Mac or Myth – Uninstalling Software

Since switching to a Mac around February this year, I have started to learn what’s myth and what’s just how the Mac works. It’s interesting because a lot of the Mac mindset is about letting you get on with using your computer rather than having to worry how it all hangs together – and that’s a good thing. However, for some of us it’s nice to try and make sense of what’s going on under the hood so that we can be better prepared.

Uninstalling software – Under Windows, installing a program can typically make changes in four places; your Program Files folder, your Windows folder, the Documents and Settings folder and finally the registry. On a Mac people will tell you to simply drag the unwanted application to the trash, because there is no registry or system folder to affect. That’s partly true but it’s oversimplifying things somewhat. Truth is, on the Mac software tends to only affect two locations and that’s your Applications folder and your /Users/username/Library/ folder. Just dragging an application to the trash is like just deleting the applications folder under Program Files in Windows – it gets the job done but leaves bits behind, usually in your Library folder.

AppZapperSo to uninstall a Mac application completely you need to delete the application and to delete any subfolders it created underneath the /Users/username/Library/ folder. These folders are likely to have a name similar to the application itself, so if you’re uninstalling an application called ‘WinTheLottery’, then look for a folder called ‘/Users/username/Library/WinTheLottery’ to delete as well. If you’re unsure about wandering around your hard drive looking for stuff to delete then try out the excellent AppZapper program ($12.95). You just drag the unwanted application’s icon from the Applications folder on to the AppZapper ‘pad’, check the list of files it finds then click on the Zap button to uninstall them. Make sure to check the list carefully though, particularly if the program you’re removing is a utility that is associated with a certain type of file, as AppZapper might want to delete all instances of those files too.

A free alternative to AppZapper is AppCleaner which works in much the same way. AppCleaner(Although AppCleaner is free, you can make donations to the author via his website).

Some of the larger application suites like Office and Adobe Photoshop, or system utilities like DriveGenius may come with their own uninstaller. You might find it as a menu or preferences item in the application itself, or it may have installed the uninstaller in a special folder in your Applications folder. For one program I tried, the uninstaller came as a separate program inside the original .dmg package. In any case, if your program does have an uninstaller then don’t be tempted to use the trash can method above as you’ll leave all sorts of unwanted files lying around, use the uninstaller provided. This is because the suite may have created commands that cause certain things to happen when your Mac is booted up, and the uninstall routine provided should deal with these as well as removing all the necessary files.

In case you were wondering how come Mac applications typically seem to be a single file  whereas Windows applications create a folder full of assorted files… well it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors. You see under OS X Leopard any application that appears as a single .app file is in reality a folder with a .app name extension, concealing all the various files needed to make the application run. The difference is that OS X treats the .app folder name extension in a special way and does three things:

  • It hides the contents of the folder from you in Finder, and
  • It displays the icon for the application rather than the generic folder icon, and
  • When you double-click on it, it runs the application by default rather than just opening the folder.

.app extensionDon’t believe me? Well try this little trick. Create a regular folder, somewhere in your Documents folder perhaps, and call it MyFolder. Now pull up the Finder properties for your newly created folder (for two-button mouse users that’s a right-click on the folder and choose ‘Get Info’). In the Name & Extension field, rename your folder by adding .app to the end of the name, so in this case our example becomes MyFolder.app. Notice how the folder icon suddenly changes to the default application icon, and see what happens when you double-click on this new icon (don’t worry, OS X will just be puzzled that you’re trying to ‘run’ an empty folder).

Magic!

The day my calendar died…

Following on from my foolish attempt to get my Entourage calendar synchronized with my Outlook/Notes calendars via Google calendar, I am pleased to report that the whole misguided affair managed to screw up my calendar completely!

It is fair to say that this might have been the result of my understanding the options shown in the CalGoo Connector. You see one of the options in CalGoo is to specify over what time period you want to sync events, so for example you can choose to:

  • Sync all events
  • Sync all future events and only past events going back a week

…and so on. Originally I chose to sync all events and as stated in my earlier post, that resulted in duplicate entries popping up everywhere. So having given that up as a bad bet, I decided to run one last sync but this time choosing the option in CalGoo to only sync events up to one week in the past and all future events. Now read that sentence again…

“sync events up to one week in the past and all future events”

I wasn’t expecting what happened next and that is – “sync events up to one week in the past and all future events AND DELETE ALL EVENTS OLDER THAN ONE WEEK AGO“. That’s right, unfortunately CalGoo didn’t ignore any events older than a week ago as I had hoped, it DELETED them, and just in case, there’s the proof. Deleted!

To add to my frustration, there’s no CANCEL button in CalGoo like there is in Google Calendar Sync, so I just had to sit there helpless and watch it delete everything older than a week. There they were, gone – Entourage, iCal and Google Calendar were devoid of any events prior to a week ago which, if like me you refer to past events for information, was well… inconvenient to say the least (that wasn’t the actual word I was using at the time!).

Fortunately I had my Get Out Of Jail Free card, or so I thought. My Outlook 2007 calendar on my PC was still intact, so I switched to my PC and changed the Google Calendar Sync program to do a one-way push of all my Outlook events back to Google. For whatever reason, it decided that wasn’t going to happen and the process sat there attempting to sync for the next few hours with the progress meter stuck on 28%. I cancelled the sync and retried it a couple of times but without any luck.

AppZapperIn the end, I deleted my entire Google calendar and started from scratch doing one final push of my Outlook calendar to Google and it worked! All my events were back, and now Notes, Outlook and Google are all happily synchronizing again. Needless to say my trial version of CalGoo Connector has been switched off for now.

So, if you’re thinking of trying to get Entourage 2008 to play the sync game with Google Calandar, my advice is to make sure you have a safe copy of your calendar somewhere else that you can recover from if everything doesn’t go according to plan. Meanwhile I may be dropping a note to the CalGoo guys to get clarification on the above option and suggesting that they re-word that particular option in their application, or at least pop up a message warning the user that their past is about to be erased if that’s what that option is designed to do.