Reclaim hard-drive space

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Hard drives have a way of filling up—especially laptop drives. Although desktop Macs come with up to 750GB of hard-drive space, some Mac laptops still ship with hard drives as small as 60GB and the biggest laptop drive money can buy holds only 200GB. Install OS X and your favorite apps, and then add your music collection, photos, and videos—and that space can disappear in a flash.

If you can’t get a larger hard drive for your portable Mac, the easiest way to get more storage space is to get rid of stuff you don’t need. To start the process, consider the following suggestions.

Abolish applications

Your programs can consume a surprising amount of space: iPhoto 6, for example, takes up more than 500MB. You can reclaim a significant amount of space by looking through your Applications folder for programs you never use and then deleting those apps.

Once you’ve identified a program you don’t need, you can’t just drag it to the Trash. Many apps stash resources all over your hard drive, making it hard to delete all of them manually. Several utilities can help you find and remove apps and all their auxiliary pieces—for instance, Austin Sarner and Brian Ball’s $13 AppZapper (   ), Synium Software’s CleanApp ($10), and Reggie Ashworth’s AppDelete (free).

You can also reduce the size of the applications you want to keep by using J. Schrier and I. Stein’s free Monolingual utility. Most apps come with support for different languages; removing that support for languages you don’t need can dramatically shrink an application’s footprint. Monolingual automates this task. By removing all languages except versions of English from my three Macs, I trimmed between 1.4GB and 2.5GB off my hard drive.

Prune printer drivers

Weeding out printer drivers you don’t need is another good way to make more room on your hard drive. This is especially true if you don’t usually print from your laptop. By default, OS X installs about 2GB of printer drivers in /Library/Printers. To save space, delete any printer brands you never use. Start by dragging the entire folder representing a selected brand to the Trash. If you need still more space, delete drivers for individual printers. But be careful: If you take your laptop on the road or buy a new printer later on, you may wish you had one of those drivers. So delete only the brands and models you’re certain about.

Find the big files

Your next step is to find your biggest remaining files. A good way to start is by creating a Finder smart folder that locates files bigger than 5MB. (If the smart folder finds just a few files, decrease the size to 3MB; if it finds many thousands, increase the size to 7MB or 10MB.) Display the folder’s contents in List view, and then sort them either by size or by type (music, photos, or disk images, say). You won’t automatically delete all your large files, but sorting them this way makes it easier to see which ones are needlessly taking up space.

A couple of utilities can also help. ID-Design’s WhatSize (   ) automatically sorts all files and folders at the root level of your drive, by size (including files that are normally invisible). For people who are visually oriented, Erwin Bonsma’s GrandPerspective (   ) scans a volume or folder and creates a visual representation of the space occupied by each file on it.

Cull your media files

For many of us, photos, movies, and music files are the biggest disk hogs. A typical iTunes track occupies about 4MB; a typical photo runs about 1.5MB; a one-hour TV show from the iTunes Store occupies more than 250MB.

Begin by weeding out duplicates. In iTunes, go to View: Show Duplicates to display all tracks with identical names. Unfortunately, this frequently shows you tracks that are different but just happen to have the same title. For a more intelligent approach, try Wooden Brain Concepts’ iDupe ($8), which scans track names and other data to help you more easily identify true duplicates. Simi-larly, with iPhoto, try Brattoo Propaganda’s Duplicate Annihilator ($8), which does for photos what iDupe does for music.

In iTunes, look for old podcasts (or even TV shows); if you’re never going to play them again, delete them. In iPhoto, you don’t need 13 different versions of every vacation photo—save the best shot or two of each scene and delete the rest.

If your laptop is not your main Mac, make sure your main Mac has copies of all your media files, and then remove the files you don’t need frequent access to from your laptop.

Clean caches

Many applications, as well as OS X itself, cache data to improve their performance. Over time, these caches can grow enormous, bogging down performance and eating up disk space.

You can usually delete cache files with impunity, because the applications that created them regenerate them automatically the next time they’re needed. You’ll find many of them in /Library/Caches and your user folder /Library/Caches. To simplify the process, use a utility that automatically deletes caches, such as Maintain’s Cocktail ($15).

Eliminate excess e-mail

If you habitually save copies of all your e-mail messages (especially if that includes outgoing messages), your e-mail can take up tons of disk space. Consider using a program such as’s MailSteward ($50) to archive older messages to external media or another computer.

For messages stored in your e-mail client, attachments increase space requirements even further. In Mail, you can remove attachments from saved or sent messages—a good idea if you have copies of the files elsewhere—by selecting one or more messages and choosing Message: Remove Attachments.

Digital dust bunnies

There are lots of other little bits and pieces that accumulate on your hard drive. Occasionally, you need to sweep them away and do what you can to keep them from accumulating again.

• Use a Finder search or a utility like CleanApp to identify files you haven’t used in a long time. If you haven’t touched a file in a year, archive it to external media and delete the original.

• You’ll probably accumulate installers and disk-image files in your browser’s Downloads folder. Once you’ve installed a piece of software, you can usually delete the installer or disk image.

• Your Documents folder is often the default storage spot for applications. Every few months, scan it and its subfolders, and delete any items you no longer need.

• Try emptying your trash (Finder: Empty Trash) at least once a month.

• Compress files that you want to keep but that you use infrequently—select a file or folder and choose File: Create Archive Of file name. Then delete the original, uncompressed item. (Allume’s StuffIt Deluxe [$80] produces smaller file archives.)

[ Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

Hunting for Big Files: A smart folder that finds files larger than a certain size is a simple way to identify hard-disk hogs.Clean Your Hard Drive: CleanApp, like AppZapper and other utilities, can help you get rid of applications and all their associated files.
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