Miscellaneous Ramblings

7 Mac OS X System Utilities Compared

A 'Best of Miscellaneous Ramblings' Column

Charles Moore - 2003.11.10 - Tip Jar

The field of Mac OS X system maintenance and tweaking utilities is getting crowded. There are, of course, MacJanitor, the venerable freeware and Cocktail, which also started out as freeware (now $12 demoware) has developed a following, and version 3.x has been rewritten from scratch.

Cocktail also established a basic interface and feature set motif for this sort of utility, a variation of which is available in Koingo Software's $10 Mac Pilot and the freeware OnyX utility, too. However, there are also now the very interesting freeware DoktorKleanor, the $7.95 shareware Panther Cache Cleaner 2.1, and the $7.95 shareware TinkerTool System, and - not sure that's all yet, but those are the ones I've checked out so far. My Mac is currently very well maintained!

If you're running OS X, you really ought to have at least one of these programs and use it regularly in order to keep the big cat happy and optimized. They all work fine in my experience on my 700 MHz iBook running OS X 10.2.6. Which one(s) you choose will depend on your personal taste and whatever secondary features tickle your fancy. They are all either shareware or freeware and relatively small downloads, so you will probably want to check out several of them.

Cocktail 3.1

Cocktail is a general purpose utility for Mac OS X 10.2 or later. The application simplifies the use of advanced Unix functions, gives access to hidden Mac OS X settings, and lets you easily optimize your system.

It is a smooth, powerful, and simple to use utility with all major features arranged in five basic categories and a "Pilot" that lets you maintain your system with one click of the button.

Cocktail

Cocktail 3.1 includes new features for locking or unlocking files and folder, improved disk spin down time feature, and new settings for choosing startup language, setting window resize speed for Cocoa applications, and showing or hiding Exposé blob.

Cocktail started out as freeware and gradually morphed through donationware to $10 shareware and most recently $12 shareware. It's a nice little application that works extremely well, and you can still check it out for free.

Version 3.1 is available as a free update for all registered users.

Features

Disks

  • enable or disable journaling on selected disk
  • set disk spin down time

System

  • prebind system or selected folder/disk
  • repair permissions
  • manually run cron scripts
  • clean system, user and Internet cache
  • change system startup mode
  • choose startup language
  • recreate Mac OS 9 desktop alias
  • update whatis and locate databases
  • force empty trash from selected disk

Files

  • delete locked items
  • remove DS Store files
  • remove archived logs
  • view, print and save logs
  • create symbolic links
  • lock or unlock files and folder

Network

  • change speed, duplex and MTU settings
  • optimize network settings
  • change network ports
  • renew DHCP lease

Interface

  • customize look and features of Finder and Dock
  • set window resize speed
  • enable hidden features in miscellaneous applications

Pilot

  • easily optimize your system

New in this version:

  • Improved "Set disk spin down time" setting
  • Added "Startup language" setting to System category
  • Added "Lock or unlock files and folders" feature to Files category
  • Added "Show Expos? blob" setting to Interface category (Mac OS X 10.3 only)
  • Added "Set window resize speed" setting to Interface category
  • "Re-prebind" is now an option in "Prebinding" feature
  • "Card" settings in Network category are no longer supported in Mac OS X 10.3
  • Other minor improvements and bug fixes
  • Updated Help files

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.2 or higher with the BSD subsystem installed

Cocktail is $12 shareware.

Mac Pilot 1.0.2

Koingo Software's $9.95 Mac Pilot shareware utility enables and changes hidden features in Mac OS X and related applications as well as performing OS X system maintenance tasks like updating prebinding, removing log files, repairing permissions, running cron scripts, deleting caches (including swapfiles), and more.

Mac Pilot

Comparisons to products like Cocktail, TinkerTool, Onyx, and others are inevitable. In terms of user interface, Mac Pilot most closely resembles Cocktail and does some of the same things. It is $2 cheaper.

