Lion Upgrade Woes On A 2008 Mac Pro

The one thing that has really struck me over the past three and a half years is just how solid and reliable my early 2008 Mac Pro has been. It came installed with Leopard and when Snow Leopard came out I did a clean install of Snow Leopard without any problems. I’ve upgraded the RAM from the 2Gb it came with the 12Gb. I have upgraded the single 500Gb internal disk to two WD Caviar Black 1Tb drives and two WD Caviar Green 2Tb drives, as well as adding an NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card alongside the original NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT card. There’s also a three port PCIe USB card for good measure. Outside the box there’s a Lacie Quadra 2Tb firewire 800 drive, with a Voyager Q daisy-chained off that. USB-wise there’s a Logitech MX Revolution mouse, a Logitech diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition, a Logitech USB webcam, various iPad & iPhone docks, a Canon ip4000 printer, Fujitsu Scan Snap 300 and bringing up the rear some Logitech THX Z2300 speakers and a Magic Trackpad.

Mac Pro

2008 Mac Pro

Not bad for three and a half years of gradually enhancing my system. Snow Leopard has never flinched at all these extras, and when I fire up VMware Fusion and run three virtual Windows XP machines simultaneously, it still never skips a beat! In fact everything has been really impressive, until that is… I decided to install Lion.

Now rather than wipe out my Snow Leopard setup, I decided to install it on to a new partition so I have the choice to boot into either, thus a clean install of Lion was added to it’s own 500Gb partition. The Startup Disk feature works really well, I can boot into either Snow Leopard or Lion depending on what I want to do and the plan is (or rather was) to slowly migrate all my work across to Lion and eventually dump Snow Leopard.

First of all the pluses… Obviously booting into Lion the machine is a lot snappier presumably as there’s not two years worth of junk cluttering stuff up. Also there’s a few new features in Lion that I like although I have to say there’s nothing I couldn’t live without. However, the interwebs have been full of everyone explaining every new feature of Lion in painful detail so I won’t bother you with that here. Instead I’ll let you know what the downside has been… KERNEL PANICS.

Now I’ve heard of kernel panics, but as a Mac user I have thankfully been spared of this most troublesome problem. Now to be fair I still haven’t seen one first hand but that’s because my Mac Pro seems to panic at night. If I leave it running Lion when I go to bed, then in the morning I’ll see a message telling me that the computer has restarted because of a problem and I’m prompted to send the dump to Apple (which I do in the forlorn hope they’ll fix it). Ok there is a way around this – shut down the Mac before I go to bed, or just put it to sleep. However, choosing ‘Sleep’ from the Apple menu just causes the Mac to immediately crash and restart, so it looks like I’ll have to shut down every evening until they fix this (if they ever do). It is of course entirely possible that one of my many peripherals is causing the panic/sleep problem but I’ll have to try and figure that out by a process of elimination.

So what other problems are there?

  • Running Skitch 1.0.6 causes the mouse pointer to disappear. Perhaps a conflict between the Logitech Control Centre 3.4.0 software and Skitch and Lion somewhere?
  • When the screensaver kicks in, neither my Logitech mouse nor keyboard will prompt the Mac to  resume, I have to use the Magic Trackpad. Again a possible issue with the Logitech keyboard/mouse drivers.
  • My iPad 3G will no longer charge although it will sync. Strange thing is if I reboot into Snow Leopard then it will happily sync/charge using the same cable/USB port. Go back to Lion and it will only sync. Interestingly my iPhone 4 syncs/charges no problem using the same cable/port. I know the iPad has higher power requirements, too high in fact for some USB ports, but I’m using one of the Mac Pro’s built-in USB ports and it works fine under Snow Leopard so this must be a Lion issue.

Well that’s about it for now. I could live with the problems I guess and to be fair the panics/crashes don’t happen when I’m using Lion during the day (unless I try to manually put the Mac Pro to sleep). It does mean though that the Lion experience, and that the “it just works” mantra are a tiny bit tarnished at the moment. Maybe my only solution is to go and buy a new Mac?

