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Uninstall Mac OS X software properly

Uninstall and clean up
Are you looking for simple, easy, and straightforward ways to remove software you no longer want, clean up the disk drive, erase unwanted files and improve the performance of your Mac? There are several options available and you could use a free uninstaller utility. RAW App Remover is my own home brewed software and it scans the disk for applications and then lets you select and remove any you don't want.

RAW App Remover

It's not perfect by any means, but I often use it myself and it's OK. Download it and use this free registration code: 1031.

A much more powerful program is MacKeeper and this not only uninstalls software, it has a lot of additional cleanup and tune-up tools as well. It not only uninstalls applications, it uninstalls widgets, preference panes and plugins too. It can find duplicate files, uninstall languages you never use, clear caches and logs, and much more.

MacKeeper

MacKeeper is a great program for keeping your Mac running smoothly and I recommend it.

There is a huge amount of software available on the internet and there are some fantastic programs for Macs running OS X. There are commercial programs, shareware, freeware, and open source applications.

If you visit websites like Download.com and Softpedia you will discover thousands of programs you can download and install, and they are very tempting because they cost little or nothing. These aren't the only websites with lits of Mac software of course, and there are dozens of them. Not forgetting, of course, the Mac App Store (it's not the only source of software you know!)

Of course, you cannot install everything you see because the hard disk drive in the computer is only a finite size and not everything that is available on the internet will fit on it. The problem is even worse now that media has gone digital - photos, music, videos - and requires many gigabytes of disk space.

This means that sooner or later, depending on how big the hard disk drive is in your computer, you will run out of disk space. To download and install more software (or music or videos), you will have to remove programs and files you no longer want or need to free up some disk space.

Long before you get to the point where there isn't any more physical space on the hard disk drive to install more software, you will want to remove some previously installed applications anyway. Unless you have a very small capacity disk drive the amount of space that is available isn't usually a problem.

You will want to remove software for various reasons and if you have downloaded and installed shareware you will find that it stops working after 30 days or it is converted to a very cut down version with limited features. Of course, you can simply pay the registration fee and continue to use the fully working software, but unless you are a lottery winner you will soon run out of money. For this reason there are always programs on the hard disk drive that have timed out and that must be removed.

Demos of commercial software are useful because they give you an opportunity to see what the software is like before you hand over your hard earned money. However, demos are limited versions that are not fully functional, so after trying them for a short time you will either decide to purchase the full program or remove it from your computer.

Another reason for wanting to uninstall software on your computer is that you might discover something better. Even if a program is free, if you find something else that is free and that offers more features and functions, why not replace it? You just need to uninstall the old program and then download and install the new one. When upgrading a program from an older version to a newer version, you sometimes have to remove the old one or the new one might not work properly.

Where's the uninstaller?
Apple Mac OS X packageMac OS X programs are generally well behaved and they keep most of the files together in one place. An icon in the Applications folder may be a single file with simple software, but with more complex ones it is actually a folder that contains all the files that are required.

It's called a package and if you hold down the Ctrl key and click on an application you will see a Show Package Contents item on the menu. You can select it if you want to open a Finder window to view the files and folders in the application.

It is a trivial task to remove the vast majority of files making up an application and all you need to do is to drag the application icon to the Trash. Alternatively, you can hold down the Ctrl key and click on the icon, then choose Move to Trash from the menu that is displayed.

Apple Mac OS X uninstallerThe ease with which applications can be uninstalled means that a special uninstaller utility often isn't needed. However, a few applications do come with uninstallers though, so before you drag the application to the Trash you should check to see if one is available. For example, there is an uninstaller utility supplied with ClamXav, the free anti virus program for the Mac, and VirtualBox (run Windows or Linux on your Mac). You should always run the uninstaller to remove the program.

It is best to install and uninstall software while logged on as an administrator rather than a standard user. This is because you have access to parts of the system that are off limits to standard users and can perform tasks that are otherwise blocked. If you try to uninstall a program while logged on as a limited user you may be prevented from removing some or all the files associated with it.

