10 essential tasks to keep Leopard purring
Keep Mac OS X Leopard in tip-top condition with these maintenance steps
Computerworld - One of the big selling points for Mac OS X Leopard is that it is a stable operating system that is not prone to crashes, freezes, corrupted or fragmented hard drives, viruses and spyware, or the seemingly inexplicable performance losses typically associated with Windows. Overall, Leopard lives up to its reputation of simply working, without the need for a litany of maintenance routines and utilities to keep it going.
However, even the best-engineered car still requires the occasional oil change and tune-up to keep it running at its best. Periodically performing a few key maintenance tasks can keep Leopard -- and earlier versions of Mac OS X -- running strong and prevent or resolve problems.
1. Keep your software up to date
One of the easiest (but often overlooked) ways to keep any computer running at its best is to ensure that it is running up-to-date versions of both its operating system and any installed applications. Updates typically add new features, fix bugs, and/or patch security holes that leave the system vulnerable to viruses or other forms of attack.
While new features are usually reason enough to check for software updates, the bigger advantages in keeping your system running optimally are in the bug fixes and security patches, as both of these typically yield a faster, more stable and more secure environment.
Apple's Software Update feature provides an easy-to-use interface for updating both Mac OS X and any Apple-branded applications, such as the iLife and iWork suites. By default, Software Update is enabled and will check for updates on a weekly basis.
However, you should also keep an eye on any third-party apps or system components that you have installed. Most programs include some type of built-in mechanism for checking for updates, such as the Microsoft Auto Update utility that comes with Office or an option in an application's preferences that tells it to check for updates whenever it's launched.
Sites like MacUpdate and VersionTracker are useful allies in ensuring all your software is up to date (as well as in helping you find new applications). If you have a large number of applications for which to manage updates, VersionTracker also offers a subscription service and utility as well as a Dashboard widget to help ensure that your apps are up to date.
While software updates are generally solid, some updates from both Apple and third-party developers have been known to create their own set of problems -- sometimes even removing or altering the functionality of the software. These problem updates are typically pulled from the Internet quickly, often replaced by newer updates that correct the problem.
For these reasons, not installing updates immediately when they are released can be a good habit to get into. It's wise to keep track of new updates as they appear, but try waiting for a day or two to see if any problems are reported on Mac news and information sites such as MacNN, MacDailyNews, Ars Technica's Apple section and Apple's own discussion forums before proceeding with the installation.
When you receive a Software Update notification, you can elect not to install specific updates. In the Software Update pane in System Preferences, you can also disable automatic checking of updates or change the feature to check on a monthly rather than weekly basis. If you disable automatic checking altogether, be sure to run Software Update manually (choose the Software Update command in the Apple menu) on a periodic basis or in response to news that specific updates have been released.
2. Make sure your hard drive is healthy
There was a time (before the release of Mac OS X) when Mac users religiously ran Disk Utility or an alternate hard drive utility at least once a month to verify the integrity of their hard drive directory structures.
A hard drive's directory structures are created when a disk is formatted or partitioned; they're essentially a map of the drive's magnetic platters. They translate the physical sectors that store bits of data on a drive to usable space for files, applications and Mac OS X system components. If they become damaged or corrupted, the Mac can have a tough time locating pieces of files as needed to accomplish tasks like opening files, launching applications and even booting up.
The good news is that technology has come a long way since the days when Disk Utility was a frequent necessity. The default file system for Leopard is Mac OS Extended Journaled, or HFS+J. Journaled file systems keep a transaction log of changes to data on the hard drive. (Microsoft Corp.'s NTFS is another example.) Should the hard drive experience a problem like an unexpected reboot or removal without being ejected properly -- the two most common causes of damage to directory structures -- the file system can rely on the transaction log to repair the damage.
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