If only I had the money…

Apple WWDC 2011 – A feature I’d like to see

Mac OSX Lion

(Image courtesy of modmyi.com)

The air is thick with rumours and predictions. What will be in Lion, iOS5 and iCloud? Everyone is having their say and it makes for interesting reading even if most of the commentators are guessing the same things. Me? I haven’t a clue! I merely read and digest the Apple news and I’m not nearly close enough to the game to figure out what’s going on. That’s why I’m wishing for a coupe of new features for Apple’s desktop OS that I almost certainly won’t see.

The first is aimed at dealing with the new upsurge in Mac malware, and something I’ve mentioned before. A toggle switch to prevent apps from being installed from anywhere other than the Mac App Store (MAS). The idea is really simple. There’s a System Preference that says ‘Only allow app installs from the Mac App Store’ which by default is set to yes. If you try to launch an app or run an mkpg with this switch set to yes, you get a message telling you you can’t run it. The message could be more explicit and warn you about the dangers of unsolicited software but the idea is to stop apps getting installed and run when you didn’t actually go looking for the app to install in the first place. For ‘power users’ who need to frequently install software to test out, or who are perhaps less likely to succumb to a phishing attack, well they can disable this setting and just carry on as before. Everyone’s happy, job done.

And while we’re at it, Safari could have the ‘open safe files’ setting disabled and given similar warnings. Now of course there are subtle variations on how this ‘Only allow app installs from the Mac App Store’ feature would work, but you get the general idea.

On to my second … well I was going to bemoan the fact that there’s no Whole Disk Encryption (WDE) in Snow Leopard, and no news of it appearing in Lion. That’s all changed! Lion will feature FileVault 2 which will support full disk encryption. No more needing PGP for Mac! Here’s the low down on the Apple website – http://www.apple.com/macosx/whats-new/features.html#filevault2

One out of two… it’s a good start.

TodUhr

The first of many?

By the way… I have recently started dabbling in the world of iOS apps. Now it’s a long time since I was a programmer (late 80’s I think) so someone else is taking care of that aspect of things, but there’s a lot more to getting your app into the iTunes App Store, some of which can get quite confusing or just frustrating. I’m aiming to write a few articles about the experience in the hope that it’ll help someone in the future, but if you want to see the fruits of our labours and the little ‘entertaining’? app we created, then pop over to iTunes and look for TodUhr or paste this link http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/toduhr/id439571992?mt=8  in to your browser. Disclosure – the app costs a few pennies or cents depending on where you live… all of which is gratefully received (after Apple takes their 30%) to help cover the $99 developers fee that is Apple’s cost of entry to it’s playground.

Mac Malware – Here’s An Idea

MacDefender (and now a few variants) has been making a name for itself recently. The first piece of Mac malware that’s managed to catch people who weren’t downloading some cracked application or other. By all accounts the victim merely needed to visit one of several websites that had been compromised with malicious code. A pop-up appears saying their computer is infected and they are prompted to download and install some bogus software that demands credit card details before supposedly removing the infection.

MacDefender

MacDefender

Now I’ve been using PCs and Macs for longer than I care to mention and while I like to think that I would never have fallen prey to this ‘scare & pay-up’ tactic, I actually know several friends and family members who would have. They are trusting people. They are people who are well aware of the prevalence of malware on the Windows platform, having typically been Windows users themselves previously. They have heard the mantra of protecting yourself by having good anti-malware software installed, so when they see the warning they think it’s entirely credible… even for a Mac user.

