Buying a new Mac or even just reinstalling Mac OS X gives you an opportunity to set up your folders and files. While management of these won’t necessarily speed up your Mac, it will speed up the way you work. What takes longer: looking for an item you’ve misfiled or waiting for your Mac to complete a processor-intensive task? Mac OS X’s Spotlight search function is useful but nothing beats a good filing system.

If you really can’t face such an organisational task – and years of acquired files is certainly a good reason to avoid it – use Mac OS X’s Smart Folders. First introduced in Tiger, these are virtual folders that are dynamically updated by Spotlight and whose content matches criteria you set. It’s a bit like searching for an item with Spotlight and then saving that search for use another time. Some incarnations of Mac OS X come with a few Smart Folders pre-set for you (typically All Movies, All Images and All Documents) – and plenty of space for your own ones to be added to the sidebar. Select New Smart Folder from the File menu, set up your criteria and save with a suitably descriptive name.

Using Smart Folders is a great way to find buried files

Keep your desktop tidy

With Mac OS X being underpinned by Unix, the bad old days of corrupted desktop database files are long gone. The old Mac OS used a pair of invisible files to keep track of items on the desktop and periodically these had to be rebuilt.

Over the years the myth has been perpetuated that too many files on your desktop would still cause corruption problems. In Mac OS X this is completely untrue. However, there are a couple of reasons why keeping your desktop tidy is beneficial. First, it takes time to search through a pile of icons on your desktop to find the right pic, file or folder. If you must do this, at least set the Finder to snap to grid and sort by name. Second, having show icon preview turned on will result in a performance hit.

There are a couple of useful utilities that can help here. Desktop Tidy ($4.99, moves desktop items into a folder accessible from the menu bar. Features include filtering, Growl integration and an ignore list. Clean (free, via Mac App Store) is a simpler dock-based utility that moves all desktop items into dated folders at a location of your choosing.

Use Clean to de-clutter your desktop

Not your type

Corrupted font files can lead to a number of odd scenarios including jumbled characters, misaligned words and problems with printing and PDF creation. Such font problems will often result in applications hanging or even the system crashing. Duplicate fonts in different formats also cause trouble, especially true with the likes of Helvetica, Times and Symbol which Mac OS X installs in its system folder. Sorting out such duplication issues are beyond the scope of this feature but the corruption aspect certainly isn’t. 

Some font managers can check the font files themselves for corruption. FontAgent Pro 5 ($99.95, is particularly good at this, marking suspect fonts with a red cross and allowing you to verify them. Having a good idea where the problem is emanating from is better than the old remedy of splitting your fonts into groups and testing each group via Font Book until the culprit is isolated.

Font caches are used to speed up the display of text on your screen. Apple, Adobe, Quark and Microsoft all have their own caches and when problems occur, it’s a good idea to clear them all. Font Nuke (free, does a great job of this.

Font cache problems are a thing of the past with Font Nuke