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Ask TUAW: Disk Permissions, Wireless Syncing in iOS 5, Attachments on the iPhone, and More!


Welcome to Ask TUAW, our weekly (mostly) question-and-answer column. First off, we're back! Our intrepid question-and-answerer has spent the last month moving across the country and getting settled into a new place. Now, finally, it's time to answer some questions! A lot has happened since our last column: Lion has been released, a number of new versions of the iOS 5 beta have been released, iCloud is nearing completion, and now iTunes Match is out in beta. Exciting stuff!

I'm sure everyone has lots of questions about all these things, so please ask them! We can't have this awesome Q&A column without the Q, so go to the comments of this post and ask away. If you'd prefer, instead of asking questions in the comments, you can email your questions directly to, or simply ping us on Twitter.

For our first question, David asks:

I was wondering why Apple has killed support for WinXP for iCloud. Does this mean iTunes will no longer support it either? Is there a programming API that is only supported in Vista/Win7? Many people have older machines such as myself that love Apple products. What is the reason for dropped support (please don't say only that XP is old). I'm sure there is a better answer than that. Until I can save some more money to buy a Mac I'm stuck with this older machine.

Microsoft doesn't even support Windows XP anymore. Apple has a vested interest in keeping iTunes running on XP -- otherwise all those XP users wouldn't be able to shop in the iTunes Store or use iPhones, iPads, and iPods -- but since iCloud is going to be a free service primarily targeted at Apple's own gear, I'm not remotely surprised that it's dropped legacy support for XP.

However, it seems the website should still work under Windows XP if you're using a modern browser. Users will be able to view their email, contacts and calendars, as well as locate their devices using Find My iPhone/iPad/iPod/Mac.

Jawn writes:

Will I be able to do a Wi-Fi sync with the MacBook connected to the iPhone's hotspot?

Probably not, but it shouldn't be necessary to do so, either. The iPhone's Personal Hotspot function is designed to share your iPhone's 3G internet connection with another iOS device or computer. Wi-Fi syncing in iOS 5 is something entirely different, allowing the iPhone to sync with iTunes on your Mac over a local wireless network -- no internet connection required.

If there's no Wi-Fi network available at your current location, you can use your Mac to create one via the AirPort menulet in the menu bar: click it and select "Create Wireless Network," then join that Wi-Fi network from your iPhone.

If you use the iCloud backup feature, you won't even have to sync with your computer, Wi-Fi or otherwise. When your iPhone is plugged in, locked and connected to Wi-Fi, it will automatically back itself up to iCloud. If you don't have Wi-Fi, go to Settings/iCloud, and you will find a Backup Now button. Press that, even if you're just connected to 3G, and your iPhone will back itself up even if it isn't plugged in.

David wonders:

How do I send multiple attachments of different types from an iPhone? For example, I want to send a photo, and a PDF and a link to a web article all in the same email. It's easy from web mail on my PC. I just create an email, attach the PDF, the photo, add the link, and I'm done. As near as I can tell, I can only do this on an iPhone by sending three different emails.


Share the PDF from whatever app you're using to view it. When the email message opens up, switch to Safari (or whatever browser you're using) and copy the link you want to share. Return to your PDF viewer app and its still-opened mail message, and paste the link. For the photo, open your Photos app, copy the photo you need, return to the PDF viewer app, and paste the photo into your mail message. All done.

It sounds like a lot of extra hoops to jump through, but it's not a whole lot different from click-dragging stuff into a Mail message on the Mac.

David asks:

My question relates to the auto back up and restorer of iDevices with iCloud.

Me and my partner have iPhones but use the same Apple ID to purchase items from the app store. If all you need to do is sign in with your ID to restore your device, how would that work when more than one person uses the same ID?

Both devices will back up independently. Your iPhones have different names, correct? Tim's iPhone and Mary's iPhone, or whatever. It works the same way as one person having an iPhone and an iPad -- iCloud is smart enough to keep the data separate. However, your contacts and calendars -- if you use iCloud to sync them -- will be combined, which can be annoying.

The easiest way around this is to separate your data into groups, one for you, and one for your partner. In Address Book you can go to File> New Group and divide up your contacts that way. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't have a convenient way to split up or join Apple ID accounts. Best of luck!

Finally, Chris asks:

I am wondering what the function "repair disk permissions" [in Disk Utility] is used for? Is it similar to the disk defragmentation that I used to use in the PC days? And if not, does a similar program for disk defragging exist for Macs that I should be using to keep my program files organized on my disc?

Thanks for the help and any guidance!

Users can verify or repair "disk permissions" by opening the Disk Utility application inside the /Applications/Utilities folder. However, it doesn't do anything like disk defragmentation like you might have done way back in the day.

In Mac OS X, every file has "permissions" set on it. These are more designed for server/client environments where a computer might have many "users". Permissions are set to control what users can or cannot do with a particular file. You might allow anyone to "read" a folder sharing your favorite recipes, or create a folder that can't be "read" but users can "write" files to, much like an inbox.

For the general home user, they can safely ignore permissions entirely -- mostly. Repair Permissions looks at any files that Apple has installed -- system files, iPhoto, iTunes, Mac App Store -- and makes sure that they are all set properly. Occasionally permissions can get changed and cause bizarre issues to happen. In general, if your computer is working properly, one doesn't have to worry about repairing permissions. If you go to a Genius Bar appointment and report generic problems with your computer, the Genius may repair permissions as an easy step to try to fix the problem.

There are lots of errors that can be reported when trying to repair permissions, but many of them can be safely ignored. Basically, you can just ignore the "repair permissions" button unless AppleCare or a Genius advises you to attempt to repair them.

There's a much more detailed explanation in this excellent article on permissions from Macworld.

Regarding fragmentation, one doesn't need to worry about that anymore either, at least not on the Mac. Here's what Apple had to say on the subject a few years ago:

You probably won't need to optimize at all if you use Mac OS X. Here's why:

  • Hard disk capacity is generally much greater now than a few years ago. With more free space available, the file system doesn't need to fill up every "nook and cranny." Mac OS Extended formatting (HFS Plus) avoids reusing space from deleted files as much as possible, to avoid prematurely filling small areas of recently-freed space.
  • Mac OS X 10.2 and later includes delayed allocation for Mac OS X Extended-formatted volumes. This allows a number of small allocations to be combined into a single large allocation in one area of the disk.
  • Fragmentation was often caused by continually appending data to existing files, especially with resource forks. With faster hard drives and better caching, as well as the new application packaging format, many applications simply rewrite the entire file each time. Mac OS X 10.3 Panther can also automatically defragment such slow-growing files. This process is sometimes known as "Hot-File-Adaptive-Clustering."
  • Aggressive read-ahead and write-behind caching means that minor fragmentation has less effect on perceived system performance.

Anyway, thanks for the questions everyone, and we need yours too! So, ask away in the comments, or shoot us an email at Also, if you have anything to add to our answers, we love feedback and fresh ideas.

Seriously, we want questions! Now, have a great week!

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