But there’s something else that many of these people do, or rather don’t do and that’s to frequently install 3rd party apps. I know at least 4 Mac users for whom I have installed iWork, Office for Mac or an iLife upgrade and that’s it. That’s all they use. They do email, they shop online, they write a few documents or spreadsheets, they work with photos or movies in iLife and they use iTunes and maybe download an iOS app or two. As for Mac OS X software, they don’t really have a need to step beyond the few apps that Apple gives them and they’re perfectly happy with that. Maybe once or twice I might get a call asking if I could recommend an app such as a family tree program or something, but that’s about it.

I’m pretty certain that I’m not unique. There must be thousands, perhaps millions of Mac users out there who really do have modest requirements or who don’t have the urge to experiment with different apps all the time, and it’s for those people for whom I had an idea…

A System Preference, perhaps under the Accounts preference pane, that says:

‘Only allow software installs from the Mac App Store: Yes/No’ (with the default being set to No).

So what does this do? Well the idea is that it prevents a 3rd party app from being installed and run if it hasn’t come from the Mac App Store. The App Store is curated by Apple, so it’s a trusted source of software that can be installed, and software from any other source gets stopped in it’s tracks. As for the mechanism for how it prevents 3rd party software being used, well that’s down to the clever guys. They could use certificates, some sort of file system checks, etc., I’m sure there are many ways this could be achieved. What’s more, you could even attach a timer to the ‘Yes’ option, with a slider that goes from 5 minutes to ‘indefinitely’ (with appropriate warnings for leaving it set).

By now there’s probably a few people who would be up in arms against this idea, saying it’s half way towards a walled garden for Mac users rather like iOS users, but then that’s exactly the point. It is only half way and it still gives people like me who like to tinker, the option to do so, in the full knowledge that I think I know what I’m doing. For what I suspect is a great many people, it would add that extra level of protection along the lines of – you only ever install software when you have actually gone out looking for software to install.

Now I’m sure that malware writers could get creative, and instead of popping up a warning saying your Mac is infected, they could easily craft a window that instead mimics the built-in Software Update window and says something like ‘iLife 2011-05-25 Security Update. Click here to install’. Indeed that might catch a lot more people after all, who doesn’t have iLife installed? This is where Apple gets creative in finding a way to block these, e.g. by preventing access to the ‘Install 3rd party apps’ option except by approved services (like Software Update) or via the GUI itself. What’s more, it would probably be a good idea to show this setting to any new Mac user to try and prevent a deluge of calls to Apple Care saying “Help, I can’t install something”. Perhaps a message that greets the user saying “Installation of 3rd party software is currently disabled (recommended). Do you wish to change this setting?”.

At the end of the day I’m talking about mindsets here. There are those who like to fiddle, who regularly install apps, who know how things work, etc., and they can switch the option off confident that they can probably use their wits to avoid getting infected. But then there are those who don’t really care for that sort of thing. They are perfectly fine using the apps they have, and installing software is a rare event where they usually ask a friend for help anyway. It’s this second group of people for whom prevention is probably better than cure.

Is this one of my more mad ideas? Have I got it completely wrong? Who knows. What I do know is that the one family member I have who still uses Windows, generates more “Help it’s broken” calls to me than all my Mac-using friends and family added together. Still love ’em to bits though!

PS – If you are worried about MacDefender and want to learn more, Apple has a page dedicated to it here: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4650

The Snow Leopard Pixelated (Fuzzy) Icon Bug – Possible Fix?

I wrote a post a while back about the problem I was getting with pixelated (fuzzy) icons under Snow Leopard. As soon as you start to use more than a few, the icons become fuzzy – almost like they’re enlarged versions of low-res icons. Sometimes a reboot will temporarily fix the problem, and sometimes using a utility to clear caches can also help, but it’s usually short-lived. If the Apple Support pages are anything to go by, it’s a common problem affecting quite a few people and there’s no fix in sight from Apple.

