Mac Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts in easy steps (2015)


Mac Maintenance

The Mac does not require much maintenance but over time you will accumulate large cache files. In this section you will learn about general maintenance, clearing temporary and other unwanted stuff from your Mac, backing up, defragmenting your hard drive, and installing and uninstalling software cleanly.

General Maintenance

Macs do not need much looking after, although in the past we were advised to defragment our hard drives and carry out other household cleaning tasks. Now with OS X there is little that needs doing on a regular basis.

After installing lots of apps, using apps and browsing the Web, your Mac will accumulate various temporary files and folders, as well as caches of websites and other log files. There is a view that, over time, these can slow your Mac down, hence various apps have been developed to remove this unwanted clutter easily.

Maintenance worth carrying out

•Clearing Safari history and caches

•Clearing cookies from Safari and other browsers

•Clearing old logs and User cache folder

Manually clearing out the User cache file

This is found in your User library:

imageGo > Library (you may need to hold down the Option key when you click Go since the User Library is hidden by default)

imageSelect the entire contents of the Caches folder and drag to Trash or right-click and select Move to Trash

imageEmpty Trash


Automate the Cleaning!

There are several apps that can clear out all of the unwanted files. Some are free and others are paid apps.

Three useful maintenance apps

•CCleaner (, free)

•OnyX (, free)

•MainMenu (, paid)


CCleaner is a very simple app, ported over from Windows. It carries out a very limited range of cleaning functions and does not clean out the User cache. It does, however, deal with internet debris and temporary browser files pretty well.


CCleaner’s main window


Other tools including Uninstaller

OnyX & MainMenu

These are more powerful than CCleaner but perform similar functions.


Batch tasks are configured using this window:


OnyX cleaning options


Time Machine

All drives fail eventually so you should plan for this. If you have no backups then you may lose everything – photos, music, documents and much more. Everyone who uses a computer should back up regularly!

OS X includes a great app, Time Machine, which copies your files to an external disk every hour so if something goes wrong, e.g. a file gets lost or becomes corrupt, you can go back in time, find the file and bring it back!


To make best use of Time Machine you should have a 1-2TB drive at least, plugged into your main Mac. If you have an iMac and a MacBook Pro you can back up using the wired route for the iMac and wireless for the MacBook Pro.

Setting up Time Machine

imageAttach an external drive to your Mac

imageOpen Time Machine


imageChoose the disk you want to use for backing up

imageTime Machine will prepare the drive (i.e. format it) and will then do a complete backup of your Mac


imageIt will then do hourly incremental backups as long as the Mac is running

To restore a corrupted or lost file

imageRun Time Machine

imageThe Time Machine window will open and you will see the dates running along the right edge of the screen

imageLocate the folder where the file is, click an earlier date and Time Machine will go back in time to find the earlier version of the file

imageOnce you find it, click it once and click Restore

imageThe file will be restored to the Desktop

Back up Everything?

There is no need to back up all your files. You don’t need Time Machine to regularly back up applications and Library files because this will make the backups slow. Library files can be huge and changing one item, even if very small, will force the whole file to be backed up.

Choose which items not to back up

imageOpen Time Capsule Preferences

imageClick Options

imageYou will see a window called Exclude these items from backups:

imageClick the + symbol and add your User Library folder, Applications and any other things you don’t want to back up (e.g. external USB drives)

imageYou will save time and lots of disk space if you back up the items that really need backing up, e.g. documents



Selected backups are more sensible than total “kitchen sink” backups!

Other Backup Solutions

Simple copy

A cheap (but risky) strategy for backing up can be achieved by simply dragging your Home folder or Documents folder to a USB or removable drive.

The downside of this method is that you need to remember to do it. If you have large iPhoto libraries, or iTunes collections, you will need a large drive to copy to. The process will take some time because there will be many gigabytes of data to copy across. But at least doing this occasionally means you don’t lose everything if your hard drive fails.


To back up the folder (on the left) to the USB drive (on the right) ...


Drag-and-drop the folder onto the USB drive and the folder will be copied.

Recovering files

If you accidentally delete a file and you haven’t emptied the Trash, it is easy to retrieve the file. If you have emptied the Trash the situation becomes more complex!

Options for salvaging lost files

imageTime Machine – if you were wise and set up Time Machine, you can go back in time and grab a copy of your file


imagePaid recovery apps, e.g. DataRescue, Disk Drill, Super Duper, and others

Backup Apps

There are several on the market. The advantage of these is that you can usually set up a schedule for your backup, and tell the app which files and folders you want to back up. You can do a timed backup (e.g. every day at a set time), or each time you plug the USB drive into your Mac the backup software will detect this and perform a backup for you. Any files you have added or changed will be updated so you will always have a copy of your most current documents.

Examples of paid apps include: ChronoSync, Data Backup, Tri-BACKUP, SuperDuper!, Synk Standard, Knox, SmartBackup, and Synchronize! X Plus.


You can download a trial from



In the ChronoSync window (above) you can see the Left Target (the data you want to copy) being copied in one direction to the drive on the right (Right Target).

Defragmenting your Drive

Hard drives can become fragmented over time. This is because, as the drives fill up, there is no space to write large files so they end up being split into several parts across the drive. When you open the file, the Mac has to look around for all the pieces and join these in order to open the file.


