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Mac OS X Disk Organization

Like previous versions of Mac OS and most other computer operating systems, Mac OS X uses a hierarchical filing system (HFS) to organize and store files, including system files, applications, and documents.

The top level of the filing system is the computer level. You can view the computer level window (Figure 1) by clicking the Computer icon in the toolbar of any Finder window. This level shows the computer's internal hard disk, any other disks the computer has access to, and the Network icon.

The next level down is the computer's hard disk level. You can view this level by opening the hard disk icon in the computer level window (Figure 1) or on the desktop. While the contents of your hard disk may differ from what's shown in Figure 2, some elements should be the same:

Figure 1Figure 1 The top level of your computer shows all mounted disks and a Network icon.

Figure 2Figure 2 A typical hard disk window might look like this.

  • Applications contains Mac OS X applications.

  • Applications (Mac OS 9) contains applications that run under the Classic environment.

  • System and Library contain the Mac OS X system files.

  • Users (Figure 3) contains individual folders for each of the computer's users, as well as a Shared folder.

    Figure 3Figure 3 The Users folder contains a home folder for each user, as well as a Shared folder.

  • System Folder contains the Mac OS 9.x system files for running the Classic environment.

  • Documents contains documents you saved on your hard disk before upgrading to Mac OS X.

  • Desktop (Mac OS 9) contains items that appear on the desktop when you start your computer with Mac OS 9.x.

By default, a Mac OS X hard disk is organized for multiple users. Each user has his or her own "home" folder, which is stored in the Users folder (Figure 3). You can view the items inside your home folder by opening the house icon with your name on it inside the Users folder (Figure 3) or by clicking the Home icon in the toolbar of any Finder window. Your home folder is preconfigured with folders for all kinds of items you may want to store on disk (Figure 4).

Figure 4Figure 4 Your home folder is preconfigured with folders for storing a variety of item types.


  • Applications and the Classic environment are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5.

  • When you install new applications on your computer, you should install Mac OS X–compatible applications in the Applications folder and Mac OS 9.x–compatible applications in the Applications (Mac OS 9) folder.

  • If you upgraded from a previous version of Mac OS to Mac OS X, you may want to move the contents of the Documents folder on your hard disk (Figure 2) to the Documents folder inside your home folder (Figure 4) to keep your documents together and easier to find.

  • Unless you are an administrator, you cannot access the files in any other user's home folder except those in the user's Public and Sites folders.

  • If you place an item in the Shared folder inside the Users folder (Figure 3), it can be opened by anyone who uses the computer.

  • Sharing computers and networking is beyond the scope of this book. For more information about these advanced topics, consult Mac OS X Advanced: Visual Quick Pro Guide. storing a variety of item types.

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