Wind up the widgets

When Dashboard first appeared in Tiger it appeared to be the panacea for all utilities. But as a semi-transparent layer that is invisible unless activated by clicking its icon in the Dock, it’s an application that’s active all the time and using memory. Even worse, because widgets are written mainly in html, css and Javascript, the coding may not be as efficient as if it had been written conventionally.

In Lion, the Dashboard defaulted to being its own space. As such, it’s always active and taking up both memory and processor cycles, especially if you have a lot of current widgets. While Mountain Lion handles this better, you should shut down any widgets you don’t need.

If you don’t use Dashboard at all, you can disable it entirely. Open Terminal from the Utilities folder and type:

defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean YES

Press Enter and then log out and back in. Using the same statement ending in NO re-activates Dashboard. 

If you’re uncomfortable with Terminal, use TinkerTool (free, www.bresink.com). As well as giving you access to additional preference settings and hidden features built into Mac OS X, it can deactivate Dashboard.

Both methods work irrespective of whether Dashboard is set to have its own space or not within Mission Control’s system preferences.

If you have any important widgets you can always try converting them to standalone apps with Amnesty Singles ($9.95, www.amnestywidgets.com).

Disable Dashboard permanently via Terminal

On feature of TinkerTool is the ability to deactivate Dashboard

Close down the apps

A number of situations can cause your computer to slow down or freeze with the resulting spinning beachball of death. The latter indicates that an app has stopped responding to system events and was patented by Apple back in 2003 (finally granted in July 2012). 

Processor-intensive apps hog your processor cycles, some even if the app is working in the background. Coupled with a lack of available RAM, your Mac may slow down to the point that it’s completely unresponsive and the only answer is a restart. Being aware of this is part of the battle; MenuMeters (free, www.ragingmenace.com) can display the level of processor usage by the system and your apps independently. It can also show used/free memory along with the number of swap files (as mentioned previously). 

A worse situation is running out of hard drive space. When Mac OS X tries to write a swap disk file and has insufficient space to do so, the results can be calamitous. Again, MenuMeters can be set to show available hard drive space in the menu bar.

Running Apple’s Activity Monitor can give you a good idea of which apps are hogging your memory or processor cycles. Given how quickly most apps start up, if you’re not using an app shut it down.

Activity Monitor shows up which apps are processor hogs

Get rid of the ‘others’

Introduced with the first incarnation of Mac OS X, Preference Panes are plug-ins for either the system or specific apps. Mountain Lion has four rows of these for the system plus a fifth row called ‘Other’ that becomes populated over time by those from third-party apps. Problem is, once an app’s installer has placed its file there, it tends to stay. Even uninstallers can fail to shift it. 

Want to have a clear out of those you no longer need? Simple. A swift ctrl-click brings up a one-line ‘remove’ option. Select this and it’s gone. This only works for ‘Others’, not those controlled by Mac OS X itself.

Any ‘other’ PrefPanes can be easily remo