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You are here: MacNN Forums > Software - Troubleshooting and Discussion > macOS > Too many items on Desktop = BAD?

Too many items on Desktop = BAD?
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::maroma::
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Sep 13, 2006, 07:21 PM
 
So our IT guy has been telling us that keeping files on our Desktop will result in a myriad of problems. Anything from kernal panics to Photoshop crashing. I'm having a hard time believing it, but I haven't heard anything that either confirms or denies this.

Can anyone shed light on this claim? Is there any validity to it, or is he just making stuff up?

(for the record, we're talking about maybe 20-30 items on the Desktop)
     
TETENAL
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Sep 13, 2006, 07:34 PM
 
I have heard of people who accidently dropped hundreds of pictures onto the desktop and it made the Finder unresponsive. 20-30 items should be fine though. I don't think I have been under 20 items at any time in the last couple of years. Neither have I seen a kernel panic in that time.

Mac OS X has protected memory and stuff. Photoshop doesn't know and doesn't care how many items there are on the desktop.
     
newtech
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Sep 13, 2006, 09:11 PM
 
Every item on the desktop is treated as a folder. excess items cause the finder to swap into VM and get sluggish
     
jmiddel
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Sep 13, 2006, 09:38 PM
 
Every one of my user files is located in folders on my Desktop, I keep nothing in Documents, Music etc. and my finder is doing just fine! I have 17 Gigs there, I don't know how that compares to your situation.
     
CharlesS
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Sep 13, 2006, 09:42 PM
 
My desktop is a total mess, and has been for years, and I haven't had any pr[/color][/quote]NO CARRIER[quote][color=white]

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Chuckit
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Sep 13, 2006, 09:44 PM
 
Originally Posted by newtech
Every item on the desktop is treated as a folder.
Uh…what? It doesn't try to count the number of items in my MPEGs or anything.

Anyway, there is some truth to the idea that having too many things on your desktop can cause problems. I've heard cases where somebody dropped some ungodly amount of crap on the desktop and wound up SPODed. It seems the desktop isn't exactly optimized for efficiency — you're probably not expected to have a crapton of things there — so if you have several hundred items there, it can take up a lot of memory and drawing time and basically make the Finder suck, especially if you have icon previews on. But unless you're using a 200 MHz G3 with 64 MB memory, 30 items is nowhere near the point that it should cause problems.
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msuper69
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Sep 14, 2006, 07:04 AM
 
Originally Posted by CharlesS
My desktop is a total mess, and has been for years, and I haven't had any pr
You're so funny.
     
Dog Like Nature
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Sep 14, 2006, 11:13 AM
 
If you have previews enabled, and the files on the desktop are images, then there will be *some* work involved in creating the thumbnails. More image files == more time needed to create them.
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King Bob On The Cob
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Sep 15, 2006, 04:11 AM
 
*sigh* Every icon on your desktop is a window. Try and open 30+ windows in preview and you'll see the kind of things you're doing to your system by keeping lots of stuff on your desktop.
     
Tyre MacAdmin
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Sep 15, 2006, 05:05 AM
 
Originally Posted by ::maroma::
So our IT guy has been telling us that keeping files on our Desktop will result in a myriad of problems.
My bet is your IT guy spends too much time on Windows.

That's crazy in my opinion. As long as your filesystem has support, which HFS+ does, you can put thousands of files there and you should be just fine.
     
bowwowman
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Sep 16, 2006, 01:35 AM
 
Originally Posted by Tyler McAdams
My bet is your IT guy spends too much time on Windows.
Make sure he knows that windblows & crak dont mix well
Personally I find it hilarious that you have the hots for my gramma. Especially seeins how she is 3x your age, and makes your Brittney-Spears-wannabe 30-something wife look like a rag doll who went thru WWIII with a burning stick of dynamite up her a** :)
     
Judge_Fire
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Sep 17, 2006, 03:16 AM
 
Originally Posted by King Bob On The Cob
*sigh* Every icon on your desktop is a window. Try and open 30+ windows in preview and you'll see the kind of things you're doing to your system by keeping lots of stuff on your desktop.
Icons are windows and windows have a copy in a buffer, which takes up memory. Additionally, since they're windows, they're rendered as OpenGL textures and composited using (hopefully) the GPU.

