VoiceOver Portable Preferences++

Last modified
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

For a while now, VoiceOver portable preferences has bugged me, because it's so outdated. Today I decided to tackle the problem once and for all.

What I wanted was a way to take my preferences with me wherever I go. I have 2 macs, one at my house, and one at the place I volunteer, which sort of doubles as a demo machine. So I wanted to be able to make awesome things happen at home, then have the changes reflected when I went to another mac, without the really serious risk that I'd lose my memory stick.

The plan:
VoiceOver portable preferences wants you to have an external disk attached, ideally a portable hard drive, a memory stick, or some other form of external media. The awesome thing is that OS X doesn't know, or more likely doesn't care, if it's a physical piece of hardware, or a mounted disk image.

The steps:
First thing to do is to make yourself a read/write (RW) image in Disk Utility, which can be found in /Applications/Utilities. I gave mine 1 partition, with a GUID partition table, which I don't think matters, but made me feel like I had something to talk about all the same. It's read / write, and is 40 MB (the smallest that I could set it too). When it's made, simply open it from wherever you stored it.

Now, in VoiceOver Utility's "General" category, click the "Setup" button, and select your mounted volume as the destination.

If you've done this right, you should See something like "Keeping portable preferences up to date on the remote disk VoiceOver Prefs".

Just to be sure, I toggled VoiceOver off and on again, then I ejected the disk, and re-opened it. I got the message about portable preferences, and I clicked the "Always Use" button.

You can now open up the image on another mac, and you should get the same message, thus allowing you to keep your preferences with you. To make sure their synced, simply eject the image, and that should do the trick.

I prepared an example image, including the scripts that I posted a few weeks ago, with my latest versions, and some others I've been working on. It also contains the keyboard prefs, so you can just import them, then you can use that image as your portable preferences.

Remember, what you've got is just a normal disk as far as the operating system cares. You can store any and all files you want in there, so you could leave other stuff (like the scripts) inside, for easy access whenever you use the image.

With the image I made, my scripts and stuff are used without me remapping anything, and I can put the image wherever I like.

If you want to download the image, here's my dropbox link:

I tried using Simlinks to make something more dynamic, but that seemed to fall down pretty hard, so with the disk image I'll stay.

In the few hours I've been using this method, I've not noticed anything strange except for this fresh install seeming to ignore the settings which the second mac is happily using. That was easily worked around though, and now all is working smoothly.

Hope this helps someone.


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Submitted by dvdmth on Monday, July 28, 2014

Club AppleVis Member

I like your creativity here in finding a solution for this. I currently don't need anything like this, since I only have one Mac, but I'll keep this in mind should I need to do this in the future. You're right about Apple's current implementation being outdated, since many of us rely on the internet for our data syncing instead of carrying around storage devices for the purpose. Maybe Apple can add iCloud support in the future?

Submitted by Megan on Thursday, February 19, 2015

I am trying to use portable preferences from my Macbook Pro on my university's iMacs in the programming lab. I'm noticing that when I insert my flash drive and select the portable prefs, my speech rate is way slower than it is on my Pro, you can't change any of the settings, etc. My first thought was that maybe it was because I didn't have admin rights on the Mac, but using it on a friend's Mac where I did have admin caused the same problems. Has anyone experienced anything similar? It's a very weird problem indeed.

Submitted by Chris Norman on Friday, February 20, 2015

Yeah, I have. This seems to be a problem with OS X Yosemite, and it drives me mad, and caused me to abandon my disk image idea.


Submitted by mehgcap on Saturday, March 21, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I wondered if subsequent Yosemite updates had fixed the problem you guys ran into. I haven't tried this yet, but was considering it until I happened to read down to these last two comments. Thanks.

Submitted by Chris Norman on Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I'm afraid not. Symlinks still don't work, but it works as well as it did before.

I just keep a copy of my current prefs exported, and the scripts on an image.


Submitted by KE7ZUM on Sunday, July 12, 2015

Be careful. I used a spacrce bundle for somethingn similar and it got dammaged some how to the point where coppying the file to my internal disk could not even open it. iv'e heard about this happening more times then I care to think about though.

Take care.

Submitted by Chris Norman on Monday, July 13, 2015

Sorry, not sure I know what a spacrce bundle is, or what happens with them all the time to cause you such dread! :-)

Submitted by KE7ZUM on Monday, July 13, 2015

a sparse bundle is a dmg that does not pre-allocate the size of the image when the content is added. it will grow and shgink up to the size specified. I used this al the time for flash drives this way I could keep an eye on space and rsync between them.

Anyway it has been known to cause problems between such images. It's like the vertul disk gets corrupted.

Take care.