After a little research (thanks to ‘steepleton’ in the Apple Discussion Forums), I might have found a fix. It’s early days but I tried this about 5 hours ago and all my custom icons are still fine whereas normally they would have been fuzzy within 5-10 minutes of a reboot. Now before I go any further – a warning. The fix involves deleting a hidden system file that Apple probably didn’t envisage people messing with. On the plus side, OS X will recreate this file from scratch after you delete it, but it’s worth noting that while I haven’t experienced any undesirable side-effects on my Mac, your mileage may vary. So… don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

The fix involves removing a file called thumbnails.data which is located inside a folder called com.apple.QuickLook.thumbnailcache on your Mac. Now, the path to this file seems to vary slightly because on my Mac Pro I found it in the following location:

<bootdisk>/private/var/folders/+h/+hEv5zBBEWiHP7q4dTC3WU+++TI/-caches/com.apple.QuickLook.thumbnailcache

On my Mac Mini the path was almost the same except the +h… part (shown in red) had a different name. The best way to locate the file is to use something like Find Any File. It’s an excellent utility by Thomas Tempelmann that let’s you search for files, including ones that Spotlight doesn’t index (which will be the case with thumbnails.data. Although there’s a free version, I highly recommend you get it from the new Mac App Store as it’s a great way to track down things on your Mac that Spotlight doesn’t help you with.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand… Once you’ve located the file you’ll need to navigate to it with your preferred file manager. If you’re using Finder then you’ll need to go to the View menu and turn on the setting that says ‘Show System Files’. If (like me) you use Path Finder then you go to the View menu and select ‘Show Invisible Files’. Having done that, navigate to the thumbnails.data file and copy it to a temporary folder somewhere – a temporary folder inside your Documents folder is probably a good place. Having done that, delete the original file and then empty your Trash. Next, reboot your Mac and everything should look just how it should be – custom icons and all.

I noticed that in my case, the thumbnails.data file was almost 370Mb in size before I deleted it. The new thumbnails.data file that OS X has created for me is under 35Mb and that’s after 5 hours since a reboot and with me exploring every folder I can think of to check on my custom icons. Obviously once you’re happy that everything is working ok, you can delete the copy of the old thumbnails.data file that you made.

I’m hoping that the fix continues to work, and if it does work even for a few days or weeks then I’ll be happy. I hope it works for you too, but as I mentioned above, do proceed with caution because this is an OS X system file that your fiddling with. To be doubly sure, I’d make a full backup of your Mac before trying this. Oh and one last point – when you’ve finished, it’s a good idea to turn off the ‘Show System Files’ option in Finder (or Path Finder) so that system files are once again hidden.

Good luck!

Icons Fine Again

No more fuzzy icons! (For now)

Upgrading drives on a Mac Pro – childs play

Voyager QWhat with all the American TV shows that I’m obliged to store (for the ladies that like that kind of stuff), the 1Tb data drive on my 2008 Mac Pro was starting to look a little squeezed. So, I dropped the cash for a new 2Tb SATA drive and set about the upgrade, and I have to say it was easy as pie (largely thanks to my Voyager Q). The whole process went something like this:

  1. Pop the new 2Tb drive into my Voyager Q and use Disk Utility to format it as a single 2Tb partition (Mac OS Extended Journalled) with a volume name of DataDrive2.
  2. Using SuperDuper, copy my existing DataDrive in it’s entirety to DataDrive2. The Voyager Q is connected via Firewire 800 to the Mac Pro but the copy still took over 5 hours.
  3. Once the copy is completed, remove the new drive from the Voyager Q and attach it to a spare Mac Pro ‘sledge’ (drive carrier) that I have.
  4. Take the side off the Mac Pro and slide out the existing DataDrive and slide in the new DataDrive2.
  5. Boot up the Mac and relabel DataDrive2 to DataDrive.