Why Trashing it doesn't work
The popular beilief is that dragging an application to the Trash will remove all traces of a program from the computer, but frequently it does not and many files and folders can be left behind. This can happen even after using an application's uninstall utility - if it came with one - and you might think that this is simply bad programming, after all, why can't a program remove the files it uses? However, there are several reasons why Trashing an application or uninstalling it might not do the job as thoroughly as you would expect.

One reason is that programs can install files to other locations and not all of them are stored with the program in the app folder. For example, it is common for programs to provide customisation options, such as preferences and options, skins, add-ons and plug-ins. These are be stored in various files and folders on the hard disk drive and because they are not part of the original application, they are not removed when you drag an application icon to the Trash folder.

A program may also cache information, which means that it stores information on the hard disk drive so that it can be accessed more easily the next time it is required. A typical example is a web browser and dragging the application icon to the Trash will not remove the cache files because they are stored somewhere else on the hard disk drive. Hundreds of megabytes of files could be left behind!

Clean up after uninstalling
Uninstallers frequently don't remove every trace of a program and many programs do not come with uninstallers, so after you have removed an application you must then clean up the remaining files and folders. An application's files are usually stored in the /Applications folder on the boot disk. Software installers mostly do this automatically and with programs you install manually it is suggested that you drag the application to this folder, so this is where to look for them.

The application may create a subfolder (and an application can actually be a folder), there may be just one item or several, such as an application and a help or readme file, so after dragging the application icon to the Trash, just check that there aren't any other files or folders that you have missed.

There is a special folder that some software uses called Library and you can see it in your Home folder if you open a Finder window. It's location on the disk is /Users/YourName/Library. If you have removed Program X from Company Y and there is still a Program X or Company Y folder in the Library folder it is usually OK to delete it by dragging it to the Trash.

An important subfolder of Library is Application Support and almost all programs store information like program configuration settings in here. Apple Mac OS X Application SupportThere will be a folder named after the application or company and it is usually easy to see what a particular program has created. You should delete the folder or files belonging to the application you have removed by dragging them to the Trash

Before you start deleting folders willy nilly though, you should be aware that many companies produce more than one program and a folder named after a company might contain files or subfolders for several different applications. So if you have three programs from Company X, the Company X folder might contain a subfolder for each of the three applications. You therefore need to open the folder and delete only the subfolder for the application you are removing. Of course, if you've only got one application from a company then you can delete the company folder along with the application folder.

Another subfolder of Library is Caches and this is used to store recently or frequently accessed information. There may be a file or folder for the application you are removing and you can select it and send it to the Trash because it won't be needed any more.

Delete your preferences
Preferences folderNearly all applications have a Preferences menu and it displays a window that enables you to configure various options. All the options that an application sets are stored on disk and they are in a special folder that you will find in your Library folder. Open a Finder window, go to your home folder, open Library and then open Preferences.

The files that you see in here might seem to be strangely named, but there is a sort of logic to them. If you have Mozilla Firefox, for example, you will see a file called org.mozilla.firefox.plist and this is where Firefox stored all its configuration the options. If you uninstall an application either using an uninstaller or manually, you need to go to the Preferences folder and delete the plist file.

(Tip: if you are having a problem with an application then deleting this file can sometimes cure it by resetting all configuration options.)

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Too many fonts?
Fonts are, of course, very useful and a few are actually essential to the operating system because they are used for the display of text on the screen in built in applications. However, if you have a large number of fonts they may slow down the system.

Many fonts are provided with OS X of course, but additional ones can be added by the applications that you install. A desktop publishing program might come with hundreds or even thousands of fonts and while it might be exciting browsing them, you should ask yourself whether you actually need them all. Are there some that you never use? If there are, you should consider removing them to free up system resources and disk space because they can affect performance.

To view the fonts on your computer and to remove ones you don't want, open a Finder window, go to the Applications folder and run Font Book. Select All Fonts in the Collection list and then select a font in the Fonts list. If you don't want it, select Remove on the File menu. You must be careful not to remove any that are used by the applications on your computer or they may fail to work properly.

