Mac Users, This One's for You

November 2004

Ah the joy of owning a Macintosh: no viruses, no spyware. I started to wonder if I should be concerned about viruses on my Mac and posted a question in a Mac discussion group about updating my Norton Antivirus. The response was “Why bother? There are zero known viruses for Mac OS X.” Audible sigh of relief.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean computer heaven for Mac users. While we may not need to spend as much time in the care and feeding of our computers as those who use Windows, there are some simple but essential things you must do to keep Mac OS X tuned up.

PC users, you can turn the page. This one’s for Mac users. Two of my last three columns were focused on your needs, so it’s time to give some assistance to the Mac fraternity.

If you’re using OS X, no doubt you appreciate the stability and power. If you’re using System 10.1, you should upgrade, since 10.1 is slow and doesn’t have some of the repair features I’ll be talking about.

One reason OS X is such a great operating system is that under the hood it’s really BSD Unix — a very powerful open-source operating system. However, herein lie some of the bugaboos. You must regularly perform some simple maintenance.

First and most important is that you must Repair Permissions. As I understand it, because BSD Unix is a multiuser environment, with every single file assigned to a specific user, sometimes in all the writing and rewriting to your hard drive the file permissions get corrupted.

This can cause all sorts of unusual behavior. One colleague’s printer stopped working. When he called me, I told him that the first thing you always do when you have an anomaly is Repair Permissions. He did that, and immediately his printer began working again.

Another colleague couldn’t get her Eudora e-mail application to work properly. The answer: Repair Permissions. When I kept getting a frustrating error message that my hard disk was locked when I tried to save a file to it, the solution was simple: Repair Permissions.

To Repair Permissions in System 10.2 and 10.3, go to your Utilities folder inside your Applications folder and double click Disk Utility. Once you’ve started that application, you’ll see an icon at left that looks like a hard disk and shows the name of your hard drive. Click on it once to select it. Then click on Repair Permissions. Do this once a week. Also do it if something suddenly stops working or acts strange.

In addition to repairing permissions, there is some Unix housekeeping that needs to be done regularly. Again, it’s very simple.

Because Unix was designed for a server environment, the developers expected the computer to be running 24/7. At 3:00 a.m. every morning Unix performs some housekeeping operations. But most of us don’t have our computers running at 3:00 a.m., so these little duties forever remain undone.

The simple solution is to download the free MacJanitor. You simply start up the application, type in your user password, and then with a click of a button, MacJanitor performs these operations. Unix has a daily task, a weekly task, and a monthly task that it runs. I use MacJanitor once a week and have it run all three tasks.

These are the two main things to attend to: Repair Permissions and  housekeeping via MacJanitor.

Sometimes applications don’t work because the Preferences file becomes corrupt. (I haven’t had this happen.) Again, there’s a simple fix. You can download the free Preferential Treatment, which checks preference files. Start up the application, click on the lock to type in your user password, and then click on Check User Preferences. Then click on the System Preferences bar, and again click Check System Preferences.

One other tip has to do with Microsoft’s Entourage software (or Outlook Express on older computers). If you’re having problems with your e-mail acting strangely, you may need to rebuild your e-mail database. See the Entourage Help Page for instructions.

Also, to back up your e-mail and contacts, go to Users/YourName/Documents/Microsoft User Data/ and back up the Office X Identities folder. Some people religiously back up files but forget to back up their e-mail and contacts.

Speaking of backup, a popular program for backing up files is Synk. To clone your whole hard drive, try the free Carbon Copy Cloner.

That’s it. Those are some simple tips to keep your Mac happy, tips every OS X user should know.

© 2004 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen