Scan your Mac for issues the bull***t-free way

1 November 2015, 03:39

Think your Mac has an issue? Is it running slowly? Is something not working? I see many guides out there but many “fixes” either cause more problems than they solve, or diminish the Mac OS X experience.

It’s like these people are advocating holistic medicine when a proper doctor is required. What they say might make you feel better but it’s not actually helping. And that makes me mad.

Here’s the quick and non-bull***t guide to finding issues with your Mac. I don’t go into depth about problems you might encounter. That’s what Google is for. And this is also about fixing problems AFTER something’s happened, rather than taking preventative measures.

Scan for stuff that shouldn’t be on your system
Easily one of the best scanning tools around, and free to boot, EtreCheck will take a look at OS X’s internals and highlight anything that’s unusual or unexpected as well as producing a general report on your system.

It’ll tell you about things that start when your Mac does, for example, and tell you about kernel extensions (i.e. software/hardware drivers) that are either loaded or on your system hanging around.

The report it produces is concise and should be easy to read, but common-sense is very useful. For example, on my system EtreCheck reports that I have kernel extensions loaded named “com.parallels…” Well, this is clearly for the Parallels Desktop app I have installed, so that’s cool. On the other hand, the “com.kaspersky” files in /System/Library/Extensions shouldn’t be there because I installed and then swiftly uninstalled a Kaspersky antivirus app a few months ago. So, I’ll be deleting those (to do so open Finder, tap Shift+Cmd+G, then enter the path, and then drag the files you don’t want to the Trash; note that you will probably need to enter your login password when prompted because you’re deleting from a system location).

Bear in mind that many apps are identified within OS X primarily by their developer name, so if you see something like “com.rockysandstudio” then a bit of Googling will show what app it is likely related to (the Leaf newsreader, in my case).

A key feature of EtreCheck is that the report it produces is free of personally-identifying details, like login names or serial numbers, so you can share it freely with others when requesting help.

Scan for adware
Despite its name, at the present time the free Malwarebytes Anti-Malware app scans solely for adware, which is becoming an increasing problem on Macs (although is still nowhere near the epidemic levels as with Windows or Android).

Scanning takes less than a minute. I’ve never actually found adware so I don’t know what happens if some is uncovered, but I’m guessing you’re offered the chance to remove it.

Note that there’s a paid-for version of Anti-Malware that offers always-on protection. To be blunt, I don’t think this is required. Periodic scanning should be enough.

Clean-up the filesystem
If you’re running out of disk space and it’s causing issues then use the free GrandPerspective to see where the biggest files are – and consider getting rid of them. It’s a pretty simple app to use. To scan the entire hard disk, do this: When the file open dialog box appears at app startup tap Shift+Cmd+G, then in the dialog box that appears type a single forward slash (/). Then click Go.

The bigger blocks represent the bigger files. Right-click any to be able to click to reveal them in Finder and possibly delete ‘em.

Lots of people get obsessive-compulsive about keeping their computer’s file system clean. In reality all our filesystems are a complete and utter mess, full of crap that probably shouldn’t be there. Don’t worry about it unless it causes an issue.

Other things to try
Apple says there’s no longer any need to repair permissions on system files if you’re running OS X Capitan, so took away the means of doing so. I’m not so sure and I’ve written about how you can repair permissions on El Cap anyway.

Cleaning Safari’s browser caches is also a neat idea and I’ve written about this for MacWorld in an article updated recently for El Capitan.

You might consider taking a look at what browser plugins are installed. I wrote about this in my recent posting here: Quick and effective security essentials for your Mac but, in short, a scorched earth policy of removing everything but system essentials involves tapping Shift+Cmd+G, typing /Library/Internet Plug-Ins/, and hitting Enter. Then drag everything you see to the Trash with the EXCEPTION of the following, which are provided by Apple for various system functions:

  • Default Browser.plugin
  • nslQTScriptablePlugin.xpt
  • Quartz Composer.webplugin
  • QuickTime Plugin.plugin

Creating a new account for yourself
If your current user account gets just too crufty to be usable, consider creating a new one for yourself and copying all your files over to it.

I’ve done this a few times on various Macs and it’s pretty effective. New user accounts can be created in System Preferences by clicking the Users & Groups icon, then clicking the plus icon. Be sure to create an administrator account – by default a Standard account is created. To switch it up to administrator-level, select it and then click Allow User to Administer This Computer.

To copy files from your old account into your new one, log into the new one and then open Finder. Tap Shift+Cmd+G, and type /Users. Double-click your old home folder, and start copying things across – note that you won’t be able to open folders like Documents or Desktop, but you CAN copy them to your new account. You’ll need to enter your password when prompted, but the folders (and files) copied across will gain your ownership and permissions, so you should be good to go in future.

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Thanks for the re-reminders of the vital initial steps in making sure your Mac is running on all cylinders, free from issues and badware. I’m running a Macbook Pro 7,1 on Mavericks. It’s maxed out with 8GB of memory and a smallish 128GB SSD. Also installed and used regularly are Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac, ClamXav, three to four ad blockers on every browser, no use of VMs, Little Snitch running full-time, with Java removed.

The main issue I’ve been experiencing is a constant need to force-quit TextEdit and Finder. I ‘save’ a bunch of online articles, editing on the fly with TextEdit. Usually, it’s which inevitably leads to the telltale sound of the fan, which then prompts opening Activity Monitor in order to force quit (as opposed to relaunching) Finder. Since “m not aware of a relaunch option for TextEdit a force quit via Activity Monitor is required.

A while ago I created an additional user with admin privileges, and as a result have pretty much eliminated the previous beachball problems. What I’m still unsure of is how best to migrate all settings into the new user account. My concern is that many, if not all, of the persisting current main admin user issues will also be transferred into the new account.

How would you suggest I proceed in accomplishing this task while minimizing the risk of also migrating any current admin user issues?

— Charlie · Nov 5, 08:19 AM · #

Hi I saw that avast for mac el capitan is supposed to be the best one. I tried Dr safety but it takes 4 hours to scan a mac book pro I have only had for 3 weeks and I have a lexar drive to store photos and other things. What do you think?

I don’t know how to uninstall dr safety. It keeps on finding the same “virus” on my machine it found 3 the last time and I could not finish my exit so I had to restart the system it said it already cleaned it. Eery day if find ones in mac mail which is gmail but my gmail on my phone is clean ( iphone 6s) i have switched completely over to mac now after having a disaster with windows 10 conversion. I am so done with windows but I am new to using it for my hobbies and work i take home or auctions i run for fun.
Please let me know what you think. I need to uninstall dr safety but can’t figure out how. Thanks so much.. 5/14/2016

— lydia · May 14, 12:41 PM · #