Saving Space and Lessons Learned

[In the final fourth installment of this series, Alex works with his MacBook Pro as he discovers several causes of its slowness. He figures out how to save more space, and concludes with Lessons Learned.

Prior installments of this series: first, second, and third. Comments are welcomed at the end of this post. – Editor]

Space Saving

I discovered another surprising disk – filler: Unused printer drivers. I collect them, like it or not, at client sites, building temporary networks onsite, or troubleshooting balky copier/printers. While I’m not exactly counting the bytes, a gig here, a gig there, and after a while it adds up to real space.

Where do printer drivers live? In /Library/Printers — not the same as /Users/Alex/Library. Installed printer drivers are system files, used by all logins, not installed in each user’s directory. I felt stupid. Of course, there were system files, separate from my personal login, and of course they were in the system’s own directory structure, not the users’.

How much space? /Library/Printers held 7.5 Gbytes of drivers—very surprising, considering I’d only downloaded a gig or so of driver – installers over the years. (I guess they get expanded at install.) The install files themselves are in /Users/Alex/Downloads, because the user (Me) had downloaded them. It’s only after installation that they end up on /Library/Printers. (I had already deleted unwanted installers from /Users/Alex/Downloads). Saving 7.5 Gigs of space is enough to make me care, especially before I migrate to an SSD.

Final result: I cleared out another 4.5 GB of unused drivers. It’s not the disk space per se that bothers me (Disk is cheap), so much as the backup “elbow room”.

Time Machine, Apple’s excellent built – in backup software, Just Works if the backup drive isn’t too full, but my secondary backup drive is the same size as the internal drive, 500 GB. (I also have a 1 TB primary backup drive.) Time Machine is supposed to automatically erase old backups to make room for new files. However, it doesn’t always think there’s room for backup on the smaller drive; I’ve had to erase the secondary backup target (After I was sure the primary backup was good!) before a backup would finish.

So, going from 80 GB free space (about a month ago) to 120 GB (now) should make my backup experience more reliable.

What We Have Learned

Here’s some ‘lessons learned’:

Precautions: As recommended here, I made sure I had deleted unused printers (Printers, once installed, are shown in System Preferences | Printers & Scanners) first, before I went after /Library/Printers. That’s a good idea anyway: I used to keep ten or more printer drivers installed, in case I visited that client again. I realized my printer-chooser (equivalent of the drop – down choose – a – printer Windows menu) was getting slow and erratic. A few months ago, I weed-whacked out all the ones I seldom use, and selecting a printer got much faster.

Printer presets are wonderful: As long as I’m discussing printers, it’s a good time to mention MacOS printer presets, too. (If you only ever print single – sided on one printer, you can skip this paragraph.) A preset is a bundle of settings for a given printer: Say, double – sided on the long edge, black and white, with toner savings on, from tray 3. Instead of navigating four dialog boxes every time you print, save a preset (or several) for each printer, and waste a lot less paper. It also avoids the “Where does the Xerox WorkCentre 355 driver hide &$$^&$!! stapling!” mini – crisis every time you need a seldom – used feature. For complex print jobs with collation, stapling, hole – punching or folding, capturing all those settings (With careful naming) into a preset can save endless paper, click charges, and aggravation. Printer presets are discussed here, here, here and many other places. Experiment early and often before you do any volume printing; the best time to learn is not on deadline. But, in short, if you ever print anything fancy, you should know about printer presets.

Extra networks too: While I was at it, I also deleted all the network locations (System Preferences | Network, then “Location” tab at the top) I wasn’t using. These are the equivalent of Windows’ network profiles, and I had dozens, for each network I’d ever tested. While they take up little space on disk, they do seem to confuse the network Preferences pane. Like selecting a printer, changing networks took longer than it should, until I deleted those extra network locations. Most people will probably never use any but the default “Automatic”, set for DHCP, except perhaps for a second “location” with a static address for talking to a particular router. MacOS makes switching network settings very easy; I learned to appreciate this the first time I needed to switch from a WAN (direct to a microwave link) to LAN (inside the router) more than once. (I think the record was five. Yes, a second laptop would have been invaluable.)

Some apps love their versions: I also threw out a dozen older versions of GoToMeeting, which were never deleted when the application updated itself. The GoToMeeting tools blog says this is on purpose, that all attendees must run the same version for compatibility, so this isn’t just a lazy installer. Still, it’s a bit disconcerting to have a dozen different copies of an app, stretching back multiple years, that you know you’ll never use. Or sometimes just days: just in July, I got three different versions within a week! It also suggests Citrix (Owners of GTM) might delete unsupported, older, versions, but I can see where that might be a whole other headache.

Wrapping Up

In all, I deleted another 15 gig of unwanted and old files, which will make the eventual migration to a Solid – State Disk (SSD) faster, along with future backups. (Backups take longer than they should, as my backup drives are all USB, and this model MacBook Pro doesn’t have USB 3.) Partly this was to delete anything inessential from slowing me down; partly this was for working space.

That’s not just work avoidance. For good performance, “Elbow room” on the Mac is fairly important. Time Machine needs temporary space on the source (internal) drive to prepare for backups. This is in addition to .MobileBackups directory, a local Time Machine duplicate of everything not yet backed up, which also takes up room. (Time Machine does intelligently decide what should take up local snapshots, trying hard to never make your disk so full you can’t work or back it up.)

I also feel a little more in control of my own destiny on this machine. I’ve been using Macs for thirty years, but only in the last five has MacOS been my primary choice. Learning (or, with UNIX commands, revisiting) the mechanics under the hood, if only a bit, has made me more confident.

Still, there’s a lot to explore. I still have unpredictable performance, Terminator processes, and (it appears) Precambrian – era apps causing them. Oh, and several dozen copies of AppleSpell.

More next time.

[Alex will return with those explorations in the next installment – Editor]

One comment on “Saving Space and Lessons Learned

  1. Vis-a-vis your desire for two laptops to handle complex networking setups: just set up an appropriate image as a VM, and use a three-finger-swipe to instantly switch between it and your “real” machine.

    I use VMware Fusion, configured for independent networking (I don’t remember what they call it, but it’s the alternative to piggybacking on the Mac’s network connection).

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