How much this affects the system's responsiveness, or how much more memory/bandwidth is used, I have no idea.
     
niceappletreehouse
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Mar 22, 2007, 02:19 AM
 
im computer tech inept. that said, i've been doing digi tech/ graphics for some time now, and def. notice a difference in start up and photoshop responsivenss directly related to amount of files (more importantly the size of folders/files). These differences were definitely more apparent on an earlier windows machine... i assume that desktop files have a "priority" status in accessibility and are so organized on the scratch and affect amount of RAM.
As a general rule of thumb, i always create thumnails of folders on the desktop to reduce clutter...

just throwing in my 2 sense,

     
CaptainHaddock
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Mar 22, 2007, 03:15 AM
 
The only thing I ever allow on my desktop is temporary screenshots. Any folders I need quick access to go in the Dock.
     
Tomchu
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Mar 22, 2007, 03:42 AM
 
Originally Posted by King Bob On The Cob View Post
*sigh* Every icon on your desktop is a window. Try and open 30+ windows in preview and you'll see the kind of things you're doing to your system by keeping lots of stuff on your desktop.
Let's hope this gross design hack has been fixed in Leopard.
     
matatiouz
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Dec 12, 2007, 03:19 AM
 
There is a valid reason why a mac with many desktop items can be prone to more errors than a mac without. The idea is that Items stored on the desktop are more readily available and more often modified as opposed to hidden away and neatly stored. This frequent modification lends to more fragmentation of the disk directory. Imagine you have random downloads strewn all over desktop; you are more inclined to move, copy, erase these files more often then ones you don't see. The more times files are erased, replaced etc the more fragmentation occurs. This causes obvious disk read/write latency increasing the chance of failure or malfunction. In my experience as a MAC technician the computers with more errors, sluggish operation, erratic application behavior etc are the ones that have a more cluttered desktop.

Thats not to say that the machine wasn't designed to save files anywhere you want. Thats fine, however the fact remains. Stored files are altered less often then ones left out in the place you frequent the most on your mac. The desktop.

If you save many files to your desktop and havent experienced problems i would suggest running diskwarrior, you'll be surprised to find out there are things going on that you don't necessarily see.
     
JustinHorne
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Dec 12, 2007, 03:54 AM
 
Heck no, no files on my desktop at all.. OS X provides a great filse system for holding things, dunno why you guys put anything on the DT. Here's a current screen:
     
philm
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Dec 12, 2007, 05:29 AM
 
You've probably just hidden them all behind that big car of yours.
     
.Neo
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Dec 12, 2007, 08:17 AM
 
Originally Posted by newtech View Post
Every item on the desktop is treated as a folder. excess items cause the finder to swap into VM and get sluggish
From what I know and read that's not true. Every item on the desktop is actually treated as a window by Mac OS X. On older Macs this can cause some (minor) slowdowns. It shouldn't however affect overal system and application stability.
     
Cold Warrior
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Dec 12, 2007, 08:30 AM
 
macfixit had an article about this recently. Worth reading if anyone has a subscription (I don't, but read it for free on the day it was posted).
     
Nexus5
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Dec 12, 2007, 08:32 AM
 
Originally Posted by JustinHorne View Post
Heck no, no files on my desktop at all.. OS X provides a great filse system for holding things, dunno why you guys put anything on the DT. Here's a current screen:
Wow, this is an ugly car!

nexus5.
     
voodoo
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Dec 12, 2007, 08:42 AM
 
Steve does not approve folders on the desktop. To be in his good graces you need to a have a squeeky-clean desktop. Shouldn't even use it for drives.

As for slowdown... I don't know. My desktop never gets too cluttered and if 10-20 icons cause a slowdown on a 2+ GHz Mac then someone in OS development at Apple should be held responsible and promptly shot.

