Mac OS: Power tools

Uptime heads - people who wear the length of time that their OS X box has been continuously up and running as a badge of honour - have mixed feelings about Apple's regular software updates. Sure, some of them, like the recent security update, are necessary. The problem is that often you need to reboot, which means you can kiss your precious uptime goodbye.

(For the record, my personal best was three weeks, between installing Panther and then needing to shut down after installing a software update).

One real advantage of keeping your machine up all the time is that all the obscure, UNIX-core maintenance operations get carried out on schedule. Often they're set up to run automatically in the middle of the night. Some other maintenance procedures won't run at all unless you've gone ahead and scheduled them. Apple's often no help in this regard: it purposely doesn't reveal much about what makes OS X tick. If your OS X box has started acting a little flaky (mine did recently, for no apparent reason), then those missed maintenance tasks could be to blame.

Macaroni

Fortunately, there's a way to make sure they happen when they should. AtomicBird's Macaroni 2.0.3 (www.atomicbird.com) is an application that takes care of everything from removing dusty files in the UNIX tmp (temporary) directories to repairing broken disk permissions. It will also remove localised language files - assuming, of course, that you don't want them hanging around, which can liberate up to around 400MB of disk space.

At $US8.99, Macaroni's a cheap, effective way of keeping your Mac up to scratch (and keeping those all important uptime stats happening!). It's also a lightweight download, coming in at around 750KB, and integrates wonderfully with the System Preferences utility.

Cocktail

If you're interested, the Terminal application is one of OS X's real joys, but not everyone wants to get their hands (and heads) messy learning UNIX command line interface strings. Macaroni goes some of the way toward keeping things clean, but Cocktail, which has some similarities to Macaroni, goes even further ($US9.95, www.macosxcocktail.com).

Cocktail is set of stand-alone utilities: unlike Macaroni, it doesn't integrate with the System Preferences utility. It also requires a little more knowledge of what's going on in your system. For example, you can turn hard drive journaling on and off, but what if you don't know what journaling is? (It's essentially a database that keeps track of what's where on your hard drive.) Cocktail will also take care of scheduled maintenance, but it's hidden behind a tab that asks you to set a 'chron' script. That's OK, as long as you know what this means.

There are also tools that let you play around with the interface, mess with Safari preferences and perform tasks like renewing your DHCP lease. Essentially, Cocktail's a power user tool for the non-power user. The only downside is that it's somewhat slow switching between its preference panes.

Click here to view a screen shot.

A Better Finder Rename

There's a way to rename a batch of files using the Terminal. There's also an application, snappily called A Better Finder Rename, that'll do it for you ($US19.95, www.publicspace.net). It plugs straight into the Finder, and allows you to rename files in any number of ways. Better still, if you're regularly renaming large groups of files using the same criteria, you simply create what's called a 'Droplet' on your desktop. Drag the files to the Droplet and you're done. Essentially it's a macro, but it's a very elegant, graphical macro - though you may find the price a little hard to swallow.

DragThing

Most of the tools I've highlighted are designed to prevent you needing to go anywhere near the Terminal. DragThing is different ($US29.95, www.dragthing.com). It's for people who aren't quite happy with the Dock (OS X's launcher bar). It's also a perfect fit for the OS 9 sentimentalist, who may have used the Classic version of DragThing.

Unlike the Dock, DragThing, which operates like a control strip, is configurable and tabbed. You can drop documents, applications, servers and other controls so that they're all organised and accessible via one or two clicks. It's so good that you might even end up with the Dock permanently hidden. Again, the only downside is the cost. At $US29.95, it's rather expensive.

It's easy to think that OS X is a finished work, and that you can't play around with it. All these utilities show that's not the case. You can customise OS X and make it easier to use; just remember that it may not come free of charge.

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