Actually, while I had the side off the Mac Pro I decided to take it outside on to the patio and give the inside a good clean with a can of compressed air and a soft brush. As for the Voyager Q, it’s a really handy device if you ever mess around with 2.2.5″ or 3.5″ drives, and it just gives you such great flexibility when upgrading drives. It connects via USB 2.0, Firewire 800 or eSATA and I usually have a 1Tb scratch disk in it. In fact you can ‘warm’ swap the drive in it just by ejecting the drive in Finder or Disk Utility then physically ejecting the disk from the Voyager Q and dropping in a different one. OS X will then happily see the new drive and mount it, or tell you it needs to be initialized (if it’s a brand new drive).

As for SuperDuper, I use it every day for doing backups of my system partition, and the partition with my VMware virtual machine images, and it’s been a godsend. I’d highly recommend it.

Next on my list of things to do is to upgrade my Lacie d2 Quadra by putting a new 2Tb drive in that. Once this is done, I’ll have two spare 1Tb drives and two spare 1.5Tb drives and I was planning on getting a Drobo to slot these all into as a dumping ground for my video collection when I start ripping all my DVDs. However, I’m starting to lean towards a four bay Synology instead. While it lacks the hot swap capability of the Drobo, it’s so much more than just a plain NAS device plus it supports hybrid RAID using different sized disks, rather like the Drobo. I already have a Synology DS210j and it’s brilliant for both backing up to as well as making photos, music and video accessible to the Mac Mini and the PS3 in the lounge. Just need to save up first!

Tech Specs

In case you’re wondering, I use a Mac Pro (early 2008), 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, 12Gb RAM, 1 x WD Caviar Black 1Tb drive (system partition & VM partition), 1 x WD Caviar Green 1Tb drive (system drive clone & VM drive clone), 1 x WD Green 2Tb (data drive), 1 x WD Green 2Tb drive (Time Machine). In hindsight I would have gone for the 2 x Quad-Core but I was trying to keep costs down when I made the initial purchase. Shame Apple doesn’t really support upgrading this machine to dual Quad-Cores after purchase.

So why 12Gb RAM? Well I run VMware Fusion 3.x and can run up four Windows virtual machines simultaneously, each with 2Gb of RAM and still have 4Gb left for Snow Leopard. I do remote support and having 4 VMs open at once allows me to switch between different client VMs very quickly. I would struggle to set up and run 4 Windows clients like this on any other platform so easily.

Uninstalling apps – more secrets

CleanAppI’ve written a couple of posts before about uninstalling apps from a Mac, particularly for those who subscribe to the school of thinking that dragging the app to the trash can is all it takes. Now I’ll say up front that in a lot of cases that may be sufficient and work perfectly well for a lot of apps, however not all apps are equal and some will inject stuff into your Mac in places you’d never look. This ‘debris’ gets left behind with the trash can method of uninstalling, and it can even catch out those who go to greater lengths to keep things tidy. Personally I get all fidgety thinking about what might be left behind – to me it’s just like painting over the top of wallpaper…. and then papering over the top of that. Yuck!

Now I’ve tried various uninstallers in the past and I eventually plumped for CleanApp for a number of reasons. For starters it has the ability to log what an app is doing as it installs and runs and can then made a pretty good guess as to what needs to be removed when uninstalling it. In addition to this, it will (if you let it) record what files you allow it to delete and then store those results centrally for the benefit of  others who may want to uninstall the same app. There’s a lot more I could go into about what CleanApp can do, but that would have to be a separate post.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty confident that CleanApp will carefully remove most if not all traces of your average app. But… and there’s always a but… no uninstaller is perfect and stuff can slip through the cracks, and if you want to get all OCD about what’s on your Mac then here’s two things you might want to look out for.

First up, Agents and Daemons. May sound like a Dan Brown novel but it actually refers to processes that are triggered to run on your Mac that you may not even be aware of. Case in point – I installed AppFresh the other day as I figured it would be nice to have something automatically check if my various apps were up to date. Ok, for one reason or another me and AppFresh didn’t get along so after a few days I let AppCleaner loose on it and thought no more about it. However, what I didn’t realise was that installing AppFresh had created an agent called de.metaquark.appfresh that would run in the background at certain intervals. That in itself is fine and it’s part of the way AppFresh works – checking for new versions of your software in the background. The problem was that when AppCleaner removed the AppFresh application, this agent was left behind. How did I discover this? Well I was actually using Lingon to track down Google agents or daemons that were running on my Mac (and yes there are a couple!) and I happened across the AppFresh agent by chance.