V
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JustinHorne
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Dec 12, 2007, 02:08 PM
 
Originally Posted by Nexus5 View Post
Wow, this is an ugly car!

nexus5.
     
Tomchu
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Dec 12, 2007, 03:13 PM
 
Originally Posted by matatiouz View Post
This causes obvious disk read/write latency increasing the chance of failure or malfunction.
A common urban legend among Mac people. Fragmentation does not increase the chances of failure/malfunction of software. A file is a file is a file to any program requesting to read/write to one.

The file system code handles locating and assembling fragments of files.

You have no idea what you're talking about.
     
peeb
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Dec 12, 2007, 04:58 PM
 
It could potentially slow your system down fractionally to have a boat load of stuff on your desktop, but that is it. No other bad effects will occur.
     
FireWire
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Dec 12, 2007, 06:24 PM
 
Originally Posted by .Neo View Post
From what I know and read that's not true. Every item on the desktop is actually treated as a window by Mac OS X.
Where does that come from? That's the first time I heard that claim. And if true, why would files be treated as a window??

My current desktop has over 100 items on it, and my previous desktops had well over 2-300 files, and I have yet to encounter any problem. The only "problem" I noticed is that it takes a while to refresh the desktop (icons get loaded in batch of maybe 20 at a time). When that happens, I simply move my files in a new folder called "Old desktop 1,2,3 etc) and start over
     
cgc
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Dec 12, 2007, 10:02 PM
 
I have been told (and can confirm) that a lot of files on a Windows desktop with a roaming profile will cause slow login times. Other than that, I dunno.
     
gpeden
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Dec 12, 2007, 10:06 PM
 
FWIW, I have major-use folders like downloads and frequently accessed topics located elsewhere, but aliases of them on the desktop.

Cheers!

Glen
Cheers!

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imitchellg5
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Dec 12, 2007, 10:12 PM
 
I've always kept my desktop clean, but that's because I can't stand clutter. However, my dad keeps gigs of stuff on his desktop, and he's never had any issues.
     
Hal Itosis
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Dec 12, 2007, 10:39 PM
 
Originally Posted by FireWire View Post
Where does that come from? That's the first time I heard that claim.
And if true, why would files be treated as a window??
 
The oft-quoted demonstration is to begin to take a cropped screenshot (via ⌘-shift-4),
and then enter window/camera mode (by hitting the spacebar). The pointer turns into a
camera icon, and every window the pointer passes over gets highlighted (so we can take
a shot of only that window).

Why? Because the desktop is "special", that's why.
-HI-
     
MacNNUK
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Dec 13, 2007, 12:00 AM
 
One tip I find useful, downloading many items onto Desktop, rather than moving each one individually into the folder I should have created first!, click on Finder in the Dock, and sort by date, then bulk move into folder!

Regarding too many Desktop items slowing down Mac, see this...
Argh! Are Beach Balls Driving You Mad?- MacLife

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matatiouz
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Dec 13, 2007, 01:51 AM
 
Originally Posted by Tomchu View Post
A common urban legend among Mac people. Fragmentation does not increase the chances of failure/malfunction of software. A file is a file is a file to any program requesting to read/write to one.

The file system code handles locating and assembling fragments of files.

You have no idea what you're talking about.
Of course the "file system code" is designed to read files . However, Its no secret that storing parts of a file in noncontiguous clusters, especially in disks with heavy fragmentation increases the probability of bit write errors and mechanical stress loads. To assume spinning platters recording billions of bytes are a perfect science is laughable. The errors, soft and hard, inherent to a disk drive when searching through different parts of the disk to put together a single file is higher than with a file stored contiguously.

pepsi challenge: Ill store files on my desktop and defrag once a month. you do the same but never defrag. Lets talk in a year; if you're OS will let you send an email.
     
CharlesS
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Dec 13, 2007, 03:00 AM
 
Originally Posted by matatiouz View Post
pepsi challenge: Ill store files on my desktop and defrag once a month. you do the same but never defrag. Lets talk in a year; if you're OS will let you send an email.
How about 6 years? Because that's how long I've been using OS X with files on the desktop and never defragging, and I haven't had any problems (other than that one time in 2001 that I did defrag it, with Norton. Now that caused problems).

