capsule review

Useful trash, part 2

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On Monday, I covered SideTrash, a neat (and free) utility that lets you put your Trash icon on the Desktop or in Finder window sidebars—a simple feature, but one that’s been requested by some users of Mac OS X for years. I also noted that come today, I’d show you a utility that offers significantly more functionality for just a slightly higher price. So, without further ado...

Mac OS X’s Trash has two significant limitations: You have to remember to empty it (files aren’t actually deleted until you do), and when do you empty it, you have to empty it completely—like a going-out-of-business sale, everything must go! The first limitation is an issue for everyone, but I find that it disproportionately affects beginning users: I’ve seen Macs with gigabytes of information sitting in their Trash, simply because their owners forget to empty. The second limitation is more of a concern to power users and those who like to have a bit more control over their files and volumes. These people would like to be able to rid the Trash of just those files deleted from a particular volume, or just those that have been in the Trash for a while. (It’s not uncommon for people to use the Trash as a sort of “holding area” for files they’re pretty sure they don’t want, but want to keep around for a week or two just in case— in fact, most email clients have a similar setting for “deleted” mail.)

Sound familiar? If so, you need to check out Greg Weston’s $9 Compost 1.6.1 (   ). I actually wrote about an older version of Compost in our November 2004 “Software Bargains” feature; but that was just a short blurb—Compost deserves a more thorough discussion.

Compost, which operates as a Mac OS X System Preferences pane, fixes both of the above limitations of the Mac OS X Trash, and adds a few other nifty features, as well. Its most obvious benefits are its automatic deletion features. Compost can automatically delete files that have been in the Trash longer than a user-defined number of minutes, hours, or days. It can also limit the Trash to a certain size—for example, if you limit the Trash to 512MB, and later place an item in the Trash that pushes the size of the Trash over that limit, Compost will delete the oldest items until the Trash size is below your limit. (Another way to describe this feature is to say that Compost will keep only the newest “X” amount of Trash, where you decide how much “X” is.) Alternatively (or additionally), you can tell Compost to make sure your boot volume always has at least a certain amount of free space, by size or percentage. If you’re running low on disk space—not a good thing in Mac OS X, which uses the hard drive for memory management—this is a handy option, as it will automatically delete items from your Trash to keep free space above your limit.

Compost main settings

If you’ve got multiple hard drives or volumes connected to your Mac, Compost will also let you choose different settings—age limits, size limits, and free space limits—for each volume. For example, if you’ve got a FireWire drive that you use as a scratch disk for Photoshop, you want as much free space as possible on that drive; you can tell Compost to keep that drive’s Trash empty.

Compost also provides a few options for the actual deletion process. The “Delete locked items” option automatically deletes locked items without requiring that you unlock them first. The “Delete empty folders immediately” setting deletes empty folders immediately, no matter what your other settings are—the idea here being that since there’s nothing in them, why clutter your Trash with them? Finally, you can also have Compost delete items from the Trash securely, which uses the same secure deletion routine as the Finder’s Secure Empty Trash command—this kind of deletion takes longer, since files are overwritten multiple times as they’re deleted, but it makes it much less likely that someone would ever be able to recover those files, even with special data recovery tools.

What if you don’t really mind having to remember to empty the Trash? Compost still has a few other tricks up its sleeve that you’ll appreciate. The most useful is its ability to empty the Trash for just a particular volume. By bringing up Compost’s Trash Info window—accessible via a user-defined keyboard shortcut—you see a list of all mounted volumes, along with each volume’s free space and the number and size of files in that volume’s Trash. By clicking the “recycle” button for a volume, just that volume’s Trash is emptied, leaving Trash contents from other volumes untouched.

Compost Trash Info window

Alternatively, if you choose to install Compost’s contextual menu, you can empty a volume’s individual Trash by control/right-clicking on that volume’s icon in the Finder; one of the menu items will be “Empty Trash on volumename ."

This contextual menu also lets you delete files in the Finder immediately (without the need to first move files to the Trash); you simply control/right-click on a file or folder and choose Delete Immediately from the contextual menu.

Finally, Compost also includes an optional menu bar menu that provides quick access to a number of its features: viewing the Trash Info window, emptying specific volume Trashes, opening the standard Trash window, and opening the Trash window for a specific volume. You can even empty the Trash on a removable volume and then eject it—a common sequence of tasks, in my experience—with a single command.

I wish Compost’s contextual menu—or, even better, its menu bar menu—was accessible from the actual Trash icon in the Dock. I also wish that, like SideTrash, it offered the option to place the Trash on the Desktop or in Finder window sidebars. But even without these features, Compost is what Mac OS X’s Trash should be.

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