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Saturday, November 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Practical Mac | Jeff Carlson

Housecleaning clears some space

Special to The Seattle Times

I'm starting to reach that point where I'm running out of space on my hard drives. Like catching a cold and discovering there's no more Kleenex in the house, it's happened unexpectedly and all at once.

Years of data, plus the accumulation of disk-gobbling files such as music and digital photos, are leaving me with precious few gigabytes to spare.

One easy solution is to buy new, higher-capacity hard drives, which are amazingly affordable: an external 250 GB drive (by itself, with no enclosure) can be had for around $75. Laptop hard drives are still more expensive and less capacious, but improving: a quick search online turns up 120 GB drives for around $110.

However, although my credit card is unnaturally drawn to new technology, I'm sure I can squeeze some space out of the 80 GB hard drive in my main Mac, a PowerBook G4. With some simple sleuthing and the assistance of some clever utilities, I'll bet I can free up some space.

Trim away big stuff: My data purge came about because I wanted to install iWork '06 (or more specifically, Keynote 3.0), but the installer needed 3 GB of free space just to run and I had only about 1.6 GB free.

My first step, believe it or not, is to restart the computer. My colleague Matt Neuburg (author of the handy freeware utility MemoryStick, recommends leaving 5 to 6 GB of unused space on your startup drive, which Mac OS X uses for routine tasks such as storing temporary memory and cache files.

If your Mac has been running for a while, or you've been using space-hogging applications such as Adobe Photoshop, restarting the Mac may free up some of that temporary space.

Of course, that's just a temporary fix, and in my case it doesn't offer much of an improvement.

So the next step is to go after obvious targets. Old iMovie HD projects and QuickTime files in the Movies folder of my home directory are offloaded to an external FireWire drive for storage, as are iDVD projects from my Documents folder.

Half an hour of culling through my iPhoto library reveals that I'm hoarding far too many blurry photos, so I toss those in iPhoto's Trash and then empty it; choose Empty Trash from the iPhoto menu, or otherwise the photos still occupy space.


The same applies to iTunes. I've created a Smart Playlist that tells me which songs haven't been played during the past year. From that list I choose the songs I know I won't listen to and copy them to the Mac that acts as the media server in our house.

Performing just these few actions frees up more than a gigabyte of disk space — but now I'm on a mission.

AppZapper: Since I frequently install and test new software, my Applications folder becomes stuffed with programs I don't use, or which I tried once and never deleted. I could go through that folder and chuck unwanted programs, but that doesn't remove any other files (such as preferences) that may have been installed elsewhere.

For this I turn to AppZapper ($13,, a simple utility that offers a single window onto which you drop the application you want to remove.

AppZapper scans your computer, locates support files and lists them for your review. Pressing the Zap button sends those files to the Trash with a Spaceman Spiff zap sound and flash that makes my inner science-fiction fan giddy.

The ZapGenie feature lists all applications on the hard disk with their version numbers and an indication of how long it's been since I've used them, so a few more get blasted.

Disk Inventory X: Applications are pretty easy targets, but what about raw data? Although I could start plowing through my folders in the Finder looking for stuff to delete, Tjark Derlien's Disk Inventory X (free, provides a graphical way to see what's taking up the most disk space. Files are represented in a "tree map" view, where the size of a file corresponds to the size of its box in the display.

I'm able to easily identify a green square representing a 436 MB Aperture photo vault leftover from when I was testing that program. Clicking the square tells me detailed information about the file and where it's located on disk. Pressing Command-Delete moves the file to the Trash.

Disk Inventory X can be a pretty granular way of sorting through your data, but since I'm looking for big targets, I switch to the Finder, empty the Trash and check the bottom of a Finder window to see my results: 4.52 GB available.

With about an hour of housecleaning, I've more than tripled my free hard disk space. Now I can install iWork '06 ... and import more photos ... and digitize more CDs ... and make more videos ... and fill up the drive again in no time.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications.

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Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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