Thursday, August 08, 2013

It's Technical Information Day - Again!

It's Thursday, so it must be Technical Information Day!

Today, I am going to talk about maintaining your computer.

Apple, Inc. is very fond of using the tagline "It Just Works" in talking about their products, but as a desktop technician for over 20 years, I can tell you that isn't quite true.  In fact, it is pure marketing!

That said, Apple computers have pulled in ratings over the years as some of the best computers to own as far as build quality, longevity, reliability as well as customer satisfaction.  But they do break, and as with any human built piece of machinery, regular maintenance can help minimize inconvenience in case of trouble, as well as often put that trouble off for a while.

Macs use the Operating System known now as OS X (the X being a Roman Numeral, thus pronounced as "ten", not "ecs" as in the letter.  It is the tenth major iteration of the Mac operating system.) with the current version being 10.8.4.  The current version is a very robust system, and is designed to be extremely user friendly.  It helps that it is designed on top of a Unix kernel, which was designed from the beginning as a server OS that was intended to run for months if not years between reboots.

To ensure this, Unix (and OS X) runs certain maintenance tasks on a daily, weekly and a monthly basis to reduce log file sizes, remove system files no longer needed and reduce or remove temp files.  These tasks run at certain times when your computer is less likely to be in use. The tasks are scheduled for 03:15 to 05:30 in your computer's local time zone, if your computer is running at that time and not in sleep mode.  If the tasks do not run, it is possible that certain log files (such as system.log) may become very large in Mac OS X v10.5 or earlier.

In Mac OS X v10.6 and later, background maintenance tasks that do not run when the computer is asleep are run after it wakes from sleep mode.  So, although many people want to save energy (and money) by turning their Macs off when not in use, it is good for it to let it run overnight at least twice a month, if not weekly.

[Note:  Windows does NOT perform these tasks, they are programmed into Unix (and thus OS X) only.]

As for you, the user, one of the easiest things you can do to maintain your Mac is to keep the OS updated and current.  You do this using either the Software Update command in the Apple Menu in the upper left corner, or running the App Store app from the Dock and clicking on the Update symbol at the top of the window.  Your Mac will look for updates to Apple software, the OS and any third party apps you may have installed using the App Store.

This includes any Security Updates Apple may issue for your OS or Apple applications you have installed.  Apple does not issue regularly timed or dated security updates like Microsoft does.  It only issues them as needed, so be sure to check at least weekly, if not monthly.  You can set your Mac to do this automatically in System Preferences in the Software Update preferences panel.

[A word about updates.  Updates are wonderful things, but they CAN create problems by introducing new features and sometimes killing off older features.  If your software is used at all for what you consider critical tasks, be sure and investigate new versions BEFORE you click "update"!  This will ensure you don't do something you may regret later.]

Now, the biggie:  Backups!

No matter how cavalier you may be about your computing habits, you've got data you'd rather not lose.  (Note:  data = your stuff, pictures, email, word processing documents, spreadsheets, everything)

Everybody does.

So, back it up!  Keep copies of everything.  Keep copies on an external hard drive, or a flash drive or in the dropbox app online.  Google Drive is also ok.  Or, if you prefer to not have to think about it, Apple has Time Machine that will take care of the daily scut work for you.

Just back your stuff up!  You won't regret it.

Additionally, you can do the hard work of cleaning up your files, deleting old stuff, archiving things you'd like to keep but hate to delete and keep your stuff organized.

Occasionally, break open a can of canned air and blow out the air holes on your computer to remove the dust and crud that accumulates over time.  This allows a better airflow to keep your Mac cool.

Apple doesn't actively recommend it, but some Mac Techs do - run Disk Utility occasionally to check your disk for needed repairs.  All hard drives accumulate errors over time, as sectors go bad.   Disk Utility, run occasionally, will block these off and prevent your computer from attempting to read or write to or from these sectors, saving your data and keeping your blood pressure down.

Some folks will recommend repairing permissions also, but in my experience, it rarely makes a difference, unless you are having some issues with files not being read correctly or apps not running properly.  If it ain't broke, in this case, better off not fixing it.

Oh, and you don’t need to defragment or optimize your disk when you use Mac OS X. When writing files, Mac OS X optimizes your disk space and avoids fragmenting large files into smaller segments.  This is automatic, unlike Windows.

Ok, for this week, that's it!

Happy Computing!

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