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wincent WinSwitch: Fast User Switching refined

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the purpose of the "Switch-In Items" and "Switch-Out Items" folders?

WinSwitch will launch any items (or aliases to items) placed in the "~/Library/Application Support/WinSwitch/Switch-In Items/" folder whenever you switch to another user account.

Similarly, it will launch items or aliases to items placed in the "~/Library/Application Support/WinSwitch/Switch-Out Items/" folder whenever you switch back from another user.

You may choose to launch applications, documents, AppleScripts, or any other item that you would double-click in the Finder. For security, items will only be launched if both they and the containing folder are owned by the current user and the permissions are set so that only the current user has write privileges (if these conditions are not met, WinSwitch logs a warning to the console). Note that by default, Mac OS X does create new folders and items with appropriate permissions.

The WinSwitch installer creates a folder called "/Library/Application Support/WinSwitch/Sample Switch Items/" containing a number of sample AppleScripts that demonstrate the utility of this feature.

To try out the sample scripts, drag, copy or make an alias in the appropriate folder. Note that the sample scripts are installed globally (for all users) in the "/Library/" hierarchy, but that to use them you must install them locally (for the current user only) in the "~/Library/" hierarchy in your home folder.

For a more complicated example, see this hint that a user has posted over at Mac OS X Hints about using WinSwitch to tame Logitech's Control Center software; or this hint, about how WinSwitch can help sharing iTunes or iPhoto libraries across multiple accounts.

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How do I activate the root user?

To include the root user in WinSwitch's list of users, go to the "Show" submenu and toggle the "Root user" menu item. By default, the root user on Mac OS X has a full name of "System Administrator", and this is how it appears in the list. You can toggle this setting back and forth to your liking and WinSwitch will remember your preference.

In order to actually log in or switch to the root account, you first need to activate it and set an appropriate password. You can do this by using Apple's "NetInfo Manager" application, stored in the "Utilities" folder of your "Applications" folder. In NetInfo Manager, choose "Activate root user" from the "Security" menu. You should also use the "Change Root Password" menu item to select an appropriate password.

You should take care when running as the root user; the root user has the power to damage the system if not used carefully (for example, by deleting critical system files). Apple leaves the root user disabled by default for security reasons. In general most operations can be performed from a non-root account that has administrator privileges.

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How do I adjust the size of my user picture in the menu bar?

The short answer is to upgrade to WinSwitch version 3.0b or above.

For older versions, by default, WinSwitch displays your user picture at a size of 19 by 19 pixels. If you wish to set it to a smaller size (for example, 16 by 16), enter the following command in the Terminal (all on one line):

defaults write com.wincent.WinSwitch 'User picture size' -float 16.0

To set it back to 19 by 19 you would use:

defaults write com.wincent.WinSwitch 'User picture size' -float 19.0

Changes take effect the next to you log in or restart your computer. (If you're impatient to see the result you can kill the SystemUIServer by issuing a "killall SystemUIServer" command in the Terminal).

WinSwitch will remember your settings. Values less than 5.0 or greater than 19.0 will be ignored.

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How do I get the "Switch users" button to appear in the screensaver password dialog?

When Apple's Fast User Switching menu is turned on (by checking the appropriate checkbox in the Accounts preferences pane), the behaviour of the screensaver password dialog changes. An additional button, "Switch users", appears in the dialog. It also appears in the dialog that you see if you have your computer set to ask for a password when woken from sleep.

WinSwitch doesn't attempt to meddle with the internals of the screensaver or the Accounts preference pane, so it has no way of turning this feature on or off.

You can, however, trick the system into displaying the button. The "trick" consists of turning Apple's Fast User Switching off and on again, then quitting the System Preferences. Their menu will be reinserted into the menu bar when you do this (alongside WinSwitch), so hold down the Command key and drag the Apple version out of the menu bar, leaving WinSwitch in place. From that point onwards the screensaver and wake-from-sleep password dialogs will show the button.

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Why does Apple's Fast User Switching menu come back when I turn on switching in the Accounts preference pane?

WinSwitch adopts a conservative policy with respect to replacing Apple's Fast User Switching menu. When you install WinSwitch you are not overwriting Apple's menu; you are merely installing an alternative which happens to work much better.

The Accounts preference pane, however, continues to be hard-wired to work with Apple's version of the menu. So if you install WinSwitch and then turn on switching in the Accounts preference pane, then Apple's menu will be reinsterted into the menu bar and you will see two Fast User Switching menus!

The solution is to simply hold down the Command key and drag the unwanted version out of the menu bar.

WinSwitch doesn't make any attempts to meddle with the internals of the Accounts preference pane to prevent this from happening, as that would probably be a bad thing. As it stands, WinSwitch is nicely self-contained inside the WinSwitch.menu bundle. It doesn't spray files all over your system; it just installs itself inside "/Library/Menu Extras", and it is easy to remove.

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Why doesn't WinSwitch go away when I uncheck the Fast User Switching checkbox in the Accounts preference pane?

Apple's Accounts preference pane is hard-wired to communicate with their own Fast User Switching menu. WinSwitch doesn't attempt to overwrite that menu nor pose as it by using the same name and bundle identifier.

As such, when you uncheck the checkbox, the Accounts preference pane tries to remove the Apple version of the menu rather than WinSwitch.

You can easily remove WinSwitch by holding down the Command key and dragging it out of the menu bar. Running the installer and clicking the "Uninstall" button would have the same effect.

