by Tom Nelson
The Mac comes equipped with a number of apps, including Safari, Mail, Photos, Calendar, Contacts, and many more, that are used every day by most Mac users.
There’s also a class of apps known as utilities that are often overlooked by both new and well-seasoned Mac users. That’s why this week, we’re going to look at utility apps everyone should be aware of.
Mac Utility Apps
For the most part, the utilities we mention come with a Mac, meaning you don’t need to find and download them; they’re already present, although a few are well hidden. But we’re not going to limit our look at utilities to just those available from Apple. Many third-party developers have created very useful utilities that either supplement an existing Apple utility or provide new capabilities or services.
The utilities mentioned in this guide have all been tested with macOS Sierra, and we expect they’ll work with newer versions of the Mac OS as well. These utilities have all worked with previous versions of the Mac OS, but we didn’t research when they first became available.
Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.
One of the utilities I use most often, Activity Monitor, is available at /Applications/Utilities/. I have Activity Monitor configured to start automatically at startup, and show disk activity in the app’s Dock icon. You can also set the Dock icon to display CPU usage and network traffic. Surprisingly, Activity Monitor’s Dock icon can’t display memory usage, something it was able to do in previous versions. Thankfully, there are quite a few third-party apps that can monitor memory usage, which we’ll get into shortly.
Activity Monitor displays real-time, or close to real-time, status about how your Mac’s resources are being used; specifically, CPU, Memory, Energy, Disk, and Network resources. Activity Monitor provides access to each category through a tab interface on its toolbar.
Ever wonder which app is hogging your CPU resources, making your Mac feel sluggish? Activity Monitor can tell you with the click of the CPU tab, letting you know the percentage of CPU power being used, how much CPU time a particular app is using, and a number of other useful bits of information.
Activity Monitor can also let you know how your memory is being used, and can be used to help you decide whether additional memory would be helpful. The Energy tab can let you know which apps and processes are sucking the most life from a laptop’s battery, while the Disk tab shows you which apps are using your disk resources the most. And finally, the Network tab lets you know which apps are network hogs; it also provides an overall look at network performance.
Activity Monitor can also kill apps and processes that are running, as well as display information about a running app, including which files are currently in use. In addition, Activity Monitor includes a number of diagnostics that can help pinpoint problems with your Mac, specifically, System Diagnostics and Spotlight Diagnostics.
Most of these diagnostic reports are geared toward helping developers and Apple support personnel troubleshoot problems, either with your Mac or a specific app. If you would like to try out the diagnostics, open Activity Monitor, then click on the gear menu and select Run System Diagnostics. Once the diagnostics are completed, a Finder window will open and show you a zipped file that, when expanded, contains a number of text files showing the results of all the diagnostics that were run.
If you need to kill a runaway process, simply select the process from the list, and then click the kill button (it looks like an X in a stop sign).
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