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Housecleaning Tips for Tiger

by Derrick Story

Back when my job was Mac support for a busy communications department, I had a major philosophical difference with my assistant. When one of our Macs would misbehave to a point beyond my tolerance, I'd always back everything up, wipe the drive, install a clean version of the OS, and reinstall the apps.

My assistant thought this was a huge waste of time. His approach was to keep hammering at the problem until he found a way to get the computer running again. Usually, this meant lots of trial and error troubleshooting.

We never really analyzed our approaches to determine which one was more efficient over the long haul, but to this day I remain addicted to clean installs on an annual basis. Since Apple has been releasing new versions of Mac OS X on a similar cycle, I've used the pending upgrade as an excuse to tidy up before installation. That will be my approach with Tiger, and that's what this article is about.

Embarrassment of Riches

First, I have a confession. I use not one, but two PowerBooks for my work. Over the years I've come up with lots of rationalizations why this is necessary, but today's excuse is that I don't want to install a brand new Tiger on the Mac I need to make tomorrow's deadlines. Instead, I'll install it on my other PowerBook, which I use for testing software. Once I have all the bugs worked out of the new OS, I'll start using the Tiger PowerBook as my working laptop, and the other computer will become my machine for testing.

If you're lucky enough to have two serviceable Macs, I highly recommend this approach. Learning the quirks of a new OS is an exciting adventure on a second Mac, but can be an agonizing journey on your primary machine.

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If you don't have a second Mac, then back up your entire hard drive on to an external FireWire drive. Some folks recommend just backing up the Home folder, but I like to have everything. I can always delete it later, once the "all clear" signal has sounded.

Just in case you skimmed over that last paragraph: back everything up to an external drive.

Time to Partition?

Most of us are so excited when we buy a new Mac that we want to get right to work. About three days later, after all of our apps and work files have been installed, we realize that we didn't partition our drive.

Partitioning your drive—that is, creating two separate virtual hard drives—has one great advantage for power users: You can install a second operating system on the other partition, then choose which one you want to boot from. (You make this choice either in the Startup Disk system preference, or by holding down the Option key during bootup.)

If you missed your first opportunity to partition, then you might want to reconsider after your housecleaning preparations for Tiger. You'll have to copy everything on your Mac to an external drive, then load it back after you partition. To create the actual partition, use Apple's Disk Utility in your Utilities folder. There are third party apps too, but I haven't tested any of them. If you have, please post a talkback relating your experience at the end of this article.

Application Data Clean-Up

One of the things that have been bugging me is the size of my Entourage database. I get a lot of mail, and have been using Entourage since its initial release. My Office 2004 Identities folder is mega-gigabytes in size.

I could wait for the whole house of cards to collapse, but instead I'm taking the Tiger opportunity to archive my mail in another database, then start anew with the Tiger version of Mail, or at least a fresh copy of Entourage.

One of my favorite utilities is Entourage Email Archive X by Softhing. Not only does it enable me to archive all of my mail, Softhing also provides a FileMaker template so I can store the data in a separate, powerful relational database.

The FileMaker template is free with the $25 registration fee for Entourage Email Archive X The FileMaker template is free with the $25 registration fee for Entourage Email Archive X

When you export from Entourage using this utility, choose the tab-text file option. Then launch the Filemaker template and import the file. You'll have to take a minute to properly map the fields, which is easily accomplished with a helpful user interface.

I keep this FileMaker database on an external FireWire drive and on my iPod. That way it's always accessible when I need to look something up. I'll also keep it on my PowerBook hard drive during the transition to Tiger. But at some point I'll be able to remove it and free up disk space (as long as my iPod is nearby in case I need the database.)

You can use this same approach for other apps that have accumulated huge amounts of data. With iPhoto, for example, try using iPhoto Library Manager to create a fresh library while still having access to your existing pictures. Again, I archive the old library on a FireWire drive and store a copy on my iPod. I can then free up disk space on the PowerBook by starting afresh with a new library. If I need to grab an old picture, I just plug in my iPod, open Library Manager, switch libraries, get what I need, then reverse the process.

iPhoto Library Manager is a free utility that enables you to create multiple iPhoto libraries and switch between them. The libraries listed in red are those located on my iPod. They become available as soon as I connect the Pod to my PowerBook. iPhoto Library Manager is a free utility that enables you to create multiple iPhoto libraries and switch between them. The libraries listed in red are those located on my iPod. They become available as soon as I connect the Pod to my PowerBook.

Two more thoughts about your apps. First, make sure they're in the Applications folder. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but the Apple apps may not get updated during the Tiger install if they're not located there. Second, make sure you have all of your shareware registration numbers handy. Tiger is changing a lot of things under the hood, and we're going to see new versions of some of our favorite software. You can save yourself a lot of frustration by having all of your registration numbers on hand and ready to use. I keep mine in a single text file and have it backed up on .Mac. That way I can get to them from any computer.

If you're using a cool data backup utility along the lines of the examples I've written about, please mention it in the talkbacks. Others will be interested in your experiences.

Old Files, Past Projects, Unused Apps

I'm amazed at how much stuff I accumulate over the course of 18 months. As I scroll through my Applications folder, I see lots of perfectly useable software that I never use. It's like those shirts from mom lurking in the back of my closet; I don't want to give them away because they're from mom, but I never wear them, either.

A good compromise is to archive the apps on a FireWire drive, then remove them from your computer. If you do find that you need that copy of "Bob's Great X Utility," you can always retrieve it and reinstall—that is, if it runs on Tiger.

The same holds true for old projects. If you haven't opened the folder in six months, chances are good you can archive and remove. Before you know it, those megabytes will be falling off your hard drive like leaves off of an autumn tree.

Finish Off with a Cocktail

Once you've cleaned, archived, and double-checked your work, it's time for a cocktail: Cocktail for Mac OS X that is. This collection of maintenance tools helps you finish off your housecleaning by tidying up all of those nooks and crannies on your Mac's hard drive.

 Cocktail helps you tidy all of those nooks and crannies on your hard drive. Cocktail helps you tidy all of those nooks and crannies on your hard drive.

You're now ready to upgrade to Tiger. In our next article, this coming Friday, F.J. is going to walk you through a clean Tiger install. You may think that this process is so simple that you don't need an article to do it. Well...that may be true, but wait to decide until you read what F.J. has to say. We'll post the piece on Friday afternoon, PST. You might want to read it before taking the plunge.

Until then, happy cleaning.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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