What maintenance tasks should I be doing on my family's Macbooks?
May 21, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I need to fix up my family's two Macbooks for the first time in three years. What needs to be done?

I'm home from school this week and would like to do some maintenance on my family's computers. There are two MacBooks running OS X 10.5 (unlikely that they'll want to upgrade anytime soon), and both of which are in a pretty dire state. For example, one computer's Downloads folder had over 4 GB of material just sitting in there.

Besides basic things like deleting useless documents and running Disk Utility, what maintenance things can I/should I do to whip these machines into shape?

Additionally, is there a way to create folders on the wireless network for each user to store and access their files/documents, regardless of which laptop they're using? At the moment, there are folders in "Documents" on each computer for each user (e.g. Paul saves his book reports in the "Paul" folder on whatever computer he's using at the time) but I'd like to find a way to synchronize these folders, like Dropbox but accessible only on the wireless network. Doable? How?
posted by Comic Sans-Culotte to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You can't create folders "on the network", they will have to exist somewhere. What's wrong with Dropbox for this purpose? The Dropbox folder can be accessed offline, and any changes just get synced whenever the computer goes online.
posted by The Lamplighter at 5:12 PM on May 21, 2012

My semi annual maintenance on OSX machines includes running all maintenance scripts from an external bootable source, defragging and optimizing the entire drive using Techtool Pro or Disk Genius 3 and replacing the database using Diskwarrior. This is pretty much as close as you can get to a clean install and yield significant speed increase overall and on startup. Of course a reinstall action of the system is one better, like having a new computer!

For file an folder access I agree either Dropbox or a Google Drive are the way to go.

Remember to do a full clone to an external disk using Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDupr before you run all this maintenance. Avoid disasters with redundant backups, a must!!!
posted by silsurf at 5:24 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Backups are indeed essential. Also, updates! Don't want to leave them using old versions with security vulnerabilities. AppFresh is useful for checking all my software for updates at once.
posted by vasi at 5:38 PM on May 21, 2012

If the reason you don't want to use Dropbox is that you'll need lots more than 2GB of space and don't want to pay for it (and why would you, if you have no need for it to be in the cloud or on mobile, etc), then you might want to check out Cubby - which is LogMeIn's new Dropbox competitor. It supposedly allows you to select folders that you want synced between computers, but not with the cloud. I haven't tried because I have no need for it (and I'm sticking with Dropbox, though Cubby [and Google's Drive] was probably the most impressive competitor I've yet seen). I think it is still in an invite-only beta, but I have 1 invite left if you're interested.

And I'll go ahead and third the recommendation that you do all the system and application updates in addition to a full backup (CCC and SuperDuper are great, though I really don't see a reason not to just use Time Machine)
posted by alaijmw at 6:00 PM on May 21, 2012

10.5 is no longer supported by Apple. The big issue there is that they are now vulnerable to things like the Flashback malware that actually infected a good chunk of Macs a couple months ago.

I would check here to see if their computers are infected and then I would turn off Java (not Javascript) on their browsers, since flashback depends on a Java exploit to get itself onto the computer in the first place.
posted by rockindata at 7:10 PM on May 21, 2012

I believe that 10.5 recently received an update that patched the flashback vulnerability. 10.6 might be a good idea anyway. 10.7 is a little clunky, so if you do update 10.6 is a good place to stop.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:37 PM on May 21, 2012

I'd get it to 10.6. 10.7 is a much tricker step, because we lost Rosetta with 10.7, which means any apps you have that are PowerPc only die with 10.7.

But 10.6 is solid, doesn't have any "my favorite game doesn't work anymore" traps, and is in current security support.

sigh I miss you every day Eudora.
posted by eriko at 7:53 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you've allotted time to laptop maintenance, consider opening them up and giving them a good blow with some compressed air, too. Laptops get congested with dust and require increasingly insane fan speeds just to stay cool. Cleaning the bunnies out once in awhile will reduce the chance of something frying before you're done with it.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:25 PM on May 21, 2012

*(as a warning, going to be 'nthing' a few points listed about - I work as an Apple sysadmin and also troubleshoot/fix my family's tech woes)

  • Purchase an external HD that has at least the capacity of both Macbook hard drives combined.
  • Use Disk Utility to create two partitions on said external HD - one partition for each computer - ie Mom, Dad
  • Use CarbonCopyCloner to create bootable backups of each Macintosh HD to the partitions

    After backup, I would strongly urge you to upgrade to 10.6 and rebuild the computers from scratch with brand new accounts (with same usernames and passwords to ease permissions issues when you copy files back over)

    I use a free Dropbox account on my parent's Macbook Pro and iBook(!) for exactly the same requirements you've listed. It's incredibly efficient, and I've found the easiest way to transition my parents into using it is by dropping an alias to a shared Dropbox folder on each of their Desktops. Perhaps one of the other fine Dropbox users on MeFi can give you an affiliate link if you decide to go with it - you'll both get a capacity bump.

  • Hazel by Noodlesoft is a great utility for keeping tabs on folders and automating things like deleting items from your Downloads folder after a certain amount of time, or making sure your trash doesn't go over a certain size.
  • Similarly, Onyx is wonderful free utility for running permissions fixes, cleaning out system caches and 'deep cleaning' your system. Even if you don't decide/don't have time to upgrade to 10.6 and do a clean install of everything, this might go a long way towards helping you.

    Other Considerations
  • A free LogMeIn account on their computers so that you can remotely help when away. I have this set up on all key machines on my network as well as at home, so can remotely troubleshoot things from my desktop, tablet, information phone, etc.
  • AppleJack is another great free utility to install that you can run from single-user mode in case the Macbooks stop booting into the Finder. It's worth putting on even if you never use it, and could save you a trip to the Genius Bar/local egghead.
  • If you wanted to, you could create an extra 'Administrator' account on each computer and only set your parents up as Standard users. This would prevent any accidental problems from happening (like accidentally trashing a system folder).
  • Purchasing a Time Capsule for automatic, wireless backups.

  • posted by jim.christian at 5:06 AM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

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