Springcleaning my Mac (before it turns into a PC)

Today was spring-clean day for my dear ol’ Mac. Over the past few months, my Macbook has started to slow down, showing the spinning wheel of dayglow colours more and more often. My hard drive is getting full. Firefox keeps locking up and consuming ever vaster amounts of memory. I get multiple popup notifications whenever I boot up from Norton Antivirus (which I don’t even have installed anymore).  Its like my Mac is slowly becoming a cluttered, tetchy PC. Aggh, what a nightmare thought.

Happily, I found a bunch of excellent optimization tips online, on sites including lifehacker.com, lowendmac.com, and thexlab.com. However, each article differed in terms of the tips offered. Therefore here’s my attempt at a full superset of tips, with highlights of those which worked for me. Please see the original articles for extra detail. I’ve included references below.

Section 1: speeding things up

  1. First some foundational steps – Check: is there enough RAM? 2 gigs – yes, for sure. Check: do I have the latest version of MacOS X? 10.6.2 – yup. Check: do I need any software updates? No. Now onto the more clever stuff. Check: have I done a recent backup? Whoops.
  2. Check which processes are consuming resources – To do this I looked in Activity Monitor to see where my precious CPU and memory were being allocated. For me Firefox was being a major hog consuming 1 gig of virtual memory at some points. However, iPhoto and Adobe Reader were also being greedy. There were also a bunch of processes I didn’t recognise. I made a list of these to keep an eye out for in future steps
  3. Verify all apps are upgraded to the latest version – This was a manual process for me although apps surely exist to do this automatically. I actually found it handy to browse the app myself so I could ask myself the question – do I really need this? Surprisingly considering the legendary aggressiveness of Adobe’s Updater, my Adobe Reader was a whole version out of date. How did that happen? I upgraded hoping that would cure the memory hogging.
  4. Clean up auto-startup processes – This was always a monster headache on Windows machines, and it can also be a headache on a Mac too. I looked in System Preferences -> Accounts to check with apps were starting on bootup. Aha, a bunch of the mysterious processes could be explained this way. Most of these I could remove straight away – FireflyHelper, textexpanderd, some godforsaken RealPlayer watcher process, and several others, all of which had been created by software I had tried out at some point but stopped using.
  5. Tidy up unnecessary preference panes.  – This was a common tip from the online articles. Looking in the Other panel of System Preferences I was surprised quite how many additional icons were, including flip4mac, fan control, firefly, Google Desktop, ichatstatus, textpander. Again, most of these corresponded to apps I had deleted, but which hadn’t done their preference housekeeping properly. To delete them, I went to ~/Library/PreferencePane and deleted the preferences panes directly.
  6. Check for unnecessary OS serviceslowendmac.com recommends checking which OS services are running in the background. Their hitlist of services to consider turning off include Universal Access, Bluetooth, Speech Recognition, and Internet Sharing. Of these, I only had Bluetooth running. Since I don’t use it any more, off it went.
  7. Tidy up the Desktop – I had a LOT of old icons and downloads on my desktop. I deleted 95% of these, since each icon uses a small amount of resources.
  8. Tidy up the Dashboard – Dashboard widgets also consume resources. It turned out that I had a tonne lurking back there which I had set up in a frenzy of widget trials on my first day of having the Dashboard. Since I never intentionally used the dashboard, more often than not bringing it up by mistake, I went even further and disabled the Dashboard with MainMenu (see below).
  9. Disable unnecessary animations – Finally I disabled some of my screen candy including the window opening animations from the Dock, as well as the visualizer within iTunes.

Section 2: saving disk space

  1. First step – where is all my disk space going? – To survey this, I installed and ran both OmniDiskSweeper and  Disk Inventory X. In particular, I found Disk Inventory X immediately insightful. The app generates a treemap of your hard disk which gives a great visual summary of relative size files. The one which leaped out was Spore.app, a game I had installed but only used once, and was using almost 4 gigs. My iTunes library was also being greedy.
  2. Uninstall the apps you never use – There was a lot of them … Spore was the tip of an iceberg. I like to download and try out apps based on friends’ and websites’ recommendations, and over several years they had really built up. Overall I saved almost 10 gigs of hard drive this way. I found it was important to reboot and make sure the apps had been completely removed. one mystery was that despite the fact I had no Norton apps installed, I was still getting those annoying Norton Anti-Virus notifications. A google search revealed that Symantec has a specialist tool for removing all the files relating to its apps, including Library files which are sometimes not cleanly deleted on uninstall. Note to self, be wary of Symantec products in the future!
  3. Consider using a 3rd-party app removal tooLifehacker recommends dedicated app removing tools such as Hazel or AppDelete. These provide more robust uninstall functionality, and also allow you to scan for orphan files. I gave AppDelete a go, but decided to wait until later since it seemed overly-aggressive in terms of offering to delete files which I still used. e.g. the Chrome crash reporter.
  4. Remove unused i18n libraries – Another common tip is to run Monolingual to remove all the internationalization libraries that are never used. Here I had another surprise: there were literally hundreds of support files for languages I had never used and would never use – Czech, Swahili, Basque, Manx. Klingon and dozens of others. Why doesn’t Apple offer this by default?
  5. Remove fontsthexlab.com suggested using the  Font Book app to disable and delete duplicate fonts. Doing this, about 20 duplicate fonts bit the dust for me. I’m not sure how much space I saved, but I felt better for it!
  6. Run MainMenu maintenance featuresMainmenu has a bunch of useful springcleaning features for housekeeping and  deleting stuff you don’t need. I ran the following: repair disk permissions, clean caches, clean logs, remove temporary files, rebuild LaunchIndex and Spotlight index, update prebindings and databases, and verify preferences. Phew!
  7. Empty the Trash – (-;
  8. Empty the iPhoto trash – it has a separate one

Things I’ve yet to do

I didn’t get round to the following yet:

  • Tidy up my iTunes library – one of the largest drains on my hard drive
  • Use AppDelete to really do a deep dive of the plist files in my Library.
  • Investigate which of the backward compatible MacOS 9, PowerPC architectures I can delete
Please see the following articles for more detail:
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2 Responses to Springcleaning my Mac (before it turns into a PC)

  1. Mor says:


    Quite an endeavor. But what was the outcome? Give us estimates! Total space saved, performance improved,…

    P.s. what you start servicing other people’s machines, do inform me.

  2. M P says:

    Yay for Disk Inventory X! It is also cool because of its use of a CS concept called a treemap. It lets you display hierarchies such that each subtree is contained in a rectangle within its parent’s rectangle. http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/treemap-history/index.shtml

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