image to back up your files using Mac OS X Disk Utility application.

Applying Updates

The Software Update feature in Mac OS X helps you manage updates by reporting new or revised software and providing descriptions about its purpose. By default, Software Update regularly performs an automatic check for new and updated Apple-distributed software via your computer's Internet connection. This is great for keeping you informed of the latest releases, but to be in complete control of your system, you should deactivate automatic checks in your system preferences and perform updates manually.


It's common practice amongst some Mac users to repair permissions before installing new software. In terms of software installation, unless you require atypical permission settings, repairing permissions shouldn't create problems.

  1. In the System Preferences window, click the Software Update icon.


    You can also use the Software Update shortcut in the Apple menu; you no longer need to navigate through system preferences.

  2. Click the Check Now button.

    If new software is available, a separate Software Update window opens to display a list of the software it has found.

  3. Use the check boxes to select which updates you would like to download.


    You can instruct Software Update to disregard certain updates by choosing Update > Ignore Update or by pressing Delete on the keyboard. If you need to reinstate updates, select Software Update > Reset Ignored Updates.

  4. Choose Update > Download Only to download the selected updates to the Packages directory in your top-level Library folder. When you want to install the update, double-click the package and follow the online instructions.

You could click the Install Now button to download and install the software automatically, but the download option is useful if you want to apply updates strategically, archive installer packages, or use tools such as Apple Remote Desktop to distribute updates to other computers.


Sometimes the most recent update does not appear in the Software Update windowusually because you need to download and install another, incremental component before others become available. So, performing a further check after you have completed an update is usually a good idea.

Tracking Updates

If you disable the automatic update feature by unchecking the Check For Updates check box, you can keep track of the very latest announcements several ways. One of the most convenient methods is through RSS. You can subscribe to RSS feeds using Safari 2.0, which is included with Mac OS X 10.4 RSS, or by using dedicated news aggregators like NetNewsWire (, NewsFire (, or NewsMac (

An increasing number of sites use RSS, including Apple, which provides two feeds to keep you notified of the latest system and video software:

  • Mac OS X


More Info

Refer to the Apple Web site for more information on Safari and RSS:

Perform Maintenance Tasks

Unix systems are designed to be as robust and as self-sufficient as possible. Alongside security and management features, Unix also utilizes a series of maintenance tasks. These tasks, commonly referred to as cron jobs, are scheduled to run automatically at regular intervals. Technically, cron is a term used to create any previously scheduled task, but in this context, it tends to mean specific procedures, such as rotating system log files and rebuilding system databases.

If your Mac is awake in the early hours of the morning, typically a time when other activity is at a minimum, Mac OS X will perform three differently scheduled processes: daily, weekly, and monthly. If you shut down your computer nightly, you might want to run these tasks manually to keep your system functioning at full capacity.

A number of applications will help you run maintenance tasks, including MacJanitor (, Cocktail (, and TinkerTool (


Make sure that you download only software that is compatible with your version of Mac OS X.

You can also run each script from the command line in Terminal.

  1. Open a new session in Terminal.

  2. Type the command sudo periodic daily, press Return, and enter an administrator password when prompted.

  3. Once the process is complete, enter the command sudo periodic weekly and press Return.


    Wait for Terminal to ask for the next command. Terminal may take a few minutes for each process, especially if the process has never been run before.

  4. Type sudo periodic monthly and press Return to run the final command.

  5. Type exit to complete the process.

More Info

For more information on maintenance tasks in Mac OS X, see Apple's Knowledge Base article:

Monitor System Activity

Mac OS X v10.3 and 10.4 include an application called Activity Monitor, which replaces Process Viewer from earlier versions. With Activity Monitor, you can observe and manage every process that is currently running on your computer, from the essential kernal_task to the less vital iCalAlarmScheduler. By tracking processes, you can see if your system is working exactly as you intend and that nothing is reducing the performance of Final Cut Pro.

  1. Open Activity Monitor (/Applications/Utilities).

    Activity Monitor provides a range of different information about your system, including the Unix process ID (PID), name, and associated user for every active process, as well as details about the resources each process is currently using.

  2. Click the % CPU column heading to sort the list according to which process is making the most demands on the main processor.

    You can click the other headings, search for specific processes, or choose different options from the Show pop-up menu to further sort the processes on your system.

  3. Select any process, and click the Inspect icon to see information about that specific process.


    You can also double-click a process to view the same information.

You can use the Activity Monitor to cancel a specific process that you do not recognize or that you think may be unnecessary.

  1. Select a process in the Activity Monitor window.

  2. Click the Quit Process icon.


    Be carefulquitting some processes may immediately log you out of the system!

  3. Read the text in the alert box and choose an appropriate response.

    More Info

    To further help you identify different processes, Gordon Davisson has compiled a list of some of the most common in Mac OS X:

Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Year: 2004
Pages: 205 © 2008-2017.
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