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Like this article? We recommend Making Stuff Fit into Less Space

Making Stuff Fit into Less Space

Now that I've talked about housekeeping as a way to recover space, let's move on to the next option: making larger items fit into less space. Closets have a bunch of different kinds of solutions that aim to help you fit a lot of stuff into a little space. Two that come to my mind immediately are closet organizers with cubbies or drawers, and vacuum-bag systems that suck the air out of giant plastic bags that you stuff full of out-of-season clothing or bedding. Likewise, there are multiple options for doing the same sort of thing with data on your hard drive.

Trimming Applications

Applications can take up a lot of space because of all the code that they require to function, but for you, a single user, all that code may not be needed. When developers (particularly large multinational companies like Apple, Microsoft, or Adobe) create applications, they do so in a way that allows them to produce a single application that can be sold to any owner of a recent Mac model around the world. This design saves the manufacturer from having to write separate versions for each country or Mac model. However, it also means including the code to support dozens of languages—and, in many cases, both older Power PC processor-based as well as today's Intel-based Macs—with each product.

These universal binary applications will run in native languages and with the best performance possible on either a new Intel Mac or an older Power PC Mac wherever the program is installed. All the user interface elements that include text are provided for any supported language, and that part of the actual code that makes up the application is duplicated. One copy runs on Intel processors and the other on Power PC processors. This makes the file size of the application bigger than it needs to be if you have only a recent Mac with an Intel processor (Apple stopped making Power PC Macs nearly half a decade ago), and you use your Mac in a single language. Meanwhile, all that Power PC code and language information (often called language localization data) is taking up space.

Removing unneeded code and languages can noticeably shrink the disk space required by any application, including some Mac OS X system components—though the amount of space recovered by removing these things can vary widely from one application to another.

A large number of tools are available to remove both non-native code and language localization from Mac OS X applications. Several of the tools I mentioned earlier—Drive Genius, WhatSize, and CleanMyMac—can accomplish these tasks. So can standalone tools like LateNiteSoft's Xslimmer ($14.95) and Ingmar Stein's Monolingual (free). With any of these tools, you simply select which language(s) you want to keep and/or which type of code (Intel or Power PC) you need. The tool does the rest.

Trimming iTunes and iPhoto Files

You can slim down more than just applications. Another way to recover space is by trimming duplicates from your iTunes and iPhoto libraries.

In the case of iTunes, this concept is pretty straightforward. Under the iTunes File menu is a Display Duplicates option. In some cases, the results you'll see will be exact duplicates (such as from importing a CD twice without realizing it). In others, you may have the same track in different formats (an MP3 file someone gave you, a CD you've imported, and/or a purchase from the iTunes store). You may also find the same recording from different albums, such as from a movie soundtrack album as well as an artist's release.

In these cases, once you've identified the duplicate tracks (and verified that they're indeed complete duplicates by playing them), you can simply delete the extra(s). If the tracks are in different audio formats, keep the higher quality. For example, you might choose to keep an AAC version versus an MP3 because the former offers higher quality and better compression—and hence, a smaller file.

iPhoto has no built-in option to search for duplicates. However, Brattoo Propaganda Software's tool Duplicate Annihilator ($7.95) provides a powerful and easy-to-use option for finding duplicates, and it can either show them to you or delete them automatically. Duplicate Annihilator also offers options for refining what is considered a duplicate. With digital cameras taking HD-quality photos, removing even a few duplicates can add up to a lot of space restored.

Compressing Seldom-Used Files and Folders

Much like storing winter clothes in vacuum bags during the summer can save space in your closet, compressing seldom-used files, folders, and even applications can save hard drive space for everyday use. File compression can be achieved in various ways on a Mac, as well as on other platforms. The most common use of compression technology is shrinking files and folders into a .zip package so that you can email them, place them on a website or FTP site for others to download, or share them via other online solutions.

While compressing files in .zip archives is a useful solution for transmitting them or storing them remotely, using compressed disk images is generally more convenient for everyday use on a Mac. When disk images (.dmg files) are opened, they look and behave like an additional hard drive or flash drive. You can copy files between the disk image and your hard drive; open and view them from the disk image; and edit, move, or delete them. Mac OS X supports various forms of disk images, including ones that are a fixed size or variable size, encrypted (requiring a password to access), and compressed.

You can create disk images from most hard drive utilities, including the Mac OS X Disk Utility. When you create the image, you can specify what type of image it is; where the resulting file will be stored; and whether to create an empty disk image or one that's based on an existing hard drive, removable media, or folder.

If you have larger collections of files (perhaps a portfolio) that you seldom use but still want to have immediately available, using a compressed disk image can be an ideal solution. You can mount it at any time (provided you have enough free space) and then simply eject it as though it were a physical drive when it's not needed.

The exact space savings when compressing files can be difficult to predict accurately, because many common file types already compress data in order to make files as small as possible:

  • Both AAC and MP3 files use a compression-and-encoding scheme, resulting in a smaller file than a straight audio recording from a CD, for example. (Some stereos support and can play MP3 CDs, which are data CDs that can hold dozens of MP3 files in the same space where a traditional audio CD might manage 10 or 15 tracks.)
  • JPEG image files often compress and encode picture data to varying degrees.

When files are already partly compressed, there's less savings when you attempt to compress them further.

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