MacPilot also adds the ability to control hidden features in Mail, Safari, and Address Book, such as enabling Java and JavaScript, and control of animated images.

Mac Pilot features

Mail

  • Enable Java
  • Enable JavaScript
  • Allow JS to Open Windows
  • Toggle Allow Animated Images
  • Toggle Allow Looping Animated Images

Safari

  • Show Debug Menu
  • Toggle IE Bookmark Imported
  • Enable Tabbed Browsing
  • Minimum Font Size
  • Minimum Fixed Font Size
  • Web Site History Limit
  • Web Site menu Recent History Limit

Dock

  • Show Invisible Files
  • Show Translucent (Hidden) Apps
  • Horizontal Position
  • Vertical Position
  • Special Effect: Suck
  • Shadow

Finder

  • Show Invisible Files
  • Toggle Animate Snap to Grid
  • Toggle Animate Window Zooming
  • Show Finder: Quit menu
  • Toggle Animate File/App Launch
  • Change File Label Line Count

System

  • Force Delete Folder/File
  • Force Empty Trash
  • Repair Disk Permissions
  • Force Update Prebinding
  • Run Daily/Weekly/Monthly Cron Now
  • Delete Caches/Swap
  • Recreate alias to Mac OS 9 Desktop

Logs

  • View all System Logs
  • Delete all System Logs
  • Delete Local & User Logs

Miscellaneous

  • Show Debug menu in Address Book

Happily, most of the categories offer buttons to "Revert To Defaults."

The latest Mac Pilot version 1.0.2 adds:

  • Tools will now visually show you when they have finished running, and even display a log if there is something useful to report. This is especially useful for the Repair Disk Permissions and the Force Update Prebinding options.
  • Toggle Finder; Show items on the desktop (files & disks).
  • Enable/Disable Journaling on selecting disk.
  • Get extended disk information.
  • Fixed a small bug where some options would appear off, if the property had never been set before, but the default system value was on.

System requirements: Mac OS X (has been tested on Panther)

So far, Mac Pilot is a nice little Jack of many trades application and well worth a look. It is 15-day $9.99 demoware.

OnyX 1.3.0

OnyX is another OS X utility offering maintenance, optimization, and personalization for Mac OS X. Like Cocktail and Mac Pilot, OnyX also makes it possible to configure certain hidden parameters of the Finder, Dock, Safari - to remove a certain number of files and repertories become cumbersome, preview the different logs and CrashReporter and more, and it's still freeware.

OnyX

Onyx utilizes the increasingly ubiquitous Apple brushed metal appearance theme, to which I am not partial, but this is about as stylish a rendition of it as I've encountered. Very snazzy and professional for a freeware app.

The Onyx interface displays eight tabbed panels:

  • OnyX - Shows hardware and operating system specs
  • Finder - Allows you to customize scroll bar arrows, label lines, toggle appearance between Aqua and Graphite, show hidden system files, put a Quit Menu Item in the Finder menu, activate application and window zooming, delete certain preferences, and force empty the Trash, with or without destruction.
  • Dock - Allows you to customize Dock position, alignment and minimization options, and to activate hidden and system files, transparent icons for hidden applications, animate opening applications put a menu item Quit Finder in the Dock, and relaunch the Dock.
  • Optimize - Lets you verify and repair Permissions, run cron scripts, optimize the system, and update databases.
  • Caches - Allows you to clean or clear selected or all Internet, user, and System caches. The browsers recognized are: Safari, Internet Explorer, OmniWeb, Camino (formerly Chimera), Netscape, Mozilla, Firebird (formerly Phoenix), Opera and iCab. Safari's URL icons can also be removed.
  • Automate - Runs all or selected maintenance routines. By default, these scripts run automatically, but early in the AM, between 3 and 6, and only if the computer is turned on and not sleeping. This tab allows databases to be rebuilt individually and permissions to be verified and repaired.
  • Logs - Displays and can delete CrashReporter, Archived, and System logs selectively
  • Miscellaneous - Enable/disable file journaling, import IE and Mozilla/Netscape bookmarks to Safari, Smooth small fonts in Safari, enable Disk Copy Expert Mode, enable Debug Menu in Safari, Address Book, and DVD Player, delete recent servers, and reset Mac OS Help.

