And They Said the Mac Was Intuitive

by Matthew Bookspan Apr 10, 2007

Well, it definitely isn’t in one regard. I was able to delete my usr (Unix) folder. Yes, my usr folder. How did this happen? Well, one of the programs I installed caused this lovely little Unix hidden folder to become exposed. Knowing that I already have a Users folder and the multiple Library folder(s), it seemed reasonable to delete it.


Okay, first let’s try to figure out why this folder was exposed. I have a Maxtor Fusion NAS to store photos, music, data, etc. for both laptops on the home network. The Fusion has a built-in Web server to share data with external users. The Fusion requires a dynamic DNS. I use to manage this for me (and because it is free).

The Mac client is great in managing the dynamic DNS. Further, the folks are great for support. Unfortunately, it seems that this little app is the culprit in exposing my usr folder (bug filed—received a reply—didn’t solve problem).

So, what happened? Well, yesterday I wanted to clean up my Mac by removing apps and using Cocktail to clean up caches and such. While perusing my hard disk, I saw this folder and thought, “I don’t need this” (as mentioned above). Wrong thought indeed.

This caused some very unexpected results. Once the Finder began to delete the folder, the machine locked up and my apps began to self-terminate. I forced a reboot by powering down and then powering up the Mac again, which resulted in the spinning cursor of death. 

I then called my close friend Phil who manages Mac IT support at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, CA. Well, he confirmed the situation (including my limited knowledge) and provided the recommendation on how to get my system restored. Within four hours and after reinstalling the OS, life was normalized.

What did I learn? The usr folder is a UNIX folder that should not be made visible. And yet, mine was visible (and with the reinstall of NO-IP’s client, it is again made visible). Further, this is a highly critical folder containing key information about the OS.

Was this folder mentioned in the Mac documentation? Nope. Was this folder name something easily discovered online? Reasonably so, although I didn’t think to go looking until after the debacle.

Imagine if I was a novice user…yikes! Support calls, yelling, crying, and more. Woohoo! What a party. I still consider myself to be relatively new to the Mac, although I do have familiarity from yore. Nevertheless, this is not the intuitive and simple way Macs should work.

OS X’s underlying architecture provides amazing power given that it is based in Unix. However, do Mom & Pop care about this? Nope. Do they care that it just works? Yup. Do they care what the usr folder is? Nope. Do they even want to know about it? Nope. You get the picture.

For those who know much more than I, enjoy the laugh at my expense. For those who know less, beware of your own mistakes. You can still cripple a Macintosh computer.


Anyone out there know how to fix the permissions on my usr folder so I can hide it again? And yes, I did repair permissions using Disk Utility (as well as Cocktail).



  • Matthew, I wasn’t actually questioning your, shall we say, predilections. It’s just a funny link is all. I must say your article didn’t raise in me the ire we see here, but I do understand it, in that your mistake, as you now acknowledge it, was no grounds for an article with this title.

    I stand by this though: it is nobody’s business but yours. Since you won’t listen to me, now I’ve questioned your manhood, listen to #84, by Tropi, for he speaks the truth.

    The fact is if you play around with administrative powers on any computer without taking the utmost care, you will break it. This has always been the case, it always will be the case, and is not a flaw in OS X as Beeblebrox requires to be true for his post 46 to be relevant.

    I support your efforts to learn about the system. Just be more careful [and don’t write articles with flamebait titles] in future, ok?

    grow up
    Not on your nelly, old man.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 927
  • one thing you can try to vastly improve performance is to move /usr to /dev/null the reason is because this is the “HIGH SPEED” folder ^_^

    twistedshepard had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 1
  • You are a novice user if you deleted the /usr directory.  You obviously have no idea of how Mac OS X works otherwise you wouldn’t have done this in the first place.  On top of that, you blame Apple for allowing the folder which is hidden by default for being allowed to be exposed, you’ve obviously never used or you would know that it isn’t hidden, just hidden from Finder.  If anyone besides yourself is to blame here it’s the poorly designed (and free, you do get what you pay for) dynamic DNS software you used which exposed the /usr folder in the first place, but in reality, the fault lies completely with you.  NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING, not only in life, work, etc. but especially in computing.

    Nuff said.

    nochiefs had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 1
  • When issing the rm -rf command make sure you not only use “*”, but in addition use “.*”. Using “*” or “*.*” doesn’t get everyhing.

    rm -rf * .*

    You absoliutely don’t want to leave anything behind. wink

    chigh had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 7
  • Just in case you switch back to XP after this horrible horrible failure on Apple’s part, DO NOT DELETE C:/WINDOWS. 


    usurper had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Jesus.
    Screw “hiding” files.
    The first thing I do to an OSX install is to *unhide* everything by going to the Terminal and doing a “defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE”.

    Learn the Terminal.
    It’s not Rocket Science.
    Command line Unix is way more comprehensible and logical than Windows command line. While the man pages aren’t for the meek; it’s real in-depth help and instruction.

    Start with CLIX.

    Once you master the stunning power of command line Unix, *everything*, even the best GUI seems stupid.

    dgeyer had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Most of the time I don’t want or need to see all the hidden files in finder, and obviously neither does Mr. “Imagine if I was a novice user…yikes! “

    For those times that I do, It’s quite easy with something like this in your .bashrc:

    alias finderhide=‘defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE ; killall Finder’
    alias findershow=‘defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE ; killall Finder’

    biggysmall had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Uhm, yeah. That’s like deleting C:\Windows\System32 because you already have a C:\Windows\System.

    So let’s not do that anymore, eh?

    ohnonotagain had this to say on Apr 11, 2007 Posts: 1
  • tsk tsk… what a textbook amateur move. Blame your own blatant stupidity. =)

    ayw2005 had this to say on Apr 12, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Actually, Windows doesn’t let you delete your C:\Windows, C:\Windows\system32 folders, or in fact a number of folders like “C:\Users” (formerly in XP “C:\Documents and Settings” which is where user profiles and documents are stored.) I tried this.

    Also, there was published in RixStep where there is another remarkably easy way to hose your OS X system.

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Apr 12, 2007 Posts: 121
  • Uhm, yeah. That’s like deleting C:\Windows\System32 because you already have a C:\Windows\System.

    wow gold had this to say on Apr 12, 2007 Posts: 6
  • Methinks we have a spambot here by the name of “wow gold.”

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 13, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Wow… just wow.
    Since when did saying you made a mistake become an attack on Apple? I think this article made a valid point, Macs have a reputation of being uncrashable, but they are still at the mercy of the user, just like everything else.

    simo66 had this to say on Apr 13, 2007 Posts: 78
  • @simo66
    It’s the tone in which the article is written. And the fact that it is an article. If it were simply a user doing something stupid, empathy would be greater, we all did things like that. But it is an article, trying to teach the reader the equivalent of:
    Beware you Mac User, look what I had to put up with. If you trash all of your documents, chances are, you won’t believe this, chances are you lost all of your documents. That’s Apple for you.! One would have thought that Apple would have done something about that! It is alright for me, but imagine if that would happen to a novice !
    It’s the tone.

    WAWA had this to say on Apr 14, 2007 Posts: 89
  • “Imagine if I was a novice user…yikes!”

    You are.  I just read your bio and you worked for Apple and Microsoft….

    youareanidiot had this to say on Apr 14, 2007 Posts: 3
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