Ok so having an agent that runs where the app that it runs has been uninstalled isn’t necessarily a problem. Probably all that will happen is that you’ll get entries in the console saying it couldn’t be found. Not the end of the world… unless you’re OCD about your console too! The next challenge is obviously how to remove the agent for an uninstalled app (assuming you’ve decided it’s safe to do so – which it typically is). Lingon will let you create new agents but it won’t let you delete them – you need to use Finder to locate you wayward agent. In the case of AppFresh it’s listed under ‘My Agents’ in Lingon meaning it’s an agent that’s triggered when I log in to my Mac. As such, the agent consists of a file (with the same name as the agent of course) that’s located in your <username>\Library\LaunchAgents folder. Off I went to that folder and sure enough, there’s a file called de.metaquark.appfresh.plist sitting there, ready to be removed. Now what I would suggest at this stage is not to delete the offending .plist file but rather to move it to a temporary folder somewhere. That way if you hit any problems when you next logon then you can always get the file back easily. Hopefully though you’ll be fine.

So there you go, that’s just another little bit of debris that can get left behind when uninstalling apps. Obviously it’s up to you as to whether or not you want to track these things down and remove them, particularly if your Mac is working just fine. Even so, I find it quite interesting using something like Lingon just so that I’m aware what 3rd paty processes are running, or have been set to run on my Mac. While digging around I also found a daemon that relates to SugarSync which I uninstalled a few months ago (in favour of DropBox).

And did I manage to find those Google agents that I was looking for? Well yes… in two places

  • Users Agents (launched when anyone logs in)
    • com.google.keystone.root.agent
  • Users Daemons (launched at system startup)
    • com.google.keystone.daemon

Ok I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of agents being run even when users who haven’t installed the software are logged on, but there they are in all their glory. Will I be removing them? Well the only Google software I have on my Mac is the Chrome browser which I don’t use that often. If I uninstall Chrome then I’ll certainly remove it’s secret partner.

The second thing I was going to mention, and this is getting really picky here… is Little Snitch. I love Little Snitch which is probably more down to the control freak in me than anything else! Anyway, It’s worth remembering that if you’re a Little Snitch user and you’ve granted (or denied) network access to an app, then when you uninstall that app there may be some tidying up to do in Little Snitch. Again this isn’t strictly necessary it’s just a way to keep things neat (there’s that OCD again). Little Snitch is very helpful in that if it can’t find an app that you have set up a rule for, then it will display the app in red in it’s configuration window. All you have to do is to delete the rule for the uninstalled app. Job done.

Now, can anyone tell me how I can transfer this compulsion for neatness on my Mac to the state of my kitchen?!

The Snow Leopard Pixelated (Fuzzy) Icon Bug

In the interests of wasting more time than is healthy on my Mac, I have for some time now, been adding custom icons to many of my folders. Where it is most prevalent is in my ‘install’ folder. While I religiously back up my Mac in various ways every day, I have a folder called ‘Software Install’ in which there is a subfolder for every application, preference pane, or whatever that I have bought and/or downloaded and use on my Mac. In each application’s folder I have:

  • The current (latest) version of the app as downloaded from MacUpdate or the authors website.
  • The previous version, just in case there’s a problem and I need to revert to it.
  • An encrypted text file containing my license details for purchased software (which I also store in 1Password).
  • A ‘webloc’ document linking to the author’s site.

The theory is that if I ever need to re-install an app, or I want to rebuild my Mac or even build a new Mac, then I have all I need to hand in order to quickly do whatever I need.