OnyX is Freeware, and works with all Macintosh computers running Mac OS X version 10.2.x or later (with subsystem BSD).

New in version 1.3.0:

  • Japanese Localization
  • Deletion of core.xxx files
  • Message of deletion of Finder's Preferences more detailed
  • Show/hide a shadow around the Dock
  • Display of one new log (PPP)
  • Easter Egg improved ;-)

New in version 1.2.9:

  • Display size of the logs
  • Option Relaunch or reinit the Dock
  • Display info on Mac OS X 10.2.8 corrected

There is also an excellent and comprehensive OnyX Help manual included explaining in detail every OnyX function - one of the best I've encountered in any software, and certainly the best among these utilities.

While there are distinctions and some differences in features and function, for the most part OnyX seems to be pretty much equivalent to Cocktail and Mac Pilot for most users' purposes. Since the latter two are shareware and small downloads, you can try all three easily and decide which you prefer.

DoktorKleanor 10.2

Another freeware OS X disk maintenance utility that also adds a bunch of troubleshooting features in addition to the basic housekeeping routines is the new DoktorKleanor.

DoktorKleanor

DoktorKleanor installs in either of two modes:

Apprentice mode

This mode automatically launches a series of tasks which fix the most common issues:

  • Permissions repair
  • Mac OS X maintenance tasks
  • System Preferences cache cleaning
  • Verification and (if needed) fixing problems when mounting disk images

Wizard mode

There are 4 categories in this mode: Cleaning/Setting, Network/Internet, Microsoft applications, and Miscellaneous treatments.

All these categories contain short descriptions of the issues that DoktorKleanor knows how to fix. Just check the boxes corresponding to the issues you are experiencing, then click on "Start selected treatments."

Cleaning and Setting

The first category, Cleaning/Setting, has additional options as its name implies : you can set the disk spin down delay, launch MacOS X's maintenance tasks, delete additional languages and clear the list of recent folders in the Finder's "Go" menu.

Preferences that revert to defaults depending on treatments:

Apprentice mode: no preferences revert to defaults.

Wizard mode:

Safari is unstable:

  • QuickTime MIME Settings revert to defaults (System Preferences -> "QuickTime" prefpane -> "Plug-In" tab -> "MIME Settings..." button)

Issues with Mac Help:

  • Custom font size setting in Mac Help revert to default
  • Custom window size setting in Mac Help revert to default
  • Help cache is deleted, it will automatically be rebuilt on next Help Viewer launch

Find by content is very slow:

  • The disk content indexes are deleted, they will automatically be rebuilt at the next indexing (which will take longer than usual)

MS-Office issues

Word won't let you choose another font:

  • All Word preferences revert to defaults
  • Word font cache is deleted. It will automatically be rebuilt next time you launch Word.

Drag & drop no longer works:

Light:

  • Desktop preferences revert to defaults
  • Finder preferences (including Find preferences) revert to defaults
  • Custom file mapping (correspondences between file extensions and applications) preferences revert to default mapping

Full (in addition to the preferences mentioned in Light):

  • Displays preferences revert to defaults
  • ColorSync preferences revert to defaults
  • Energy Saver preferences revert to defaults
  • Time Zone preference reverts to default (in Date & Time prefpane)
  • One Modem preference reverts to default (Country setting in Network prefpane)
  • Sound preferences revert to defaults (Volume settings)

Default browser setting does not stick:

  • Custom file mapping (correspondences between file extensions and applications) preferences revert to default mapping

Running DoktorKleanor is simple. Check the boxes that correspond to the problems you are experiencing, and let the Doktor do its stuff. However, before any attempt at troubleshooting your Mac, DoktorKleanor's developers recommend using Disk Utility (First Aid tab) to fix possible disk problems. Sound advice.

