A few miscellaneous ramblings of a BMW-loving, Amiga-nostalgic, Mac-using PHP developer from Australia

Changing your OS X short name under Mountain Lion (aka I bought a new iMac and I broked it)

I recently bought a new iMac, and after waiting 4 weeks for it to arrive (and after cancelling my initial order because I forgot to do the educational discount, and then re-ordering the machine), I finally got it. It’s a 27″ iMac with a 3.2GHz i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB drive with Fusion (so it’s really 1.128GB). It runs screamingly fast, and absolutely canes over my old 2007 model Mac Mini 2GHz with 2GB RAM.

Anyway, the other day I had the pleasure of migrating all of my data from the Mac mini to the shiny new iMac. All went swimmingly well, except for the carrying over of my user account to the new machine. The iMac requested I create a new account in the middle of the installation / set up process, before asking the Migration Assistant questions, so I created a ‘George’ account assuming that MA will overwrite this with the account I’m bringing over from my Mac mini. Which kind of happened – my Unix user (what you see when you do an ‘ls -lha’ in the 3rd column of a Terminal output) was ‘george’ but my home folder name became ‘george\ 1’ after Migration Assistant completed.

Now there’s heaps of information out there on how to change your home folder name, but it seems that Apple had changed the way things are done from OS X version to OS X version. Most of the information out there is quite outdated, and I could not find any particular information specific to Mountain Lion. I found some information pertaining to Lion home directory changes (found here: “Changing user account short name“), but when I tried creating a new user with the full name of “George” and the shortname of “george”, the validation in the form marked these two fields in red with a message saying that the name was already taken. This was after I had renamed my “George” account to “George old” to accommodate the brand new account I was making for it.

After some more searching though, I discovered via this surprisingly handy About.com page (I know right? About.com? You’re kidding me!) titled “Move your Mac’s home folder to a new location“, which is about migrating your home folder to an external drive, that I discovered the “Advanced Settings” panel for an account, by right-clicking on the username.  After creating the Administrator account from the first link (the Lion instructions that don’t work in Mountain Lion), all I had to do was log into that account, perform a “sudo mv /Users/george\ 1/ /Users/george/”, log back into the George account and change the Home directory location to /Users/george. This was actually easier than the instructions I found for Lion, and not including research time, the whole process took about 2 minutes to do.

So to simplify things, this is what I did in a step by step process.

  1. I discovered that my home folder name is george\ 1. Commence perplexed look on face.
  2. I created another Administrator account on my system called (funnily enough) Administrator. This can be done by going to System Preferences > Users & Groups and clicking on the [+] icon at the bottom left. You will need to unlock the preferences by clicking on the padlock icon and entering in your password.
  3. I logged out of my George account, and logged into my Administrator account.
  4. I opened Terminal, and entered ‘sudo mv /Users/george\ 1/ /Users/george/’. Terminal will ask for your administrator password.
  5. I logged out of Administrator, and logged back into George. Logging into George this time around took a little longer as OS X was creating a new ‘george\ 1’ folder under /Users because it is now “missing” (in reality, it was just renamed).
  6. I then get a mini heart attack as all files are missing and desktop / settings are all reset to default.
  7. I went into System Preferences > Users & Groups, did whatever unlocking padlocks were required, then right-clicked on the George account and clicked on Advanced Settings. I was then presented with a screen similar to the following:
    Advanced Settings
  8. I clicked on ‘Choose’, then chose the ‘/Users/george/’ folder. A request will appear asking you to reboot, which I did.
  9. Once the machine has rebooted, I logged into my George account and all my files and settings (with the caveats below) appeared and everything was good again.

Now keep in mind the following:

  • It’s been about 20 minutes since I have done this, so there could be some side effects to all this that haven’t shown up yet. Dropbox complained about its location, so I had to set that up again but that’s relatively painless. I have my Packages folder for Sublime Text 2 as a symbolic link to my Dropbox location, so since that changed, that broke too – but a couple of quick commands in Terminal fixed that. Other than that, everything seems to be OK.
  • I couldn’t seem to find a way to change the George home directory location when I was logged in as the Administrator account. Both George and Administrator accounts are OS X Administrator accounts (not Standard), so that wasn’t the issue. Maybe I’m an idiot when I’m in front of the computer and missed something obvious here, I’m not sure.

So yes, this whole thing could blow up in my face and I end up wasting my weekends rebuilding the entire machine again, but for now it seems like it’s worked well.