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peeb
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Dec 13, 2007, 03:21 AM
 
OSX handles its own defragging automatically. No need to mess with it. In fact, it can be counterproductive.
     
Hal Itosis
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Dec 13, 2007, 12:02 PM
 
Originally Posted by peeb View Post
OSX handles its own defragging automatically. No need to mess with it. In fact, it can be counterproductive.
OSX doesn't defrag free space (to any great extent).
Depending on how full a disk is, that could become
a performance issue.
-HI-
     
TETENAL
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Dec 13, 2007, 12:17 PM
 
a) OS X defragments files automatically. It doesn't defragment free space, but free space is never read, so the "increases error and mechanical stress" argument doesn't apply to it.

and b) and more important: how tf is storing files on the desktop supposed to cause fragmentation? That's one of the most stupid claims I have ever heard.
     
Chongo
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Dec 13, 2007, 12:29 PM
 
At work we have mac minis for our CIM. every time some opens a file ( vacation, parts inventory, etc) from the fab web page it puts it on the desktop. Once it fills the screen and starts placing icons on top of icons, the mini starts acting up. This happens because there is a CIM application open all the time so the desktop is not always seen. Once I delete them all it runs fine.
( Last edited by Chongo; Dec 13, 2007 at 01:15 PM. Reason: grammer)
45/47
     
Gankdawg
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Dec 13, 2007, 12:41 PM
 
Originally Posted by matatiouz View Post
In my experience as a MAC technician
Any credibility you may have had is now gone.


Anyway, I always heard that with pre-OS X systems, multiple items on the desktop was really bad but with the way OS X handles things, it doesn't matter now. Seems like in OS 9, for example, the system used Quicktime to draw everything and that would bog your system down or something like that. It's been so long I can't remember.
     
peeb
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Dec 13, 2007, 12:44 PM
 
Originally Posted by Hal Itosis View Post
OSX doesn't defrag free space (to any great extent).
Depending on how full a disk is, that could become
a performance issue.
You could think of theoretical situations where that might become an issue, but in the real world, it isn't.
     
TETENAL
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Dec 13, 2007, 01:04 PM
 
Originally Posted by Chongo View Post
At work me have mac minis for our CIM. every time some opens a file ( vacation, parts inventory, etc) from the fab web page it puts it on the desktop.
Why don't you set the downloads folder to be "Downloads" instead of the desktop?
     
Chongo
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Dec 13, 2007, 01:14 PM
 
Originally Posted by TETENAL View Post
Why don't you set the downloads folder to be "Downloads" instead of the desktop?
admin has locked up 99% of the privileges
45/47
     
TETENAL
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Dec 13, 2007, 01:21 PM
 
Then ask the admin to do it. If that is causing a problem.
     
analogika
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Dec 13, 2007, 01:40 PM
 
Originally Posted by matatiouz View Post
There is a valid reason why a mac with many desktop items can be prone to more errors than a mac without. The idea is that Items stored on the desktop are more readily available and more often modified as opposed to hidden away and neatly stored. This frequent modification lends to more fragmentation of the disk directory. Imagine you have random downloads strewn all over desktop; you are more inclined to move, copy, erase these files more often then ones you don't see. The more times files are erased, replaced etc the more fragmentation occurs. This causes obvious disk read/write latency increasing the chance of failure or malfunction. In my experience as a MAC technician the computers with more errors, sluggish operation, erratic application behavior etc are the ones that have a more cluttered desktop.

Thats not to say that the machine wasn't designed to save files anywhere you want. Thats fine, however the fact remains. Stored files are altered less often then ones left out in the place you frequent the most on your mac. The desktop.

If you save many files to your desktop and havent experienced problems i would suggest running diskwarrior, you'll be surprised to find out there are things going on that you don't necessarily see.
All in all, my experience as a Mac technician tells me that the above is COMPLETE hogwash.