DoktorKleanor is one of the most interesting of these utilities, with a lot of useful features and a very intuitive interface.

System requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.2 with BSD subsystem installed
  • This application was not designed to be used on MacOS 10.0, MacOS 10.1 (Puma) or MacOS X 10.3 (Panther).

Doktor Kleanor is freeware.

MacJanitor

MacJanitor is designed to be used on a periodic basis by Mac OS X users who don't leave their computer on (and awake) 24 hours a day. MacJanitor is provided as freeware as a service to laptop and energy-conscious home users.

MacJanitor

The Unix subsystems on Mac OS X were originally written for machines that were typically never shut off. Mac OS X inherits this assumption and has many system maintenance tasks that are scheduled to run between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. In addition, there are scripts designed to run weekly on weekends, and others that run once a month in the middle of the night.

If these maintenance tasks are never run (such as on a laptop that is always shut off at night), many log files and system databases will grow extremely large or fail to get backed up.

My Mac is occasionally powered up at 3 a.m., but only when Iím using it. Iíve always made a habit of putting my Macs to sleep or shutting them off when they are not in use, so Iím a likely candidate for MacJanitor.

MacJanitor provides a way to run these system tasks at the click of a button. Laptop users could click the "daily" button every morning (or every few days), or office workers could click the "weekly" button on Mondays.

If you've been leaving your machine off at night without allowing the maintenance tasks to run for several weeks or more, the first time you run them using MacJanitor may take several minutes. Also, if your log files have grown extremely large and you are low on disk space, the tasks may have problems moving the files around and compressing them. After that, it typically takes less than a minute for each task. I didnít sit and watch MacJanitor do its stuff, but it was all done when returned after a short break.

The output of the task is displayed in the scrolling view in the bottom part of the window. If for some reason you feel the need, you may print the output of the system maintenance tasks (but why?).

You can't really hurt anything by running the tasks more frequently than intended, and they don't need to be run on a strict schedule. Just run them periodically when you get a free minute every few days or weeks.

New in this version:

  • Dumb "wrong password in the keychain not noticed" bug zapped.
  • "Keep in keychain" option now defaults to Off.
  • French Localization now included
  • Built on Mac OS X 10.2.2.

This is a very useful little tool - the choice for minimalists.

MacJanitor is freeware.

Panther Cache Cleaner 2.1

Panther Cache Cleaner is yet another a utility designed to provide easy access to numerous OS X maintenance and utility options. When used in combination with OS X's disk repair tools, it can be very effective in curing many system problems.

Panther Cache Cleaner

Panther Cache Cleaner helps simplify system maintenance chores with an easy point and click interface to many OS X functions. Panther Cache Cleaner can improve system performance by tuning Internet and file caching settings and by implementing ram disks. Panther Cache Cleaner can improve startup performance by eliminating duplicate or orphaned Login Items.

PCC Documents and the PCC Engine can help maintain system health by providing set and forget automation of common maintenance chores Used as directed, Panther Cache Cleaner can be a powerful tool to keep OS X running smoothly.

PCC has a nice Panther icon, but its user interface is a bit stark and unimaginative compared with the snazzy OnyX, for example. However, the functionality is there for several dollars cheaper than all but one of the shareware competitors.

