Do I need to maintain my Mac?

What do you think about “Clean My Mac” from

It seems like an impressive app that could do a little too much in the wrong hands. I’m on a laptop and could use a little cleaning up and like the idea of dumping excessive language files and PPC binaries. Would love to hear your thoughts.

In answering, I’m going first to name, but not spend time defining, the various tasks involved in maintaining Mac OS X. Then I’ll discuss the software that I use to perform those tasks.

Oh yeah: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE backup your entire hard drive before doing any of this. Heck, even before you read this article.

Maintenance Tasks

Before anything else, it’s important to know that, since Panther and even more since Tiger, Mac OS X does most of its essential maintenance in the background. It runs the daily, weekly, and monthly Unix maintenance scripts on a more fluid schedule, remembering to do them even if your Mac was asleep when they were officially scheduled. Also, ye olde venerable “disk defragmentation,” familiar to many 90’s-era Mac and PC users, is somewhat automated but mostly much less necessary, for reasons Apple spells out in this kBase doc.

One task that used to be more commonly recommended to fix lots of issues with OS X is “Repairing Disk Permissions.” I used to use Disk Utility to run this when someone said their Mac was running slow (and they had clearly adequate RAM and processor), but because developers have had time to become savvy about OS X’s file-permissions scheme, the task is less likely to do or fix anything. Still, I usually turn it on as an option when I run the software that I’ll describe below.

Also in Disk Utility one will find “Repair Disk,” which since Tiger can be run while a machine is booted — all other activities are halted — to tell you if the volume data on your startup disk is screwed up.

Finally, a step that still seems relevant to keeping a Mac running smoothly is deleting cache files, specifically the Font, Kernel, and Application Caches. I have found lots of miscellaneous, weird problems — from apps crashing to fonts not rendering — resolved by a cache zapping. Also, since the dawn of the World Wide Web, web browsers have occasionally needed their caches cleaned. Safari features Empty Cache as a menu item in its “application menu,” i.e. the menu to the immediate right of the Apple, which in Safari is called “Safari.”

Cleanup Tasks

This is a more nebulous topic, since different people need different things on their hard drives. Also, as drive capacity has increased, now to way more than most of our clients need, many drives wear out with plenty of unused space. But of course, the idea of removing unneeded 0s and 1s from your storage is always appealing. It’s gratifying to let slough away PPC binaries, the OS 9 System Folder, Previous Systems, obviated applications, additional language support and fonts, yadda yadda yadda.

Maintenance and Cleanup Apps

Several programs have appeared over the years to automate these maintenance tasks and more. The crucial thing to know about these applications is that they are only graphical interfaces (GUIs) to the very simple Unix commands that make the tasks happen. I learned back in 10.1 to type:

sudo periodic daily weekly monthly
diskutil repairPermissions

(note the capital “P”), and

fsck -yf

(that last from single-user mode, accessed by booting while holding down Command-S).

Those commands accomplish much of the aforementioned tasks, and do it without installing, much less buying, anything. The apps save one from having to remember this stuff, but as the tasks are rarely required, paying $15 for an app seems kind of weird. That said, many apps will let you run a full-featured trial.

(An aside: I wonder if some Mac developers could benefit from the iPhone App Store model and start looking at $1-$3 tags for certain smaller desktop apps; would sales go up?)

A search for “maintenance” at yields the most established titles. Of these, I actively used Cocktail for a while, but since the free Maintenance and Onyx from Titanium Software came about, I have seen no reason to use any other tools. Maintenance is the simplest thing going: one window with a few checkboxes; turn on the ones you want and hit go. Onyx takes the hood off a lot of system services and features, and lets you run the same tasks as Maintenance to boot. They will both wisely ask to run “Verify Disk” before they do anything else. That takes a few minutes, but it’s well spent.

This is a good point to mention that, if Disk Utility’s Verify or Repair functions find something that they cannot fix, you will need to pick up an application such as Disk Warrior or TechTool Pro. These are each pricey but rock solid, and they repair the dramatic damage or corruption of your volume information that can cause data loss.

To bring your Mac to a space- and performance-saving English-only state, I’ve always liked Monolingual. A MacOSXHints user posted an Automator script for 10.4 that strips the languages and also PowerPC code from applications, but I want to examine it before I use it in 10.6. Here’s another, also older, article and another app for removing PPC from Universal Binaries.

Regarding CleanMyMac specifically, I haven’t used it, and with a 200MB cleanup limit on the trial, I have little need to put $15 toward that. (I’m not knocking the developer’s price, just… well, see above.) Monolingual should do the language diet for you, and to maintain stability, I would greatly encourage you to download Intel-only versions of your apps. Remember, too, that Snow Leopard is itself Intel-only, so the Apple apps are not Universal.

You will backup before running these apps, right?

Posted via email from J2 Tech Blog

Author: jjmarcus

Apple Specialist, Mac Whisperer, Cloud Wrangler - Your Remote CTO

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