So far so good, but what I also like to do in my Software Install folder is to be able to easily see if an app is paid for or ‘free’, if it’s a beta version and if the software is actually on CD and I just have downloads of the update files. To do this I use custom icons and, even though I say so myself, I think it looks good and makes things pretty clear…

Install Folders

Green = 'free', Blue = paid for, etc...

…that is, until the icon display bug in Snow Leopard rears it’s ugly head! You see there’s a bug in Snow Leopard whereby when it goes to display your custom icon it uses a lower resolution version of the icon that ends up making it look ‘fuzzy’. What’s more, when the problem gets really bad, it doesn’t display an icon at all! Now if you’re here looking for a permanent fix then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. This bug has existed in Snow Leopard for at least a year and there’s no indication from Apple that they’re fixing the problem or even acknowledge that it exists. What’s more, the problem doesn’t just affect custom icons you’ve created or changed yourself, it can affect Apple’s own apps if they have a unique icon.

Fuzzy Icons

Do not adjust your eyesight!

So what do we know about the problem? Well aside from the fact that it’s been around for a fair old while – it seems to relate to the way SnowLeopard handles information about what icon to display for a given object. System objects of a certain type, e.g. the default blue folder icon you get with Snow Leopard, seem to be unaffected. That suggests that icon data isn’t stored with each occurrence of those particular objects, rather there’s a flag somewhere that says “this object is a folder and it doesn’t have a custom icon, so use the default system one”. So no matter how many custom icons you’re using, the default system ones (like the blue folder) always appear correctly.

Next, there seems to be a threshold, i.e. once you pass a certain number of custom icons on your Mac, then the problem manifests itself. This could suggest that these custom icons are being cached somewhere (in a file?) and that there’s a finite amount of space available to this ‘custom icon cache’, or the process that reads it. Once you exceed that limit, OS X starts scaling down the custom icons (to lower resolutions) to conserve space, and if it can’t do that, well then certain custom icons just don’t get showed at all.

Finally, this isn’t a problem that only manifests itself in Finder. I use CocoaTech’s Path Finder as a Finder replacement and it happens there too. I’ve also seen it happening in ForkLift, so it’s the underlying system that these apps (and Finder) are talking to that has the problem.

Ok, now that we’ve an idea why it might be happening, what can you do about it? Well not a lot unfortunately. There’s no permanent fix so far as I can tell, just workarounds or stop using custom icons. As far as the workarounds go, well the idea is to try and force OS X to rebuild its caches and you do that either by rebooting, or by using a utility like Onyx, Ice Clean, MacCleanse etc to manually purge the a cache without a reboot. And which cache is it you need to clear down? Well that doesn’t seem to be clear at the moment either, but User caches look like a good bet (I’ll know more once I’ve done some more research). Oh and if you do decide to go down the route of clearing caches, be aware that Snow Leopard uses caches to speed things up so you may notice that the next time you reboot after clearing a cache, your Mac takes longer to start and the system may seem a bit sluggish for a while as caches are rebuilt.

There’s also a theory that deleting the hidden .Ds_Store file in a folder will help, or refreshing the Icon Previews by switching them off in Finder (or Path Finder) and then switching them back on again.

At best the above tactics may relieve the situation temporarily – that’s certainly my experience and what I’ve seen trawling the various support forums. The (more permanent) alternative is to stop using custom icons wherever possible and revert to the default ones. Not great if like me you like to customize your system to make it a little more informative.

So to wrap up, I’m sorry I can’t offer more positive news. On the other hand I can always hope that an Apple employee stumbles across this page and is someone with the power to do something about the problem. (Ok it’s arrogant of me to think an Apple employee might visit my little corner of the webiverse but you never know). I’d certainly like to think the problem will be fixed in Lion when that hits the shelves, if only because it will stop my Windows-using friends (yes I do have one or two) from looking smug when they say “Hey, what’s up with your icons, I thought Macs were supposed to just work?”…..