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May 14th, 2009

For most of its life, the Macintosh was simple to maintain. With the introduction of System 7 in the early 1990s, however, the Mac Operating System (OS) started getting progressively more powerful ­– and complicated. Now, with the Unix-based Mac OS X, the workings of the OS can seem positively geeky, and only “code warriors” and top media creators are entering commands into the Terminal and plumbing the depths of Darwin, the core system.

The good news is that you don’t have to dive in that deep to keep your OS X Mac running smoothly. In fact, you may not even need to spend a single cent, as there are decent utilities that come with your Mac and a range of free tools and system utilities. You may decide after reading this two-part article that you want to buy one or more of the top maintenance programs – DiskWarrior, DriveGenius, TechTool Pro – but for old-time Macsters, you will note one name missing from that list. Although it was a mainstay for years, Norton Utilities should be kept as far away as possible from your Mac Pro rental (an OS X machine). Now, let’s look at some simple Mac maintenance.

Repairing permissions
Before OS X, experienced Mac users would “rebuild the Desktop file” to ensure that file icons were associated with the right applications. Following the move to a Unix-based OS, this became unnecessary, but a new issue cropped up concerning “permissions.” Every item on your Mac has a set of permissions controlling who can do what to files, folders and disks. They have a powerful role in security, privacy and system integrity.

Disk Utility comes on all Mac models – laptops, iMacs and Mac Pros – and is located in Applications/Utilities. Perhaps once a month (and after installing new software) you should start it up, select the First Aid tab at the right, click on a drive name on the left and choose “Repair Permissions.” Unless you know how to read a permissions report, there is no need to “Verify Permissions.”

Maintenance miscellany
Since the first version of OS X (it’s now at 10.5.6) the Mac has been able to run regular maintenance tasks on its own. However, turning your computer off or letting it go into sleep mode could prevent these automated routines from running in 10.2, 10.3 and 10.4. You still don’t need to spend any money to fix this situation, as free “Swiss Army knife utilities” such as YASU and MacJanitor let you do these same tasks.

As the Mac changes, your habits need to keep pace. Once upon a time the Desktop was a dumping ground for every file you wanted to have handy, but with OS X that can gum up the works. The smart move is to make a folder (in Documents or your work folder, not on the Desktop), put all those files in it and then drag the folder to the Dock to make it available with a single click.

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