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I accidentally dragged WinSwitch out of the menu bar; how do I get it back?

As already stated, WinSwitch doesn't tamper with the internals of the Accounts preference pane, so if you try to turn it on by activating the Fast User Switching checkbox you'll find that the Apple version comes back instead of WinSwitch.

Because WinSwitch is self-contained and doesn't install any hooks into the operating system, you can put it back in the menu bar simply by double-clicking it. The WinSwitch.menu bundle is installed in "/Library/Menu Extras". Just double-click it, then hold down the Command key and drag it to your preferred position in the menu bar if necessary.

This is essentially what's happening when you run the "Activate WinSwitch" script that gets installed into "/Users/Shared". It saves uses the trouble of navigating into the somewhat complicated Library folder to find the bundle.

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How do I get the Apple version of the Fast User switching menu back if I uninstall WinSwitch?

Apple's menu is a bundle just like WinSwitch, so you can restore it simply by double-clicking it. You can find it on your disk in the "/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/" folder. It's labelled "User.menu".

Double-click it, then hold down the Command key and drag it to your preferred position in the menu bar if necessary.

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How do I localize WinSwitch into my own language?

Localizing WinSwitch is very easy because it has such a small number of user-visible strings. Localization can be performed in less than five minutes by a native-language speaker who understands the basics of the process.

Start by downloading the localization pack from the downloads list on the main WinSwitch page.

Then, edit the two text files using a UTF-16 capable text editor such as Apple's free ADViewer. (ADViewer is the tool recommended by Apple for localization purposes.)

In each case you see a comment followed by the original English version on the left hand side; you must replace the version on the right hand side with the translated text. Here's an example from the Spanish version of WinSwitch; the original English version:

/* Show */
"Show" = "Show";

Is edited so that it looks like this:

/* Show */
"Show" = "Mostrar";

Once you've edited the files, you change the name of the "English.lproj" folder appropriately (for example, to "Spanish.lproj"), zip them up and email them to me (to "win" at this domain) for inclusion in the next release of WinSwitch. Be sure to let me know your name and any other details (for example an email address and/or website link) that you'd like included in the WinSwitch credits.

If you are interested, you can read more about localizing applications on Mac OS X here.

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How do I subscribe/unsubscribe to the winswitch-announce mailing list?

The winswitch-announce mailing list is a low-traffic list (approximately one message per month) that is used to notify people when a new version of WinSwitch has become available. Please see the list page to subscribe or unsubscribe.

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How do I participate in the WinSwitch beta program?

You join the beta programme by subscribing to the winswitch-beta mailing list. When a new beta becomes available, a message is sent to the mailing list containing instructions on how to download the beta.

The list is a moderated discussion list, meaning that you can reply to the list and share your impressions with other beta testers. The moderation is in place to prevent spam or viruses.

You file bug reports and feedback on the betas by replying, sending a message back to the mailing list. In this way all the beta testers can see if an issue is under investigation, and can easily add information to the discussion to help isolate the causes.

To subscribe to or unsubscribe from the mailing list please see the list page.

The list of subscribers will not be disclosed or sold to any third parties, so your privacy is protected.

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How do I show only my first name in the menu bar?

The short answer is to upgrade to WinSwitch version 3.0b or above.

In older versions, this feature is only available from the command line (by using the Terminal application located in the Utilities folder). It is considered to be a "power user" feature because it determines the first name by truncated the long username at the first space, something which may not always produce the expected results.

To enable the feature, enter the following in the Terminal:

defaults write com.wincent.WinSwitch "Menu bar style" '4'

Changes take effect the next to you log in or restart your computer. (If you're impatient to see the result you can kill the SystemUIServer by issuing a "killall SystemUIServer" command in the Terminal).

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How do I show only my initials in the menu bar?

The short answer is to upgrade to WinSwitch version 3.0b or above.

For older versions, this feature is only available from the command line (by using the Terminal application located in the Utilities folder). It is considered to be a "power user" feature because it determines the initials by taking the first letter of each "word" of the long username (where "words" are delimited by spaces), something which may not always produce the expected results.

To enable the feature, enter the following in the Terminal:

defaults write com.wincent.WinSwitch "Menu bar style" '5'

Changes take effect the next to you log in or restart your computer. (If you're impatient to see the result you can kill the SystemUIServer by issuing a "killall SystemUIServer" command in the Terminal).

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How did you get those iTunes control buttons in the menu bar of the screenshots?

The buttons in the screenshots are provided by Synergy, an inexpensive and fully-featured iTunes controller with hot key support, album cover downloads, and customizable floater.

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Why isn't the source for the WinSwitchHelper background application included in the source archive?

The source code for producing the WinSwitch.menu bundle is, and since the beginning has been, available under the BSD license. The WinSwitchHelper background application contains confidential, proprietary code and so it cannot be included in the download archive. You can still build a functional copy of WinSwitch based on the open source segment of the project. The WinSwitchHelper binary is included in the archive, so you can build a copy identical to the version made available for download from this web site.

I don't anticipate that this will slow down the WinSwitch project, because since it's release near the start of 2004 there have been many thousands of downloads of the project source code, yet not a single person has contributed a line of code or a bug fix. I chose the BSD license because its predecessor, FUSe, was BSD licensed. It does appear, however, that for a project of this size, the open source model doesn't bring any benefit to the project. I do have plans for experimenting with other models of open source in the future, trying to find something that works, but it will most likely be something other than a BSD (or even a GPL) license.

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