10 essential tasks to keep Leopard purring

Keep Mac OS X Leopard in tip-top condition with these maintenance steps

One of the big selling points for Mac OS X Leopard is that it is a stable operating system that is not prone to crashes, freezes, corrupted or fragmented hard drives, viruses and spyware, or the seemingly inexplicable performance losses typically associated with Windows. Overall, Leopard lives up to its reputation of simply working, without the need for a litany of maintenance routines and utilities to keep it going.

However, even the best-engineered car still requires the occasional oil change and tune-up to keep it running at its best. Periodically performing a few key maintenance tasks can keep Leopard -- and earlier versions of Mac OS X -- running strong and prevent or resolve problems.

1. Keep your software up to date

One of the easiest (but often overlooked) ways to keep any computer running at its best is to ensure that it is running up-to-date versions of both its operating system and any installed applications. Updates typically add new features, fix bugs, and/or patch security holes that leave the system vulnerable to viruses or other forms of attack.

While new features are usually reason enough to check for software updates, the bigger advantages in keeping your system running optimally are in the bug fixes and security patches, as both of these typically yield a faster, more stable and more secure environment.

Apple's Software Update feature provides an easy-to-use interface for updating both Mac OS X and any Apple-branded applications, such as the iLife and iWork suites. By default, Software Update is enabled and will check for updates on a weekly basis.

However, you should also keep an eye on any third-party apps or system components that you have installed. Most programs include some type of built-in mechanism for checking for updates, such as the Microsoft Auto Update utility that comes with Office or an option in an application's preferences that tells it to check for updates whenever it's launched.

Sites like MacUpdate and VersionTracker are useful allies in ensuring all your software is up to date (as well as in helping you find new applications). If you have a large number of applications for which to manage updates, VersionTracker also offers a subscription service and utility as well as a Dashboard widget to help ensure that your apps are up to date.

While software updates are generally solid, some updates from both Apple and third-party developers have been known to create their own set of problems -- sometimes even removing or altering the functionality of the software. These problem updates are typically pulled from the Internet quickly, often replaced by newer updates that correct the problem.

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