For the four years I’ve been using a Mac, I haven’t used a maintenance tool. All I’ve ever done was verify disk permissions, and maybe use Drive Genius to perform some optimisation. But even that was just something ‘extra’ and not necessary according to me.
The real question is, can maintenance tools really help in getting your system speedy, healthy, and less prone to crashes? The answer is a subjective yes. As a unix system, Mac OS X runs certain maintenance scripts of its own, without the user being aware of them. These scripts run at a certain time daily, weekly, and monthly. However there are other tasks like clearing caches, repairing permissions, and checking the disks which the system does not do on its own. These may or may not optimise your system in a tangible way, but they will definitely be a precautionary measure to make sure nothing is broken.
A straightforward tool, as can be told by its name, Maintenance is a one window wonder. On launch it will offer to verify your disks and make sure everything is okay, after which you can choose to run one of the few options. The user interface is plain, but it’s also very easy to understand. You can execute the system maintenance scripts, clear out caches, and rebuild things like the spotlight index.
A much more comprehensive tool, Ice Clean is sort of your eyes into the system. Most of the tasks are terminal commands that are wrapped around menubar items. For instance, you can query the Mac serial number which will pop out in the reports. You can query CPU usage.
When it comes to maintenance, Ice Clean can run the usual system scripts, disk verification and other forms of cleanup. It also has a lot of diagnostic tools for network and security, which I personally couldn’t test because it exceeds my limited knowledge of such things. Ice Clean is a free tool, and if you need to know more about your system, it’s a good tool to have.
A no fuss application, MainMenu resides as an icon in your menubar. The spiffy list allows you to access the system scripts, rebuild caches, clean files, and some odds and ends. An overall excellent experience since it doesn’t use much space, has a great interface, and does everything you would want it to do. MainMenu is a free tool.
The big name in Mac maintenance, Onyx allows you to run a whole lot of maintenance scripts, along with cleanups of internet, fonts, logs, etc. The options and presentation are easy and simple to navigate through although there’s some technical stuff in there I wouldn’t touch. OnyX is a free tool, and highly recommended by a lot of users.
OnyX comes from Titanium Software, the same developers who make Maintenance, and also have a tool Deeper which unlocks hidden settings in your system.
Less of a maintenance tool and more of a tinkering tool, MacPilot gives you access to millions of settings Apple wouldn’t dream of putting in any of the preference panes. There are again terminal scripts wrapped around check boxes, so you can easily enable the ‘suck’ effect for the Dock, change it from 3D to 2D, and set your screensaver as your desktop background.
Apart from this you can also run maintenance scripts and clear caches, so it’s an all round package. However, I would say Onyx and MainMenu have far more options than MacPilot when it comes to maintenance, but I guess that’s a price you pay when considering a do-it-all. MacPilot costs $15 for a license which is decent for such a package.
While we’re talking about a tool that gives you access to hidden settings, Tinkertool is pretty much like MacPilot (although I’d say it covers a smaller range of tweaks compared to MacPilot). It’s got a pleasant user interface that’s easy to understand (a win over MacPilot), and most of all, it’s free.
The most professional ‘tinkering’ tool of the lot, Cocktail also has a lot of customisations you can play with, by the looks of it more than TinkerTool and MacPilot. It’s also in active development (not saying the others aren’t) so new features are constantly added. It can also run maintenance scripts and clear caches. $15 is a good price for such an app, although for most I’d say free is gold.
Going through all these apps, it’s very difficult to make a choice based on features since most of them perform the same functions. If I wanted to customise my system and keep it healthy, I’d say Cocktail wins out with a clean user interface and loads of features. However, I’m just looking for a simple tool to do some maintenance once in a while, for which the free MainMenu seems to be the best of the lot. It’s got a minimal interface and performs all the functions I would need.