GPSolo Magazine - June 2004
Basic Panther Maintenance
Now that the newest Apple operating system, Panther (OS 10.3.3), has been out awhile and is gaining more acceptance and wider installation, let’s look at how to keep it running in great shape. Part of the joy of using OS X+ is its stability and solidity, but just as you maintain your house or yourself on a regular basis, it’s good (and essential) to do so with your computers.
First Things First
A few initial points before we get to the maintenance checklist. First, if you do nothing else with your computers (regardless of your operating system), set up a regular and reliable backup system. That is as true for home, low-tech users as it is for those in office environments, though the level of protection may differ. The whole idea of a backup system is that if (or when—remember Murphy’s Law?) your hard drive is destroyed, you can keep operating because the information is reliably stored elsewhere. Keeping your backup copy in a separate location from the original is essential.
There are several programs that can make backing up easy—either on an occasion (such as just before you do your maintenance) or on a regular basis. I use the program Retrospect from Dantz ( www.dantz.com), proprietary software that will back up to a variety of types of media at set intervals and will do so incrementally. Silverkeeper is freeware from LaCie (a maker of storage devices, www.lacie.com/silverkeeper) that automates copying and backing up data. Apple’s own Backup software, included in its Mac.com membership, lets you save data onto Apple’s password-protected Mac.com servers. (I use it nightly as an added precaution for my most important files.) Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC; www.bombich.com/software/ccc.html) is donationware that will safely copy your entire OS X hard drive. Déjà Vu from Propaganda Productions ( http://propagandaprod.com/dejavu.html) allows you to choose what you want to back up and when you want to do so.
In addition to making sure you are backed up, realize that there are some things you just do not want to do while working with your OS X/Panther computer. First, do not alter or move the basic software folders (Library, System, Applications, etc.) from the locations where the OS X installation placed them. You can add folders and items to folders in your User or Home folder, but leave the main folders alone.
If you are already running into problems with OS X/Panther, realize that they might have been caused by hardware issues (e.g., bad RAM, a bad battery, problematic video card, peripheral, power connection, etc.). So, if you experience a crash or other sign of corruption, it might be best to leave well enough alone and contact your resident Mac guru. If data must be saved, and it’s not backed up elsewhere for easy access and use, then you need to find a drive technician to recover the data before it is ruined. If you keep accessing the computer and trying things to get it to come alive again, you actually may be making it impossible to restore.
When I installed Panther, I set up iCal (Apple’s calendaring program, free to Panther users) to remind me to do computer maintenance each Friday. I then started compiling a list of what should be done either at regular times or in emergencies. I try to do my maintenance on a weekly basis. However, you may want to run through the list of “weekly” items on a biweekly or monthly basis. The point is to do them regularly. Much of this maintenance is automated, but I like to work with my computers and so set aside the time to be personally involved in the maintenance functions, at least peripherally. If you have to read some briefs, cases, or other materials, this is a good time to do that while monitoring the cleaning routine.
• If your computer is left on, OS X will run a nightly maintenance regimen—one reason why Panther is such a stable operating system. You can, and should, put your display to sleep (in System Preferences/Energy Saver); the computer will still run its nightly tasks.
• If you do turn off your computers, you will want to use software to automate the cleaning-up process that the Unix core normally runs nightly. The following programs allow you to automate the daily, weekly, and monthly routines or to run them at will: MacJanitor is freeware from Brian Hill (http://personalpages.tds.net/~brian_hill/index.html) that you launch to run routines when you want, especially after you have had the machine off for a few days or more. It’s particularly useful on laptops. I once went out of town and my laptop did not have a cleaning utility on it, but I was able to download MacJanitor and use it without a guilty conscience. There are also a number of shareware products that are fairly inexpensive but quite helpful in keeping your computer in tip-top shape: Macaroni ( www.atomicbird.com), Cocktail ( www.macosxcocktail.com), and TinkerTool ( www.bresink.com/osx/TinkerTool.html) are among the most well known. There are plenty of other programs (utilities) that use the Unix core of Panther to handle various maintenance routines that will keep your Mac running smoothly.
When you upgrade, update, or install software.
• First, repair permissions. You do not need to verify permissions, just repair them. You will find the utility to do so in your user folder: ~user/Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility. There are also several programs (among them the three listed above) that automate this process.
• Restart your computer after repairing permissions. This helps clean out the cobwebs.
When your computer has been off and unused. (Or if it’s acting up.)
• Start with the steps above.
• Restart/reboot into Safe Boot mode and run the “FSCK” command: Turn off the computer and then press the power button; immediately after the chime of the computer (not before the chime), hold down the shift key. You’ll have to hold it down awhile, but you’ll then see the start-up screen with the gray background, and then a white rectangle with the Apple logo will appear midscreen. Under the logo the words “Safe Boot” will appear. Then you can just leave the computer to do its thing, which can take some time (I usually use the time to read or write, or some other non-techie function).
• Once FSCK finishes, just restart the computer and it’ll be happy and healthy.
Every now and then.
• Run your Software Update program (in your System Preferences) to check for new updates.
• I also use VersionTracker ( www.versiontracker.com) to check the applications on my computers to see if they are current. Of course, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But sometimes the update or upgrade is truly useful. It’s a good idea to check out the various Mac or OS X sites (e.g., www.MacFixit.com, www.MacResource.com)to be sure warnings or cautions haven’t been raised for the upgrade to your program.
ALWAYS protect against viruses/other intruders.
• Macintosh computers rarely are subject to trojan horses or viruses (of course, if you use Virtual PC you may become a target). That does not mean, however, that you will never become infected. Keeping those intruders off your computer will make it run better and let you sleep at night.
• There are several excellent virus programs, such as Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus ( www.symantec.com/nav/nav_mac). McAfee’s Virex ( http://us.mcafee.com) can be useful as well, although I find Norton to be more flexible in scheduling and use (but Virex is free with Mac.com membership, which has a plethora of benefits).
• I scan my ~User folder (where most downloads are stored) nightly and usually scan the computer itself every week or two.
• Don’t forget to update your virus definitions regularly, usually on a monthly basis.
There are several excellent resources for further information about these ideas and applications. Scott Kelby’s Mac OS X Conversion Kit is a very good manual for OS 9 switchers, and his Mac OS X Panther Killer Tips is straightforward and easy to read. I also read MacAddict and Macworld magazines, as there are good tips in each on how to keep your Pantherized Mac in top shape. There is also now a new edition of the huge but useful classic, Mac OS X Bible, Panther Edition, which can be used to answer most questions related to using your Mac, in Panther or otherwise. An instructive article on the web may also be found at www.kenstone.net/fcp_homepage/care_feeding_panther.html.
The whole point of having a Macintosh and using OS X (in any of its variants, but mainly in Panther) is to enjoy your experience and to make it work for you. Remembering to take steps to protect your computer and to conduct routine maintenance on your Mac will pay dividends in the long run.
Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She can be reached at VLH@herringlaw.com.