Don't wait for Snow Leopard: 10 ways to slim down and speed up your Mac now

You can get lean and fast computing with your current version of Mac OS X. Here's how.

Apple Inc. hasn't done much talking about Snow Leopard, the next-generation update to Mac OS X that's due to be released in 2009 (possibly within the first quarter of the year). But in what came as a surprise to many, the company has said that the new operating system will contain a limited number of new features.

Instead of going the route of Leopard, which added more than 300 new features, Snow Leopard is designed to focus on the underpinnings of the operating system. The result, according to Apple, will be an operating system that takes greater advantage of multicore processors, is able to leverage the often-untapped power of graphics processing hardware for general computing operations and extends 64-bit architecture compatibility -- all of which will deliver much higher performance over Leopard.

At the same time, reports indicate that Snow Leopard will actually slim down the code required by Mac OS X and its installed applications, not only improving performance, but also freeing up large amounts of hard drive space in the process.

It seems clear that Apple's biggest focus with Snow Leopard is slimming down and speeding up its flagship operating system -- both of which are attractive to any computer user. But why wait until Snow Leopard ships? There are a number of ways you can slim down and speed up your machine right now.

While the following tips probably won't deliver the dramatic improvements we expect to see in Snow Leopard, they can make a noticeable difference -- particularly on slightly older Macs or those where hard drive space is getting cramped.

Warning: A number of tips in this article require modifying system or application files. Be sure you have a solid backup of your system before trying them in case you experience any problems or need to restore specific features later on.

1. Get rid of the languages you don't speak

Mac OS X has always supported a wide range of world languages. The entire interface (menus, dialogs, help files, etc.) is localized for over a dozen languages and included in the Mac OS X system files automatically during installation (the exception being languages that require non-Roman alphabets, such as most Asian languages). This makes it easy to switch the language used on your Mac using the International pane in System Preferences.

Selecting language preferences in the International pane

Selecting language preferences

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Like Mac OS X, many applications are written to support more than one language, allowing all their user interfaces to display in the preferred language(s) along with Mac OS X. Since not all languages are supported by every application developer, the International pane in System Preferences lets you provide an order of preferred languages. Applications that don't support your first choice will display using the highest preferred language they do support.

While the diversity of language support is a must for Mac OS X and applications to be sold around the world, chances are that you speak only one or two languages. That means all those extra language files are taking up valuable space on your hard drive. You can trim down the footprint of Leopard and most individual applications (particularly apps with heavy language support like Microsoft Office or Apple's iLife, iWork and Pro apps) by removing unneeded localization files.

Manually removing languages

Manually removing languages

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There are a couple of ways to go about this process. You can manually remove language files from applications by selecting an application in the Finder and using the Get Info command (from the File menu or the command-I keyboard shortcut). In the Get Info window, expanding the Language section will show you a list of language localization files bundled in the application. To remove any you won't need, select them and click the remove (minus sign) button beneath the list.

Note: The checkboxes in this list denote which languages you are choosing to enable; unchecking languages will prevent their use but not remove the localization files.

While manually removing localization files from individual applications is an option (and it's interesting to see which languages each application supports), it can be a time-consuming process. Another option is to use a tool such as Xslimmer ($13; free trial), TinkerTool System ($9.75; free trial) or Monolingual (free/donationware) to remove localization files from both Mac OS X and installed applications.

These tools make quick work of the process and also offer additional features that can be used with some of the other tips in this article. (Monolingual has not been updated to specifically support Leopard, though most users have not reported any problems using it with Leopard.)

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