5 Simple Tips for a Happier Mac From the IT Department

5 Simple Tips for a Happier Mac From the IT Department

Joelle Alcaidinho
Mar 23, 2011

After giving these tips out as part of the daily grind (yes, we're in the IT department), and usually having users respond with, "wow, I had no idea," we decided that it was probably a good idea to share them in a post. These tips represent some of the advice we give every day that help people keep their Macs working the way they should. While this advice is probably not anywhere near magical and revolutionary to long time users, it does make quite a difference in the short and long haul.

1. Don't Run an Application Without Installing it
When you first read the title of this tip, you might think that such a thing is impossible.... well, friends it is not. In IT we see this all of the time especially with applications like Firefox and Skype. People download the software, and since it comes in a package (an image file with a .dmg extension), that they mount by opening, they mistakenly double click the Application icon inside this newly mounted image to use the application and think that they have installed the application instead of moving it to the Applications folder. This does not install the application. Applications are designed to run from the Applications folder. If they're elsewhere or still inside the package they may run slowly or parts may not work at all. Luckily, like most things in OS X, installing these kinds of applications is simple, just drag and drop the icon of the application into the Applications folder and it will copy itself there. Next, eject the image and delete the no longer needed .dmg file.

2. Beach Balls are no Day at the Beach
If you have never seen a beach ball while using your Mac, you are a rather fortunate person. Beach balls are one of the ways your machine is tells you that it needs a bit of help. Why do they happen? The most likely culprit is that the memory is full. The humble beach ball is a sign that either the application you are running needs to be restarted or your machine is in need of a restart. We have, on more than one occasion been called to stop beach balls for a user who had not shut down or restarted their computer in over two weeks. Yes, the beach balls were indeed in abundance thanks to the long overdue need for a restart. After a restart the memory will be flushed and your Mac can go back to being clean and happy.

3. Help Safari Help You
As cheesy as the title of this tip is, there are definitely ways to optimize your Safari experience. One of the main ways to do this is to empty Safari's cache every now and then from the Safari menu. If the cache gets too full, emptying the cache will speed Safari up. If you are noticing parts of Safari not performing optimally, you can also reset various elements of Safari from the Reset Safari menu. Another great way to help Safari run better is to go to the Safari Extensions Gallery and install Click to Flash. This extension will find alternatives to Flash videos where available and will only load Flash elements on demand. Because Flash loads everything into memory and doesn't really release it until Safari is closed, Flash is usually the culprit when Safari starts running sluggishly. Click to Flash helps free up these resources and keeps Safari running as it should.

4. Disk Utility is Your Friend
One of the first places we go to when a user complains about "weird behavior" is to Disk Utility. Many of the issues that fall under this category are solved by repairing the disk permissions. To do this, open Disk Utility and select your hard drive. On the first-aid tab click "Repair Disk Permissions." When you repair the permissions, Disk Utility has a look at all of your applications and system files and compares what permissions they have with what they should be and fixes them accordingly.

5. Keep Files in the Right Places
After being handed many machines with documents saved everywhere but in the Documents folder from users who complain that Time Machine is not backing up their documents, we fight the daily desire to not hand the users this tip nicely typed in a 30 pt font. Not to be all IT-angsty, but your home folder (the one with the house) is really where you should save your stuff. Try and keep your documents in the Documents folder, music in Music and photos in Photos. If you start saving things in other places (such as the root of your drive), not only can it get messy for you, but Time Machine and other automated backup software are most likely not going to backup those files because they do not know where they are.

Speaking of backup, because we cannot say it enough...
Backup, Backup, Backup!

Check out these posts for some great backup advice:

What are some of the ways you keep your Mac healthy?

(Images: Flickr users Matthew Wilson, Ken Fager, and Stuart Bryant under license from Creative Commons.)

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