Freeing Up Space on Mac OS X

An endless battle between a powerbook and its user: The Struggle for Space. Unless you have some cash laying around for a bigger and better hard drive, it seems like no matter how hard you try to keep things tidy around a laptop, space keeps running out eventually.

At least, this is what happened to me a couple of months ago, and again now today. In this article, I proposed a 10-steps process for cleaning up your Mac OS X (Keep in mind I am still running the 10.3.9 at the moment on this powerbook). In order to effectively clean your hard drive, you need a good picture of what’s in it, to see how it’s organized and get a strategy for cleaning it. But first things first, let’s take note of how much space you have on the computer.

Determining Available Space on Your Hard Drive

To check how much free space is available on your startup disk, do the following:

  • In your Finder, select your Hard Drive icon (mine is called ‘Gimli’ in memory of Frodo’s small but bulky helpful friend, but it all depends on your personal tastes!). It could potentially be still called Macintosh HD ;
  • Press Apple-I (Cmd-I) and get the info from this window: Capacity, Available, and space used ;

Step 1. Disk Inventory X: The Big Picture

Disk Inventory X will provide you with a colored map of what’s taking space on your hard-drive. It begins by sweeping the drive and scan each files to analyze them. It will give you an opportunity to find the big files that takes up most of the space on your drive, however many small files can take up a lot of the space also. Be very careful when deleting files using this program: As a precaution, you should always back up the files that you delete, especially the ones created by program like Garage Band (otherwise it could stop working on you) and the System.

Step 2. Periodic Disk Cleaners: iMaid

Your powerbook comes equipped with its own personal assistant that cleans after him. Generally, if you are the kind of person who leaves his computer on all the time (me!), then your periodic program will be run at around 3am or 5am every day. But, if you don’t then chances are you are storing unnecessary files created by the Unix machinery running under the hood of your powerbook. Then, you will want to run the periodic commands, which you do by opening up the terminal (Applications/Utilities) and running the following commands:

  • sudo periodic daily
  • sudo periodic weekly
  • sudo periodic monthly

Note that these commands will prompt you for your Administrator password, which you hopefully did not forget (If you don’t know it, chances are it’s nothing, just press enter).

Step 3. Removing Unnecessary Language Packs

Another brilliant feature of your Powerbook is its ability to present the whole Operating System in many, many other languages than English. In fact, there are so many languages made available that it would even be surprising if you ever needed more than 1/5th of these. To help you remove the files, you can use Monolingual which is a program that removes all of the extra languages from your system, or DeLocalizer which removes all the system and application localization resources. By removing these files you do not remove the ability to read and type languages other than English, only the ability to run your entire system on those languages.

Step 4. Give a little iDiet to Your iPhoto Library

When changing the photos in your iPhoto library, for example rotating it or cropping the annoying tourist at the bottom left corner of the Eiffel tour you accidently left there, iPhoto saves the original file as well as the modified one. This is great usually since you might want to come back to the original one, but in the case of a rotation, you probably don’t. You can either remove those photos by hand, or do it using iPhoto Diet which helps you remove the embedded thumbnails in images, remove backups of midified photos, eliminate duplicate photos, weed out unnecessary folders and files from your library, which all saves a lot of space.

Step 5. Remove all the album graphics in iTunes

If you are a music fanatic like myself, you’ve probably added graphic arts to most of your iTunes cds. The way iTunes works around this, is that it adds the graphics to each of the files, adding to its size. So, depending on the number of graphics you’ve added (and there sizes), this could amount to hundreds of megabytes. Note that this could save much space on your iPod as well. In order to remove all at once, select all of your iTunes library, and then press Apple-I (Cmd-I). In the Multiple Song Information window find the empty artwork field on the right. Click the checkmark next to it. This way you are applying an empty artwork to all your music files at once. In other words, you’re deleting them.