And, FWIW, I haven't defragmented a Mac drive in about ten years.

I do seem to remember systems prior to 10.4 being extremely slow to display Finder windows with large numbers of objects in them (which presumably affected the desktop, as well), but that problem was solved in 10.4 Tiger, and it NEVER caused instabilities, crashing, or file corruption.
     
Hal Itosis
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Dec 13, 2007, 04:15 PM
 
Originally Posted by peeb View Post
You could think of theoretical situations where that might become an issue, but in the real world, it isn't.
 
You mean like when DiskWarrior tells us there isn't enough
*contiguous* free space to safely replace the directory file?

Seen it many times (both at home and in forum posts).

This isn't so atypical: a 100 gig disk, with 10 free gigs... but
the largest contiguous free space block is less than 100 megs.

Add some swapfile generation to a scenario like that, and a full
disk defrag might just be a Good Thing™. (It's not anything we
need do after every meal... but -- once in a blue moon -- fine).
-HI-
     
peeb
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Dec 13, 2007, 04:41 PM
 
I agree that it is possible to generate conditions where a disk defrag would be more helpful than harmful, but they are the rare exception.
     
CharlesS
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Dec 13, 2007, 06:05 PM
 
Originally Posted by Hal Itosis View Post
 
You mean like when DiskWarrior tells us there isn't enough
*contiguous* free space to safely replace the directory file?

Seen it many times (both at home and in forum posts).
When that happens, the disk is almost always nearly full. In that case, you've got bigger problems than file fragmentation.

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Chuckit
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Dec 13, 2007, 08:17 PM
 
Originally Posted by CharlesS View Post
How about 6 years? Because that's how long I've been using OS X with files on the desktop and never defragging, and I haven't had any problems (other than that one time in 2001 that I did defrag it, with Norton. Now that caused problems).
Ditto. I have never defragged any Mac since like 1997, and aside from non-HD hardware failures (dead iMac monitor, two dead DVD drives), they've always run like champs.
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Tomchu
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Dec 13, 2007, 09:22 PM
 
The probability of bit write errors doesn't change with the fragmentation level of your file system. It's a constant.
     
imitchellg5
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Dec 13, 2007, 11:43 PM
 
Ah, I remember defragging. My dad had to do it like every night on his HP box. I remember once when I was little, I was in my mom's dental office. I wanted to play Solitaire, but I couldn't because their Dell was defragging. Since then, I've been playing Solitaire happily ever after on my Macs.
     
Hal Itosis
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Dec 14, 2007, 01:32 AM
 
Originally Posted by CharlesS View Post
When that happens, the disk is almost always nearly full.
In that case, you've got bigger problems than file fragmentation.
 
Right.

But "almost always" isn't the same as "always". Therefore, what I said
still holds true... and what you said isn't necessarily in disagreement.
So, which "cases" are we going to focus on? The worst case, which is
obvious... or the ones in which users could get caught unawares?

The total volume size could be even smaller than 100 gigs.
But if all we have is 10 gigs free space... what do you think?
You think it's a nice and pretty 10 gigs, all lined up in a row?

No.

Depending on how a disk has been used (files copied in, edited,
etc.), there could be so many fragments in free space that the
largest one is tiny (like 100 - 200 megs max). It can happen.

I've seen it.

'10 gigs free' isn't necessarily "nearly full". The same condition could occur
on a volume as small as 40 gigs (so that's 75%) **It all depends on usage.**
Someone could copy in a bunch of new music files to one folder, and then
delete some older ones from another folder, to make "more room".

Oh great... I've still got 10 gigs free.

Yeah but, what does that free space look like? [Swiss cheese maybe.]
Naturally this doesn't typically happen in an afternoon. But over a long
period of time (like years), with many system updates... no problem.

--

True... when disks get really full, this also happens.

Definitely.

But... it's not always as simple as all that.

[Let's also not forget possible swapfile multiplication and the
freak-but-not-impossible occurrences of super fat log files.]
( Last edited by Hal Itosis; Dec 14, 2007 at 01:55 AM. )
-HI-
     
 
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