Spring Cleaning Your Mac

Now that May, and warm weather for those of us in northern states, is upon us, our thoughts naturally turn towards rebirth. In addition to household spring cleaning – i.e., packing up the winter clothes, cleaning off the patio furniture, planting your flowerbeds and gardens – your technology would similarly benefit from a spring cleaning. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Old Files: Take a look at your Desktop, Documents, and especially your Downloads folder to remove the cruft that has accumulated since the last time you did a deep dive into those folders. Your Downloads folder could be hosting files and folders you grabbed from the Internet and no longer care about. Your Desktop could be similarly littered. Take some time to file miscellaneous items that you want to keep into folders with meaningful names within your Documents folder.
  2. Hard Drive Space: Everyone loves the speed of SSD drives that you’ll find in nearly all new Macs these days. By every measure, the slowest modern SSD is faster than the fastest modern spinning hard drive. The only downside to SSDs, which we’re slowly overcoming, is that they are dramatically more space-constrained than a similarly priced spinning disk. We went from an era of 750GB spinning drives to 128GB or 256GB SSDs. Internet and “cloud” technology has mitigated this constraint – i.e. you can store documents on remote servers, have iCloud hold your purchased movies and iTunes Match your purchased music – but, sometimes, there is no substitute for local storage – like when you’re traveling with spotty Internet. As part of your spring cleaning, use a program, like DaisyDisk, to see what folders are consuming large amounts of space on your computer. Then make intelligent decisions about what can be removed.
  3. Programs: One of the Mac’s great advantages over PCs is that installing and uninstalling most programs is remarkably easy. This ease is a boon to users and developers alike. Users, being less concerned about “mucking up” their computers, feel comfortable to try new programs. Developers are therefore more likely to sell applications. And, with the Mac App Store built-in to every version of OS X since Snow Leopard (10.6), buying apps is easier than ever. Take a look a your Applications folder to see if everything that’s there is stuff you use. If it’s not, make sure you have the installer saved somewhere (in a folder on your hard drive, disk, or external drive) and the license key. Then delete the application by dragging it to the trash. If the app is one you bought from the Mac App Store, just delete the app, secure in the knowledge that Apple maintains the licensing information and will let you re-download the app later if you desire.
  4. Updates: Speaking of programs, any actively supported application is going to have updates. You should be checking for and applying them. Some programs make this easy; you can set them to check on launch or on a given schedule. Others are even easier; for example, OS X, Apple’s apps, and any app you purchase from the App Store will automatically check for updates via a background system service in OS X. You’ll be notified of pending updates via a red dot in the upper righthand corner of the App Store icon on your Dock. It’s the same sort of notification you get when iOS apps have updates waiting on your phone.
  5. Physical Cleaning: To complete your spring cleaning, let’s think of the Mac’s hardware. Your interactions likely consist of screen, keyboard, and mouse. The tech-friendliest way to clean all three is with a soft, lint-free cloth and isopropyl alcohol. After powering-down the Mac, and removing the batteries from your keyboard and mouse, if they’re wireless, add a bit of alcohol to the cloth and wipe off your keyboard keys, mouse surface, and screen. Don’t add too much; you only want the cloth damp, not sopping wet. If you don’t have a bottle of alcohol lying around, you can buy pre-moistened swabs from Amazon, or even your local pharmacy. If you would also feel more comfortable buying computer-specific cleaning products, one of the best-known names is iKlear. They sell a variety of computer-specific cleaning materials.

Hopefully these tips are helpful for sprucing up your Mac for the new season. As always, if you have feedback, please email me at jschoenberger{-at-}@affinityconsulting.com or on Twitter @jrsch.