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Ask TUAW: Automatic file sorting, Disk Utility, iPod battery replacement, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about automatically sorting downloaded files, using Disk Utility to change partitions and format external drives, using a KVM in a multi-platform environment, replacing an iPod touch battery, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify), or if it's an iPhone-related question, which iPhone version and OS version you have.

Creesh asks

My Downloads folder is always cluttered with different types of files. Is there any way to have the files I download automagically move to their associated folders? For example, have PDF files go to Documents, movie files go to Movies, pictures to Pictures....etc. Is there a solution for this? I would be cool with paying. But any solution would be welcome.

You want Hazel ($21.95) from Noodlesoft. We've covered it quite a bit, and I use it myself. It installs as a Preference Pane and allows you to set up custom rules for sorting files in selected folders (somewhat similar to email rules in Mail.app). Once you have Hazel installed it would be quite easy to set up the sorting system however you like.

I should also mention that you could accomplish something like this for free using Folder Actions and AppleScript or Automator. However, I would still recommend Hazel for its power and ease of use.


Claire asks

I'd like to know what the best settings for formatting a flash drive or external hard drive using Disk Utility are. What does the 'Journaled' in "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)" refer to, e.g.? Or the 'case-sensitive' in the other options? Do I need to do anything in the Partition tab? Or does that only matter if I want to be able to boot from the drive?

This really depends on what you want to use the drive for. If you ever want to use the drive on a Windows (or other non-Mac) machine you should probably format it as FAT32. If you're only ever going to be using it on Macs it would be best to format it as Mac OS Extended (HFS+) Journaled. Apple has a nice explanation of journaling; the upshot is that it helps protect from data corruption & speeds up integrity checks after unexpected disconnections or crashes; it should be turned on. The case-sensitive option refers to treating files with upper-case and lower-case names differently (e.g. "Test.txt" would be different than "test.txt"). Unless you have a specific technical requirement to do it, you don't want to turn that on for general Mac usage.

Partitioning allows you to create multiple logical volumes on a single physical drive (e.g. some people like to separate their data from the OS volume). You probably won't need to create more than one partition. In short, if you want the most cross-platform versatility go with FAT32 and if you want the best performance on Macs go with Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

There's one more important note, if you intend to use the drive as a boot volume (system startup) or a Time Machine backup volume on any Intel Mac: click the Options button in the Partition tab and make sure the drive is using the GUID volume format instead of APM or MBR. We've mentioned this requirement before in the context of building a USB recovery drive and dealing with Time Machine backup issues. Also note that MBR volumes cannot be resized non-destructively -- we'll be discussing that feature of Leopard & Snow Leopard's Disk Utility a bit further on.


Ni_Knight asks

I work at home, and I have a 15" Macbook Pro (mid-2006) running Snow Leopard (10.6.2) for personal use and a Windows XP SP3 laptop on a docking station for work. I'd like to greatly simplify my home office setup, and wanted to ask you what's the best way to do it. I've thought of getting a simple KVM to connect both computers to it and control them from one single screen/keyboard/mouse, but I have a lot of questions about this setup that Google couldn't answer for me: Are all KVM's Mac-compatible? Is there the possibility to use two screens with the same KVM? Do these KVM's support wireless Keyboard/Mouse (also very important)?

Most USB KVMs should work fine on both the Mac and PC. There are multi-monitor KVMs available (e.g. this one), but I don't really see how it would be practical with your setup since they require two DVI inputs and your MacBook only has one output. The KVM should support a wireless keyboard and mouse as long as they use a USB dongle; they generally won't support Bluetooth devices.

Given your situation I think I might actually suggest something else, namely a virtual KM manager. The cross-platform Synergy allows you to control two different computers with the same keyboard and mouse. Basically the computer connected to the keyboard and mouse acts as as server and the other computer acts as a client. It's true that you'll still have to have two monitors, but it will clean up desktop and allow you to keep your hands on the same peripheral hardware.


crazyandlazy1995 asks

i hav a first gen ipod touch that is about 3 years old and every nite i charge it in my iHome and now, after 3 years, it's battery life has diminished so much that I can't watch more than 15 minutes of video (and like 30 seconds of any medium-sized app/game) and my friend says the battery is worn out. TUAW, what do i do???

Apple has some tips and battery info. It might be worth trying to restore the iPod, but I suspect your friend is right. So you're looking at a battery replacement. Apple will do it, but it'll cost you $79. If you're handy you can find a lot of third-party kits online, though it will require soldering. There are also third-party companies that will perform the replacement for less than Apple (e.g. iResQ and milliamp.com). Finally, you could also just get an external battery; there are many options available.


akfromrhill asks

I am a photographer on the go, looking for a portable 2.5" HD to store images. I have two 1TB external drives at home where all my work is backed up, but I need something that can keep up with me, and store a few gigs on the fly at events. I would also like to partition this portable drive to keep a clone of my MBP HD at all times. Is it a bad idea to be using the hard drive day in and day out, if it contains a valuable clone of my actual hard drive on it?

I don't really foresee any problem with doing that as long as you're reasonably careful handling the drive. I don't really see why it would matter that it was partitioned and contained a clone of your main drive. After all, you use that main drive "day in and day out" as well. I would suggest, however, that you also think about off-site backup with a service like Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan, etc.


Greg asks

I have an external hard drive that has been partitioned. One of those partitions is for iTunes and I'm coming close to filling it up (podcasts take up a lot of space and I'm not as quick with them as I should be). Is there a way to tweak the partition sizes to accommodate the growing collection? Alternatively, can I store them on the other partitions while keeping the bulk of it in the iTunes partition?

Disk Utility now supports non-destructive partition resizing. You should just be able to go to the Partition tab to make the changes without destroying the data on the disk -- if you have enough free, unpartitioned space on the drive. If the existing partitions are filling up the drive now, you cannot resize them without backing up one and deleting it.

That said, you really should not re-partition a disk without a full backup as there's always a risk of data loss.



Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about automatically sorting downloaded...