Step 6. Uninstall Mac OS 9

If you always boot under Mac OS X and you have no need of the OS 9, then you could uninstall it. Note that you must make sure that you won’t be using the classic Mac OS, since some program still only run under this majestic OS (In Phylogenetics at least…). ***Proceed with a lot of care while doing this. You might want to seek for a good tutorial on what kind of precautions to take before doing this.

Step 7. The Footprints of Previous Applications

Go to Library>Chache, and delete anything you see from applications you no longer have on the computer. You could also repeat this process in Library>Preferences

Step 8. Internet Navigation and its Traces

Go to Library>Safari, and delete the “icons” folder. This stores all of the icons of websites (the ones that appear next to the web-address). This should also speed up your Safari web browsing. While we are talking about Safari, clean up the Cache as well, by visiting the Safari Menu and using the appropriate Menu Choice. For the firefox user (me!), use the Tools>Clear Private Data… to clean the Chache, and all your private data. This could potentially save quite a bit of space, depending on your browsing habits.

Step 9. Cleaning up the Old Way

This step is probably the one that could save you the most space (Except Step 1 that is!). It is the most dreaded step and it is the most hands on. Open up your applications and start cleaning up. Here are a couple of example:

  • iPhoto: Delete photos you no longer need. Don’t forget to empty the trash can from iPhoto ;
  • iTunes: Delete all music and podcasts you no longer listen to ;
  • iMovie: Empty the built in trash can and delete some of the movies you no longer want ;
  • GarageBand: Delete any GarageBand demo songs ;
  • Mail: Delete old messages that you no longer need. Also, remember to empty the built in trash can ;
  • Quicktime: Empty your download Cache. This is done by visiting the ‘Browser’ Tab under the Quicktime Preferences and clicking ‘Empty Download Cache’ button ;
  • Go through your documents, movies, and pictures folder and delete any junk you no longer need ;
  • Last but not least, empty the trash can on the dock ;

Step 10. Additional Helpful Software

As a last resort, you might want to go and use one of these programs to really clean the guts of your computer. It might not save you much space, but could potentially save some speed issues and might help you keep things tidy around the laptop.

  • iDefrag: Advanced Mac OS X disk defragmentation and optimization. Now 10.4 Tiger compatible. Defragmenting your hard disk could potentially save you a lot of space, since it takes files that are physically stored on the hard disk as seperate files (fragmented) and reputs them together. It sort of reorganizing your wardrobe by folding your clothes, it saves a little bit of space.The only downside is that the demo won’t defrag a drive more than 100MB in size.
  • WhatSize 10.3.9: A software that enables you to quickly measure the size of folders and files on your computer. It sorts them from largest to smallest, making it very easy to locate large files and to get rid of them (I suggest using this program when doing Step 10).
  • MacJanitor: It basically makes the Step 2 for you. Making sure that the periodic program runs even if you computer is asleep or shut down.

Concluding Remarks

Before you run outside to tell the neighbor how much space you saved with this tutorial, please let me know by leaving a comment with the Before/After digits. Thanks and have fun.

Note that if after have gone through this process once (or maybe twice) and you are still left without space within a week or so, it might be time to invest in a new Hard Drive for your Powerbook. When this time comes, you have choice: Upgrade or External. I would tend to think that upgrade is better, because then you could keep your old one (the one inside at the moment) as an external Hard Drive. Nowadays, covers for laptop Hard Drives are quite cheap and you could use this to store all the Videos/Pictures of the family that’s laying around and that you never look at (As well as on a DVD maybe ?). Anyways, the important thing is that you keep backing up and that you do not turn into a crazy virtual collector (Personally, I have this tendency of collecting Videos/Pictures of stuff I will never look at again!).


2 thoughts on “Freeing Up Space on Mac OS X

  1. Nobody else commented?

    Well I for one found this an extremely helpful article, better than the rest i found, much more comprehensive

  2. Hey Sam!

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I do get a lot of people reading this entry but not many people leave a comment. How much space did you save using this ? I saved 3 Gig the first time I did these steps. I can pretty much save 1 Gig everytime I do this now… It’s amazing how much junk you collect with time on your laptop. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate it.

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