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Utility software

Best of Gems: Enhancers and troubleshooters

Make no mistake—the Mac is a pretty reliable computer. But anything built by human hands is destined to run into some sort of trouble. And when trouble hits your Mac, many of the troubleshooting utilities listed below will leap to your rescue and have your Mac working again in short order. Even better, some of the programs I’ve selected will help you identify trouble spots before they flare up. Finally, I’ve included a few titles aimed at helping you tweak your Mac to run the way you want it to.

Custom installer: Pacifist 2.0

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Have you ever wondered exactly what an installer package (a file with a .pkg or .mpkg extension) installs? Or have you wanted to install just a single file or subset of files from such a package? If so, Pacifist 2.0 (   ) is just what you’ve been looking for. Drag an installer package onto the Pacifist icon, and the utility presents you with a list of all the files in the package, organized by the target installation directory. You can also see detailed information about each file, including its permissions, size, and file type. This functionality alone can be very helpful for previewing installations, but Pacifist also lets you verify installations and extract or install any file from within a package. Pacifist 2.0 adds the capability to read DMG disk images; .pax, .tar, .tar.gz, and .tgz files; and the ReadMe files and installation scripts inside a package. ($20; CharlesSoft )

Under the wrapper Pacifist can tell you what’s inside installer packages and can even install individual package files.

Device monitor: Peripheral Vision 1.6.3

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OS X’s System Profiler application is helpful if you want to see what is connected to your Mac at a given moment—but maybe you want to know when devices have connected or disconnected successfully. Peripheral Vision 1.6.3 (   ) monitors FireWire, USB, Bluetooth, and network connections, and notifies you when a new device is connected and when a connected device is no longer available. It’s a helpful tool for diagnosing problems. You can set up different notifications—visual or audio—for each type of device, as well as for connections and disconnections. And if you find the official name of a device to be uninformative—for example, Jargy USB—you can change how it appears when it’s detected (to, say, 4-Port USB Hub). ($7; Granted Software )

Cloning utilities: Carbon Copy Cloner 2.3 and SuperDuper 2.1.2

Bootable backups SuperDuper makes creating a bootable clone of an OS X drive a simple process.

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A useful backup approach is a bootable clone —an exact copy of your hard drive on another drive—which lets you get back up and running in no time should disaster strike. Unfortunately, thanks to permissions, invisible files, and other issues, you can’t just copy an OS X drive via drag and drop. What you need is a cloning utility that understands all of OS X’s peculiarities. Carbon Copy Cloner 2.3 (   ) and SuperDuper 2.1.2 (   ) are two of the best. Both make it easy to choose a source drive and a destination drive and then start the copy, and both allow you to synchronize your clone with changes you made to the original. SuperDuper adds one of the best interfaces I’ve seen in a backup utility, as well as a number of more-advanced—but still accessible—features such as easy-to-use scheduling, numerous copy options, package installation, post-clone actions, and the ability to easily save backup procedures as scripts. (Carbon Copy Cloner: payment requested; Mike Bombich; Super Duper: $28; Shirt Pocket )

Tweaking tools: TinkerTool 3.61 and TinkerTool System 1.51

Many utilities for tweaking hidden settings and performing maintenance let you access OS X settings and features that aren’t otherwise easily available. Among these products, TinkerTool 3.61 (   ) and TinkerTool System 1.51 (   ) are my favorites. TinkerTool and TinkerTool System provide access to many secret settings—for the Finder, the Dock, Exposé, system appearances, and much more—as well as scores of system maintenance and customization options. But developer Marcel Bresink has taken much of the risk out of using these utilities by separating safe actions from potentially risky ones. User-level preference settings are available via TinkerTool (which any user can run), whereas system-level and administrative settings and actions are limited to TinkerTool System (which only an administrator can run). (TinkerTool, free; Tinker Tool System, €7; both from Marcel Bresink )

Other top maintenance and troubleshooting tools

AppleJack 1.4.2 (   ; free; The Apotek ) can repair your hard drive, repair permissions, delete cache files, and validate preference files; more important, it does all of this via single-user mode at startup, making it available for use even if a problem prevents you from booting into OS X. GrandPerspective 0.95 (   ; free; Eriban ) examines a volume or folder you’ve selected and creates a visual representation of the space each file occupies—letting you easily see what’s taking up most of the space on your hard drive. MemoryStick 1.5 (   ; free; Matt Neuburg ) lets you know if you’re running short on RAM or if you’ve got too many apps open, by displaying your Mac’s memory allocation. Memtest 4.13 (   ; free; Tony Scaminacic ) is just about the best way to diagnose defective RAM, outperforming even Apple’s Hardware Test.

NetRestore 3.2 (   ; free; Bombich Software ) has won the hearts of network administrators for its ability to restore a master disk image to target Macs, whether over a local network or the Internet. Pseudo 1.2.3 (   ; $15; Brian Hill ) hasn’t been updated since 2002, but don’t worry—this tool still works great with newer versions of OS X. For the times you need to launch applications as the root user to edit restricted files, Pseudo is the way to go. SMARTReporter 2.1.5 (   ; free; Julian Mayer ) monitors the SMART (for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) status—verified, unknown, or failing—of all supported drives connected to your Mac and alerts you if there’s a problem. A similar utility to GrandPerspective, WhatSize 10.3.9 (   ; free; ID-Design ) scans the selected drive and provides a size-sorted, hierarchical display of its files and folders.

[ Senior Editor Dan Frakes is Macworld ’s Mac Gems columnist as well as the product review editor for Playlist. ]

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