Features

  • Flexible OS X system cache cleaning options.
  • Flexible Finder cleaning options.
  • Clean ".DS_Store" window settings files.
  • Repair disk permissions.
  • Repair OS 9 permissions.
  • Fixes Software Update Permissions.
  • Rebuild application library prebindings.
  • Execute Mac OS X maintenance scripts.
  • Delete Virtual Memory swapfiles.
  • Force delete files and folders.
  • Force empty trash.
  • Clear archived system logs.
  • Shutdown to Single User Mode.
  • Enables File System Journaling.
  • Optimize Internet settings.
  • Optimize file cache.
  • Automatically prioritize applications.
  • Renew DHCP Lease.
  • Rebuild the Services Menu.
  • Create Ram Disks.
  • Repair root directory OS X symbolic links.
  • Recreate OS 9 Desktop alias.
  • Repair /tmp link.
  • Restart system daemons.
  • Kill or restart the Finder.
  • Kill or restart the Dock.
  • Customize hidden Mac OS X settings.
  • Temporarily disable Energy Saver.
  • Use the Virex engine to automatically scan and clean viruses.
  • PCC Documents for one step access to maintenance chores.
  • PCC Engine for set and forget automatic maintenance.
  • Activate Login Items Folder.
  • Scan Login Items for duplicate or orphaned items.
  • Use in any user account.
  • Easy to use graphical interface - no Terminal required.
  • Illustrated documentation.

New in this version: Version 2.1 of PCC is all new and updated for OS X 10.3. This release adds the ability to repair root directory OS X symbolic links. It adds the ability to recreate the OS 9 Desktop alias. It adds the ability to enable the Panther Expose Blob. This release adds new Login Items management tools. PCC can scan Login Items and remove or relink orphaned entries. It offers the ability to scan and remove duplicate entries from the Login Items. This release enables a Login Items folder similar to the Startup Items folder of the classic Mac OS. This folder resides in the home directory, and any documents, folders, aliases, app, etc. will be launched at login. When active, PCC will treat the System Preferences Login Items and the Login Items folder as a single pool of login items. Duplicates and orphans are scanned across both sets. This release also includes some minor bug fixes and improvements. This release is a free upgrade for previously registered Panther/Jaguar Cache Cleaner users.

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.1 or later with BSD subsystem

Panther Cache Cleaner is $7.95 shareware

TinkerTool System

The developer of the famous TinkerTool Finder and Dock utility that provides GUI access to certain hidden preferences in OS X has jumped in with another system maintenance utility dubbed TinkerTool System, which is Euro 7.00 demoware.

TinkerTool System

TinkerTool System allows you to change advanced operating system settings and gives access to internal maintenance features built into Mac OS X. The following features are available in TinkerTool System:

  • Run the periodic system maintenance scripts by simply pressing a button
  • Reset the permission settings of Mac OS X system files (*)
  • Repeat the installation step "Optimizing System Performance"
  • Clean up cache files of the Internet browsers Safari, Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, OmniWeb, Camino, Opera version 6, and iCab
  • Clean up cache files for the current user
  • Clean up cache files for the whole system
  • Remove archived copies of system log files
  • Remove Finder information files (.DS_Store files)
  • Remove resource fork emulation files ("dot underscore" files)
  • Force-delete single files or empty folders
  • Enforce emptying of the Trash if the Finder is unable to do this
  • Restore the localization settings for your private home folder in case you have updated from Mac OS X 10.1 or have deleted, then recreated some folders
  • Restore the alias for accessing the Desktop of Classic from Mac OS X
  • Set the energy saver options for hard disks to specified values
  • Tune the network options, including MTU size for each network interface, TCP and UDP receive window sizes, and TCP transmit window size
  • Enable Quartz Extreme for a wider range of graphics cards
  • Enable or disable file system journaling for Mac OS X Extended volumes
  • Enforce diagnostic or safe startup mode for the operating system
  • Make the system use only one processor or a limited amount of memory for diagnostic purposes
  • Let the system log kernel panic messages directly to screen in case the automatic panic log recovery doesn't work
  • Change the base system language effective during startup and login without having to reinstall the system (*)

The features marked with an asterisk (*) are available without any restrictions even if TinkerTool System runs in demo mode. In demo mode, TinkerTool System lets you check out the other features, but you need to register in order to apply them.

TinkerTool System is fully compliant with Apple's security guidelines for Mac OS X. It does not need an installer and does not require special system packages to be installed. To launch the tool, no administrator password is needed.

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.2.3 or later

TinkerTool System is Euro 7.00 Shareware (not to be confused with the basic TinkerTool which continues to be freeware).

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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