It’s easier than you might think.
As you work with your Mac, installing and using software, it creates a bunch of configuration files that it stores in various places throughout your computer. Most of these files can be found in the various Library folders, tucked inside their own folders. There are hundreds of these files and every time you install and use some software — even trial software that you later delete — these files are created and hidden away in your system.
These unused files bit me this week when, for some reason, my BlackBerrry refused to sync with iCal and Address Book. The week before, I’d downgraded from Mac OS X 10.6.3 to 10.6.2. (Long story why; I don’t recommend doing this.) To make another long story short, it turns out that the BlackBerry Desktop software had lost track of some of its components. Making the matter worse was that I’d used both the Missing Sync and Pocket Mac in the past and their configuration files and extensions were still lurking about in my system, causing BlackBerry Desktop to choke.
While you can use an application like AppZapper (which I recommend) to uninstall software you no longer use, I’ve discovered that even uninstallers leave files behind. The best way to make sure a software program is completely gone is to search for and manually delete any remaining configuration files.
The trouble is, when you use the Finder’s search box to search for a file, it automatically excludes system files. This is actually a good thing for two reasons (that I can think of):
- It minimizes search results to match what you’re most likely trying to find (which isn’t usually system files).
- It prevents novice users from stumbling upon and possibly deleting or modifying system files that are better left alone.
So what do you do? Easy. You tell Mac OS to search the library folder where you expect to find the files.
Here’s an example. I use the program Fission by Rogue Amoeba to edit audio files. I like it; it’s good. But suppose I decided I wanted to stop using it and remove every trace of it from my computer.
I could search my hard disk for files named Fission. The results might look like this:
But is that all there is? I don’t think so. I’ll open the Library folder in my Home folder and do the same search, but with the Library folder selected. Here are the results:
See the difference? The second search displayed two configuration files and a folder likely containing more related data. (The fourth file in the list is a data file for Yojimbo which I’d likely not want to remove.)
If I were serious about removing all traces of this program from my computer, I’d search not only by the name of the program but all or part of the name of the developer. (Rogue Amoeba is a great example because either word is likely to find just files related to software by that developer.)
You might want to repeat this process for all Library folders — the one on your hard disk’s root directory, the one in the System folder on your hard disk, and the one in any user’s Home folder (if you have access to it).
Performing this exercise for Missing Sync and Pocket Mac files this morning uncovered literally dozens of configuration files scattered all over my hard disk. Deleting them freed up space and prevented the possibility of these files interfering with incompatible software that I currently use.
Need More Information?
You can find more information about searching your Mac in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide. Chapter 5 covers the Spotlight search feature in a great deal of detail.