How can you tell? There isn't a foolproof method, but usually fonts that are easy to read are often used, but fonts that aren't usually aren't used. For example, fancy caligraphic old English fonts, creepy/spooky dripping blood fonts, handwriting scripts and so on are not used by OS X in the user interface or built in applications and they are therefore usually safe to delete. Foreign languages usually aren't needed either, so Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and so on aren't useful if you cannot speak the lingo.

Other users and libraries
Font Book is a useful tool for browsing the font collections on your computer and for removing font families that you will never need, but eagle-eyed readers may have spotted something interesting in the Collections list on the left. There are three options at the top: All fonts, User, and Computer. If more than one person uses your Mac you may well have created separate user accounts for each of them. Each user has their own personal folder in /Users and in /Users/YourName is your own personal Library folder that contains items that only you can access. Your own personal Library, Fonts, Caches, and Application Support and other folders are stored here. Every user has a similar Library folder in their personal folder.

We have seen how to remove an application by going into your own Library folder and Application Support, but what about user users' Library and Application Supoport folders? To completely remove an application and all its data files you must log on to OS X using each user account and clear out the user's private folders as described earlier. Just clearing your own will not remove everything.

Open a Finder window and select the hard disk drive - the root of the disk - and you will discover another Library folder. This one contains items that apply to every user of the computer. It's a sort of system-wide public one and applications store information in there that needs to be available to everyone that uses the computer. There are Application Support, Fonts, Caches and other folders and in addition to clearing out your own personal Library, Application Support and other users folders as described earlier, you need to clear out any left-over files from this one too. Go and look for Company X or Program Y folders.

Hidden files
macuninstall5 (20K)Just a final word about files - some of them are hidden and if you only remove the files you see in Finder windows, you might not remove every trace of an application.

If you use a program like Xfolders or muCommander to explore the hard disk drive you will discover lots of files and folders you never new existed. You can actually configure Finder to show hidden files and you'll be amazed at what you see.

Browse around your home folder and you might find some items related to the software you are uninstalling. You can remove them as they are no longer needed.

You can actually get Finder to display these hidden files and folders and there are many tweaking and customisation utilities that provide this facility.

One such utility is xMod. Whatever your favourite tweaking utility, just look for the 'show hidden files' option in the Finder section.

Useful software
At the start of this article you probably thought that it was a fairly trivial task to remove any unwanted software from your Apple Mac, Apple Mac OS X Application Supportbut now It might seem like a lot of hard work! All those places where programs can store information must be cleared out and it can be a hassle.

You would be surprised how much rubissh accumulates on a well used Mac and it could well be one of the reasons why computers seem to get slower as they get older.

Fortunately, there are utilities available that can make the task of removing software a lot easier than doing it manually. You simply run the uninstaller, drag an application to its window or icon and drop it. An uninstaller scans the system for files used by the application and then removes everything automatically.

They are very useful, but it's always worth double checking what they are about to delete before you actually go ahead and delete the files, and most utilities can show you this. Of course, it is also worth checking that the uninstaller utility hasn't missed anything, so enable hidden files in Finder or use Xfolders or muCommander and take a look at the hard disk drive.

  • RAW App Remover: Uninstall utility removes all an app's files
  • AppCleaner: Uninstall utility
  • Application Annihilator: Uninstall utility
  • AppTrap: Uninstall utility intercepts programs dragged to the Trash and removes associated files.
  • DesInstaller: Reads the installation script created by .pkg files and removes all files added.
  • FontNuke: Removes damaged fonts and deletes font caches.
  • Onyx: General system utility, can delete various caches too.
  • Maintenance: General system utility, can delete various caches too.

Finally....
Don't forget to empty the Trash! OS X doesn't delete files, it just moves them to the Trash folder. This is useful if you ever want to put back a file you deleted, but you won't get the disk space back that an application used until you empty the Trash folder.

Related articles
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Find files fast, without Spotlight!
Quick Look files in the Trash
View hidden files in Finder
Find files and folders
Upgrade the RAM in your Mac for speed
Reduce startup times, boot faster
Defragment the disk part 1
Defragment the disk part 2
Clean up your desktop

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