Got an Apple, Mac, or iOS tech question? We have the answer. In this week's installment of Ask, we'll help you remove old, unwanted, or useless applications from your Mac.
I have just upgraded my Mac to Mavericks using Migration Assistant. This is probably the fifth computer I have done this with, over many, many years, and many of my old apps have been rendered useless by switching to new operating systems. Is there a good method or a reliable app that will find and identify all of the useless files on my machine so I can remove them?
Uninstalling apps on the Mac is fairly straightforward compared to other operating systems, but there are some caveats that you should know before starting the process. Applications created for the Mac have a “.app” extension to denote that they are an application. This “.app” is what’s known as an application bundle; it’s essentially a folder that contains all of the files related to the application that it needs to run. To remove these application bundles using the Finder:
1. Stop the application from running, and if it has options to run at Login, disable these features.
2. Remove the application and any helpers from the Dock and Menu bar by quitting them and dragging them off the Dock.
3. Locate the .app bundle in the Applications folder, or wherever you’ve been storing the app.
4. Drag the .app bundle to the Trash, and empty the Trash.
This is all well and good, but there could still be files lying around your system relating to the application that you just removed. It is a common Mac app practice that user preferences, and other files relating to the application, will be stored in various system folders across your Mac for safekeeping. Follow these steps to find and remove additional files:
1. In Finder, search for the application you just deleted. (Ideally it will be something unique like “Firefox” or “Skype” rather than “Notes.”)
2. You can narrow the search to specific folders, if you know where it might be, or to the entire computer.
3. Search using “File Name” instead of “Contents” to get better results (because we’re looking for files relating to the app, which usually have the name of the app in the filename).
4. Click the + button to add a new search criterion, then select Other > System Files; click “Don’t Include” and select “Include” instead.
5. Sort by name, kind, date, and so on to identify components of the app; these might be folders, “.plist” files, cache files or other types.
6. Delete all of the files and folders relating to the app, but be careful to not delete files that could be used by other apps that you still wish to use.
7. Once you’ve determined that everything is still working properly, then you can remove the files in the Trash. You may need to reboot your Mac before emptying the Trash, and/or use Secure Empty Trash from the Finder menu.
Search for files relating to a specific application to help with removing them.
Again, we stress that you should be careful when removing these items. If you accidentally delete the wrong item relating to another application, the other app may not work properly. If you are not comfortable with this process, then you can use an automated uninstaller application such as AppTrap (www.onnati.net/apptrap), AppCleaner (www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner), and AppZapper (www.appzapper.com). Don’t expect these tools to remove all files associated with all applications, but they can do a pretty good job.
Ask is written by Cory Bohon, a freelance technology writer, indie Mac and iOS developer, and amateur photographer.