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How to keep your Mac running smooth

By far the best and most useful session I attended today at the Users Conference was “Running Your Mac Lean, Clean, and Mean” by Dave Hamilton. He presented his qualifications as follows:

• Mac Observer – 9 years
• Mac Geek Gab Podcast – almost 3 years
• Geek … forever!

Dave gave us a great presentation on how to keep your Mac running nice and smooth, what preventive measures you can take to fend off any catastrophic system failures, and what to do when disaster has stricken your machine down. I’m not going to overload you with all of it, but there were a few key suggestions that I think will come in handy no matter if you’re a long-time Mac user or a switcher.

He had several suggestions on how to keep your Mac running clean, starting with deleting any unnecessary apps that are launching when you startup your computer. But he was quick to caution us to always Google anything that is unfamiliar before assuming it’s superfluous and deleting it. He suggests you do the following:

• Go to System Preferences > Accounts, click on the “Login items” tab, and delete everything that you don’t use.
• Check your “launchd” about every 6 months using Lingon, but be careful to only mess with “My Agents, “Users Agents,” and “Users Daemons.”
• He strongly suggested using OnyX, a free program that will automatically delete caches; Dave says “the defaults aren’t destructive,” meaning they only delete system data, not user data that you’ve created. He cautions against setting up your own automated cache deletions.
• The BIG secret, he says, is that many problems can be fixed by simply rebooting. True, Mac OS X runs on Unix and Unix was made to stay on indefinitely and still run smoothly, but rebooting your machine once every month or so is generally good for it. “Do you have to reboot daily? Come on, we’re not using Windows,” he says.

As for preventive measures, Dave advises:

• Go into Disk Utility and run “Verify and Repair Disk” every month to six weeks. This verifies your directory, not your actual hard disk. “A broken directory can cause you problems that can fester for six month or a year before you know things are screwed up,” he says.
• If you’re going to have any disk utility other than Mac OS X’s Disc Utility, you should have Disk Warrior, which you can use for rebuilding damaged or fragmented directories. “This is the one you want at 2 a.m. when you can’t get your email,” he says.
• Install AppleJack, currently only available for Mac OS X Tiger. This is a command-line only utility that you can use to repair major problems. He recommends you install it now, so that you’re prepared when disaster strikes.
• Your Mac automatically runs scripts behind the scenes to keep your machine healthy. Temp files and log files are only needed for a short amount of time, so these scripts try to clean them up. There are daily, weekly, and monthly scripts, but Dave says Daily are the most important. If your machine is on all the time, then they run no problem. If it goes to sleep or you leave it off for long periods of time, then you might want to run them yourself every now and then by going to the Terminal and typing ‘sudo periodic daily/weekly/monthly.’

When your machine actually is on the outs and won’t even boot, here’s what Dave says you should do:

• Boot from your Mac OS X CD/DVD and run Disk Utility, or go to the command line and run ‘fsck’ or AppleJack as many times as it takes for it to not find a problem (Tiger and Leopard both will automatically keep running the utility until no problems are found on your hard disk).
• Boot from Disk Warrior and rebuild your directory.
• To be safe with your data, you can always hold down Apple-T while booting your machine to start it up in FireWire Target Disk Mode. This makes your computer function as an external drive, allowing you to link it to another computer via FireWire and transfer all your data..
• If a physical problem is ever found with your hard drive, Dave suggests you back your data up and replace it. “Life’s too short.”

I sincerely hope you never have to use any of these suggestions.

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