CleanApp – Not for the faint hearted


I wrote recently about me experiences with three application uninstallers for the Mac, namely CleanApp, AppZapper and AppCleaner. After my experiences with looking at what CleanApp wanted to remove if I’d chosen to uninstall Apple’s Aperture software, I concluded that while CleanApp was a powerful and useful tool, it could easily delete files you needed if you weren’t careful.

CleanApp incorporates a background process which scans what files an application uses in real time so that it can spot things that other uninstallers might miss. It’s a nice idea but one which makes it a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, and when I went to uninstall Songbird today I was reminded of this. Now I’ve been using Songbird for a while and quite like it, however for some reason it had managed to double up on my music library, the result being that it was showing two entries for every track. Having seen how long it takes Songbird to remove a single track from the library I decided that the best thing to do was to simply remove Songbird and reinstall it. Reaching for CleanApp, I selected Songbird from the list of applications and told CleanApp to prepare for uninstalling it. The picture below shows the list of files that CleanApp wanted to delete.

You want to remove what?!

You want to remove what?!

Now I’ve been a Mac user for a little over a year now and while I don’t consider my self an expert, I think I can spot a few things that look amiss and there were three files on this list that were ringing alarm bells:

  • /Users/rdsh/Library/Preferences/com.apple.internetconfigpriv.plist
  • /Users/rdsh/Library/Preferences/com.apple.quicktime.plugin.preferences.plist
  • /Users/rdsh/Library/Preferences/QuickTime Preferences

By the looks of it, going with what CleanApp suggests would result in certain applications losing a config file they need to access the internet and a possibly damaged QuickTime installation. Needless to say I wasn’t prepared to let CleanApp delete the files just to prove my point. So I fired up AppZapper and AppCleaner to see what they would make of it. AppZapper found the Songbird application itself, the Songbird plist file in the Preferences folder and the Songbird folder in the Application Support library. AppCleaner went one step further and also found the Songbird folder in ~/Library/Caches/ so I let AppCleaner do its thing.

That seems more sensible!

That seems more sensible!

So, where does that leave me? Well I still think CleanApp is a powerful tool but I’m also convinced that if you simply accept what it says and delete the files it suggests then before long you’re going to delete some essential files that your Mac needs. The best approach seems to be to get CleanApp to make its recommendation and to then use AppCleaner to sanity check what CleanApp is suggesting. If CleanApp finds files and folders that AppCleaner doesn’t, then scrutinize each one carefully to make absolutely certain that it’s safe to delete. A good rule of thumb is that if the file name or the path name includes the name of the application you’re trying to uninstall, then it’s safe to delete it. If not, leave it well alone!

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