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Must-Have Mac Maintenance Apps


According to Murphy's law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This holds especially true for mechanical and electronic devices. If you don't change your car's motor oil, your engine will eventually seize up. And if you don't perform regularly scheduled maintenance on your Mac, your computer could be in a world of hurt.

Mac OS X is based on the Darwin operating system, which uses many FreeBSD components. In plain English, this means that your Mac has lot of UNIX-like stuff under the hood - stuff like system logs, cron jobs, system cache, and much more. If it sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, that's because it is. In fact, most Mac users will never need to delve into the UNIX side of their Macs. But there is a very important UNIX aspect of Mac OS X that concerns every Mac user, and that is background maintenance tasks.

Forcing Background Maintenance Tasks

According to Apple, every Mac running Mac OS X is supposed to perform maintenance tasks in the background. But if you don't leave your Mac turned on at night, the maintenance tasks may never be performed:

Mac OS X periodically runs background tasks that, in part, remove system files that are no longer needed. This includes purging older information from log files or deleting certain temporary items. These tasks do not run if the computer is shut down or in sleep mode. If the tasks do not run, it is possible that certain log files (such as system.log) may become very large. These tasks are scheduled for 03:15 to 05:30 in your computer's local time zone.

You could just leave your Mac turned on every night. That's a sure-fire way to run the background maintenance tasks. But it's also a waste of electricity. A better solution is to reschedule the maintenance tasks to run while your computer is turned on.

We'll show you how to do that with a third-party application. It turns out that there are quite a few Mac maintenance apps you can use to get the job done, so we'll introduce you to some of our favorites.

Oh, and in case you're interested, you can manually force the background maintenance tasks to run by typing some commands into the Terminal. See this excellent article for more information on that.

OnyX

Free - http://www.titanium.free.fr/pgs2/english/onyx_tiger.html

This free application is the Rolls Royce of Mac maintenance applications. It would take several articles to discuss all of the features included in OnyX, but its maintenance features alone make it well worth the download. OnyX allows you to run all of Mac OS X's maintenance scripts from within the application, but it also allows you to reschedule the scripts.

It took us about five minutes to install OnyX and reschedule our maintenance tasks, which isn't bad when you consider that we only have to do it once. Just make sure to schedule the tasks at a time when you know your Mac will be turned on.

Cocktail

$15 - http://www.maintain.se/cocktail/index.php

This shareware application was recently updated with a slew of new, powerful features. The press is raving about Cocktail, and we like it too. Its Pilot scheduler feature provides some really cool scheduling options for maintenance scripts, cache clearing, and repairing disk permissions (we love this).

Cocktail's features more than justify its $15 price-tag. If you're looking for a handy maintenance application packed with features in a clean, streamlined interface, look no further.

MacJanitor

Free - http://personalpages.tds.net/~brian_hill/macjanitor.html

Unlike OnyX and Cocktail, which are packed full of features (many that you'll probably never use), MacJanitor is a one trick pony. It's a small, light-weight application that allows you to run the daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks manually. Just start the application, verify that you're an administrator, and click one of the buttons to run a series of maintenance tasks.

MacJanitor doesn't allow you to reschedule maintenance tasks, which is a real bummer. But if you're looking for a free, simple maintenance application that won't take up much space on your hard drive, MacJanitor might be for you. Just don't forget to run it every once in a while!

Macoroni

$9 (Free 35 day trial) - http://www.atomicbird.com/macaroni

Macoroni is perfect for new Mac users. Just download and install - Macoroni will take care of the rest. This little "application" isn't an application at all, but a pane in your Mac's System Preferences. The most amazing thing about Macoroni is that it schedules maintenance tasks right out of the box.

It's the little features that make Macoroni well worth the measly $9 price tag - Macoroni doesn't perform maintenance tasks unless your Mac is idle, and it also won't perform the tasks if your Mac portable is running on battery power. Highly recommended!

Anacron

Free - http://members.cox.net/18james/anacron-tiger.html

Anacron is an invisible background daemon that requires no configuration, set up, or attention. It monitors your Mac to make sure that the maintenance tasks are run, whether you turn your Mac off at night or not. Anacron does come with a nice installer, which makes it easy to get started.

Would you ever know if Anacron stopped working? Probably not, since there's no graphical interface. That's a pretty serious drawback in our opinion. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a small, transparent application to ensure that the background maintenance tasks are performed, Anacron might be your ticket.



Meet Your Macinstructor

Matthew Cone is a technical writer living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In his free time, he does the desert rat thing and hikes and road bikes around the Southwest. The rest of the time, he studies straw-bale houses, reads Anarchist philosophy, and pretends to not be working. You can email him at: matt@macinstruct.com


 
                          





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