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).



  • This may be way off, but don’t hidden folder begin with a “.”?  If so, can’t you just add the period and it will go bye-bye?  A thought…

    ricksbrain had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 14
  • This is idiotic. You use an expert tool (from a third party!) that you don’t know how to use, and when you make an error you complain that it’s the fault of the platform and the default interface, and that this is a trap for the unwary novice.

    Your argument is nonsense. A novice user would not use Cocktail in the first place, nor would a novice even think of unhiding and trashing hidden system folders.

    The default interface is fine. Why do you think the /usr directory is hidden in the first place? Precisely so that novice users don’t delete it by accident.

    When you use a tool like Cocktail, you’re voluntarily throwing off the restrictions of the factory-standard UI in order to do what you will and run your own risks. If you don’t have the knowledge to use the tool safely, you have no one but yourself to blame.

    pluperfect_subjunctive had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 1
  • In order to hide the files again, there is an option in the Finder tab of Cocktail to “Show Invisible Items.”  Unchecking this should rehide the folder.

    Mac OS X does a much better job of locking down the system and hiding the gorey details of the operating system files from the user than Windows. I’ve helped a number of Windows users who were trying to reclaim space and deleted those System files they never used. If you start deleting something you did not add to the system, you are risking the stability of the operating system, no matter what the OS may be.

    BrentM had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 1
  • pluperfect has it on the nose. You are blaming the Mac OS for a bug in’s application and your own ignorance using Cocktail.

    That’s like saying “Hey, I typed ‘rm -rf’ in the terminal and now my Mac won’t boot. Mac OS X sucks.”

    Don’t follow ricksbrain’s advice. Adding the period in front of the “usr” name is almost as bad as trashing the folder. The OS won’t be able to find executables in that folder

    You need to set the invisible bit for the folder. There is a command line app called SetFile which will do this as well as a number of free/shareware apps.

    /Developer/Tools/SetFile -a V /usr

    You will need the developer tools installed. Otherwise, use one of the shareware apps.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 243
  • Agreed… The OS is intuitive for intended uses; you went third-party and willingly performed a very unintended operation. You can’t have your userland cake and eat your hacker cake too.

    neven had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 14
  • “Knowing that I already have a Users folder and the multiple Library folder(s), it seemed reasonable to delete it.”

    Obviously using a definition of “reason” that has been heretofore unknown to me.

    Dogger Blue had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 34
  • This strengthens my idea that every Mac, or rather every computer per se, should come with both a written and a “live” GUI tutorial about the basic Dos, Don’ts, and How-Tos. The former could be simple red piece of paper stating in bold letters:

    a) don’t screw around if you have no idea about what you’re messing with
    b) always have a fresh bootable clone available
    c) if you do feel an urgent need for tinkering and b) does not apply, see a)

    It’s as easy as that.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Who deletes *any* folder without first looking inside it or doing a get info just to check the size? Especially one called “Usr”.

    So you made a silly mistake working in haste, and that could probably happen to any of us - but to blame the OS or even on a 3rd party app?

    It’s a good cautionary tale. But I still can’t find the connection between your mistake and the intuitiveness or lack there of in OS X.

    goodcompany had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 5
  • I then called my close friend Phil who manages Mac IT support

    Close friend… mm hmm…

    Except this isn’t, actually, pretty common. Indeed, nobody’s business but yours, Mr. Bookspan.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Of course, if this had happened in Windows, all these guys would blame Windows for not making such mistakes harder to do.

    But I’m going to say what I’d say in any situation like this.  Computers are complicated machines under the best of circumstances and you as a user take on a certain amount of risk.  Volvos may be advertised as the safest cars on the road but that doesn’t mean you can turn into on-coming traffic.

    You learned a valuable lesson about deleting folders willy-nilly, and let’s just leave it at that.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Wow. Well, I can take the hits as I admit what I did was a mistake.

    One response that won’t be kind - Ben Hall - grow up.

    Matthew Bookspan had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 12
  • Also, to those who are kind, thanks for the help. I appreciate it.

    Matthew Bookspan had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 12
  • I think we’re safe to say that most ‘mom’s and pop’s’ (read, vast majority) won’t be using a ip service and therefore don’t really need to worry about this. (you really stepped in it this time!!!)

    Kageysea had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 9
  • Yes, you can’t blame the Mac for user error.  Although a certain level of foolproofing was built into the Finder (such as making the /usr folder invisble, etc, using a third party tool to bypass those built in protections can hardly be blamed on Apple.  Now, the little disparity on the behavior of that aweful green button on each window is Apple’s fault, and that needs to be corrected.

    Xapplimatic had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 15
  • Yeah, and while you’re at it, uncheck the “User can admin this machine” option. You clearly have no business with root-equiv privileges…

    This doesn’t even warrant an entire article let alone all the commentary… raspberry


    Piko had this to say on Apr 10, 2007 Posts: 4
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