Historically, both on PCs and Macs people have defragmented their drives periodically, using apps that move files around and join up split files. But there are two schools of thought with Macs: you do not need to defragment drives running OS X, and others who think you do. Randy B. Singer, author of The Macintosh Bible, has written about this on his website ( and is a firm believer that defragmentation is useful.

Note: there is no defragmentation app built into OS X (unlike Windows which includes an app to defragment your drive).


There are several apps available for defragmenting drives running OS X. iDefrag ( is probably the best.


iDefrag window showing the status of the drive before defragmenting.

Clear the Desktop!

The Mac has to keep track of many items and the Desktop is one of them. The more files and folders you have on the Desktop, the harder the Mac has to work to keep track of all these files. With the speed increases seen with newer Macs you may not notice the slowdown so much, but it is good practice to keep your Desktop as clear as you can.

You should keep only those items you need regular access to on the Desktop. In fact, many of these can be added to the Sidebar rather than dropped onto the Desktop. By default, a new Mac will have nothing showing on the Desktop, not even the hard disk icon!

How to keep the Desktop clear

imageRegularly file your documents in the Documents folder (create sub-folders within the Documents folder)

imageIf you must keep some items on the Desktop, consider creating a folder on the Desktop and dropping them into that

imageTry creating aliases for frequently-accessed folders


Install an Antivirus App?

Do you need an antivirus app for the Mac? Yes and no. There are few viruses around for Macs, though this may change with the increasing popularity of Macs. So, although your Mac is unlikely to be infected by a virus, someone could send you one in an email and you could pass it to others.

An antivirus app would detect the virus before you passed it to someone else.

What antivirus apps are available for the Mac?

imageNorton AntiVirus

imageMcAfee VirusScan for Mac



imageVirusBarrier X8

imageClamXav ( This is an unobtrusive free antivirus app and the one I would suggest you install


ClamXav found two phishing emails on my Mac!


ClamXav is a perfectly good (and free) antivirus app for the Mac.

Repair Disk Permissions

OS X is based on UNIX and it is advised that we should rebuild disk permissions on a regular (maybe weekly) basis. The reasons for doing this are complex but, luckily, the process of repairing permissions is very straightforward.

Many apps (OnyX, MainMenu, and others) will help you repair permissions but the easiest way is to use Disk Utility which comes with OS X.

Repairing Disk Permissions

imageGo to Utilities > Disk Utility

imageOpen Disk Utility, choose the drive in the pane on the left and click Verify Disk Permissions

imageIf errors are reported, click Repair Disk Permissions


Rebuild Spotlight Database

Spotlight keeps tons of information about your Mac stored in a database which contains titles of files and folders along with their location, plus all the searchable text within files. Every now and again it is a good idea to rebuild this to keep it fully up-to-date.

Check out Spotlight’s preferences so you can see the order in which search results are displayed (you can alter the order). You can also stop Spotlight searching specific drives, files or folders (see the Privacy tab).

Rebuild the Spotlight database

imageMany apps will do it for you (MainMenu, OnyX, etc.)

imageOpen Spotlight

imageClick Privacy and drag your hard drive onto it (sounds drastic but it’s fine!)

imageQuit and relaunch System Preferences > Spotlight

imageClick Privacy and deselect your hard drive (click the minus symbol)

imageThe database will be entirely rebuilt


Rebuild Mail Database

Apple Mail will sometimes slow down if you store large numbers of emails and have lots of sub-folders within the app. Similar to Spotlight, it is a good idea to rebuild Mail’s database so it can recatalog all your emails.

Rebuilding the Mail database

imageOpen Mail and go to Mailbox > Erase Deleted Items > In All Accounts...


imageThen, select a mailbox (or you can select multiple mailboxes) and go to Mailbox > Rebuild



Mail will run faster if you rebuild its database regularly.


Many programs will include installers: apps that place the app in the Applications Folder and install associated files in the required locations. Installers are recognized by a distinctive file such as .pkg (package). Once you double-click the .pkg file a script will take you through the entire install procedure, making the whole process as easy as possible.

Click the .dmg file and the disk image opens to reveal:


after which the installer script leads you step-by-step through the installation.


Uninstalling Apps

This is arguably easier on the PC than the Mac, since OS X does not have an uninstaller Control Panel. Uninstalling cleanly is important because solely removing the app will generally leave other associated files hanging around. It is best to remove the app and all of its associated files.

There are three main ways to uninstall apps

Drag the app to the Trash

•Use the dedicated uninstaller app that came with the app (most apps do not have uninstallers)

Use an app onto which you can drag the unwanted app and the uninstaller app will search the drive for associated files and put all of these in the Trash

Dragging the app to the Trash

This is probably fine for most apps. Although associated files are left behind, the chances are these won’t cause any problems so you can just leave them there. But if you install a lot of apps this could potentially leave many orphaned files lying around when you trash the apps. This is the simplest method of removing apps and one that Apple would probably recommend.

Using dedicated uninstaller apps

Some programs come with uninstallers designed to round-up the app and its associated files and trash the lot if you decide to remove the app from your Mac.


Adobe Creative Cloud has a dedicated uninstaller. Double-click this file and a dialog window opens.


The dialog window leads you through the uninstall process.

Uninstaller Apps

A number of third-party shareware or freeware apps can help you find an app’s files and trash them. These apps may not remove 100% of the associated files but they do a pretty good job:







Opening AppCleaner, then dropping an app onto the window allows you to see the app with all of its associated files before you click Delete and send the whole lot to the Trash.