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Macs, like Windows machines, will eventually bog down after a while. The major problem on Windows is disk fragmentation Five Free Programs to Defragment your PC Five Free Programs to Defragment your PC Read More — in layman’s terms, that’s when bits and pieces of your files are scattered all over your hard disk so your operating system has to work harder to find them. Mac OS X runs on a different file system (HFS, as opposed to Window’s NTFS) that automatically defragments and optimizes itself. So if you’re a Mac user, chances are you would never need to defragment your hard disk, thanks to Apple. However fragmentation is only one of the many problems we face regarding system optimization.

Mac OS X is quite different from Windows. Installing programs for instance, only requires a simple drag-and-drop of the application from the DMG (image file) to the ‘Applications’ folder. Uninstalling is just as simple with a swift pull to Trash. That’s because most Mac applications are bundled, meaning that the components necessary for running them are within the application itself. Unlike Windows, there’s no need to copy certain files over to ‘Program Files’ during installation. This method eliminates the need for uninstallers.

But there is a downside to this system. Upon running an application, preference files are created which are not removed after the application is uninstalled via the aforementioned “swift pull to Trash”. After some time, this will result in a historical collection of preference and cache files, which will eventually eat up hard disk space (admittedly, very little) but the fact remains that these files are just not needed anymore.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other issues regarding permissions, font and system caches and Spotlight indexes which may slow your system down. I’ve compiled a list of 10 utilities which will help you to maintain your Mac; customize, personalize and reveal hidden features in Mac OS X to bring the best out of it; and lastly, to backup your system (if you’re not running Time Machine).

Optimizers

Mac Main MenuMainMenu
The simplest of the 4 here. MainMenu allows you to perform basic optimizing actions i.e. clearing system and application caches, repairing permissions and rebuilding Spotlight index. It can also disable Dashboard Dashboard Widgets You Can't Live Without [Mac Only] Dashboard Widgets You Can't Live Without [Mac Only] Read More , if you need to.

Maintenance
With Maintenance, you’ll be able to clear system, application and font caches as well as old log files; repair permissions; and rebuild Spotlight and Mail indexes.

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IceClean
Similar to MainMenu, IceClean offers a simple-to-use GUI but it is more capable than it looks. IceClean can update prebindings, repair permissions, do a system cleanup (clear cache, remove log files and temporary items), verify the system disk, and completely remove all .DS_store files (those are the files which OS X looks to to retrieve folder preferences e.g. icon view, size, window size and arrangement).

OnyX
OnyX is a bit more powerful. I’d say that it’s the most multi-functional of the lot. It is able to repair permissions; clear system, application and font caches, old log files and temporary items; it can also check the S.M.A.R.T status of your hard disk; and has a few personalization options as well.

Well, it’s easy to see that almost all of these applications are about the same, they perform the same tasks i.e. flush your system of unwanted files and updates core system files. Which is best? For me, OnyX does a pretty good job, but MainMenu is easy to use. I guess you will just have to try them to see which suits your choice.

Personalization

These applications basically will reveal hidden functions of Finder, Exposé, Dock, Safari, Spotlight and other global preferences. They increase OS X’s functionality and allow you to modify your system to suit your needs; and eliminate settings that you don’t particularly enjoy.

Deeper and TinkerTool
Both of these applications are pretty much alike. They perform the tasks mentioned above and a few more. TinkerTool, for example can disable the creation of .DS_store files on network drives, fix the Dock so that no changes can be made to its content and add a stack for Recent Items, even change the Dock to give it a 2D look in Leopard. There are also more advanced options like how an application crash is handled and enabling developer modes for Safari and Dashboard.

Secrets
Secrets is different because it is actually a preference pane which allows you to tweak a lot of settings through System Preferences. The full list of what you can do with Secrets is found here, it is so long it’s exhausting to read! But you get the gist, almost any setting can be tweaked.

Backup

Backup is not a topic which I like to discuss very often. It’s quite a touchy subject because it goes very well for some people but for others, it may end in disaster. With Leopard, we have Time Machine, a built-in backup system into OS X which is easy to use. Personally, I don’t use any form of backup because I don’t trust any application to move my precious files around (I do it manually, backing up each individual folder with care). But I know of lots of other people who rely on backup systems to help them save their documents onto another location on a regular basis.

I’m going to touch on two free backup applications which may or may not work for you. Like I said, “backup” is a touchy subject and most applications will receive mixed reviews.

iBackup 2008
This application is simple and allows multiple backup profiles which is used to backup files, folders, application and system preferences; and data from system applications (Address Book, iCal, Stickies, Mail, iChat, Safari, iTunes etc.). It is also capable of scheduling backups to a local or networked drive or to WebDAV servers daily or weekly. It can also create archives (.zip) of your backups. One thing that I think is missing from iBackup is the ability to perform incremental backups — backing up only items which have changed after the last backup. Correct me if I’m wrong?

Carbon Copy CleanerCarbon Copy Cleaner
CCC is fairly popular in the Mac community. CCC is slightly superior over iBackup because it is able to completely clone your hard disk, allowing you to boot directly from your backup and run OS X! CCC is also able to perform incremental backups, scheduled backups up to the hour; and backup to local and networked hard disks. One fret I have with CCC is the many reported incidences that it breaks with Leopard. The latest version supposedly works on Leopard but it is still not Universal Binary, I think.

Keep in mind that iBackup and CCC are good backup utilities, but frequent manual backup is still the most reliable. Applications tend to screw up and backup is not something you’d want to mess around with. But hey, I’m not a party-pooper. Go ahead and try these applications, it may work for you!

If you’ve read this entire article and just realized that you don’t have a Mac but run Windows instead, check out these articles to keep your machine in tip-top shape:

  • Mark’s article on freeware to speed up your computer Freeware to Speed up your Computer (Part 2) Freeware to Speed up your Computer (Part 2) Read More
  • Shankar listed 10 ways to make your PC run faster 10 Quick Fixes to Make your Windows Computer Faster 10 Quick Fixes to Make your Windows Computer Faster Read More
  • Tina teaches you how to spring-clean your computer Last Minute Spring Cleaning of your Windows XP System Last Minute Spring Cleaning of your Windows XP System Read More
  • Enjoy!

    1. Diane
      July 15, 2008 at 4:49 am

      Great article! Thanks.

    2. vise
      July 14, 2008 at 4:13 am

      I'm pretty sure iBackup does incremental Backups.. it's just an interface for rsync really..

      • Jackson
        July 14, 2008 at 7:51 am

        Great then at least we have some confirmation.

    3. eliot
      July 13, 2008 at 11:40 am

      ...don't you mean carbon copy CLONER?

      • Jackson
        July 14, 2008 at 3:16 am

        Yes! Sorry about that. Carbon Copy CLONER it is.

    4. geekblake
      July 13, 2008 at 11:40 am

      Another useful tool is Monolingual, which assists in removing unneeded language and keyboard layout data. So, if you only plan on using your computer in English, you can delete the dictionaries, help files and keyboard layouts for all other languages.

      • Jackson
        July 14, 2008 at 3:18 am

        Monolingual removes additional languages, but XSlimmer removes the PowerPC part of the application which is Universal Binary. Which saves even more space.

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