New year, new resolutions. If "take better care of my Mac" was on your list of things to do, here are some practical tips to make that happen. I've split this list up into three topics: Back up your Mac, batten down the hatches and improve your security, and clean up the crud (get rid of data you don't need).
Back up your Mac
First thing first: Back up your Mac right away.
Assuming you don't already have a backup, it's time to make one and save what's important to you. There are some great ways to do it that don't involve too much work on your part: Using Apple's built-in, free Time Machine software is the best place to start, and you can pair it with an inexpensive external hard drive or Apple's own Time Capsule. If you're on an even tighter budget, you can back up your essential files by copying them to a USB thumb drive.
I strongly advocate a second line of defense for backups, too. After all, the data on your Mac is your digital life, and you shouldn't take any chances: a single point of failure at home could wipe out your entire system. That's why I recommend looking at a second backup plan that's off-site — services like BackBlaze, Carbonite, and CrashPlan are often recommended, and for good reason. They cost an additional fee each month, but they can provide peace of mind if something happens to your primary backup system.
Batten down the hatches
Managing passwords on the Mac is easier than it has been in the past, thanks to Apple's own iCloud Keychain. It provides system-level password protection for frequently-used websites that syncs across your devices using iCloud. If you need more than that, I'd recommend one of the following two options: They're excellent at helping you manage passwords.
The first is AgileBits's 1Password, a master password utility that keeps all your Web passwords under a single password that you control. Mac and iOS apps are available, and it can also be used to store other vital info like software license keys, credit cards, and other important information.
If you're on a tight budget, look to LastPass: The service is similar to 1Password, keeping your passwords under lock and key, but it does so from the Web. As an Internet service, you'll need a browser extension to get it working — and Internet access to view your vault. It also has the virtue of being free to start with — though you'll need to become a Premium subscriber to get things like iOS syncing.
- Free - Download now
For more, check out Ally Kazmucha's writeup:
Clean up the crud
Over time, your Mac amasses a great deal of data you likely have no use for — data caches, downloads, and other files that have outlived their usefulness. You probably have apps you're not using, too.
It's easy to drag stuff like that into the Trash and empty it, but sometimes you're bound to miss things — extraneous files those apps used; system kernel extensions (known as "kexts"); and other content that not only occupies space, but left to its own devices, can create problems and conflicts with other software on your Mac. Luckily, you can clean up your Mac with any of these useful utilities.
FreeMacSoft's AppCleaner is, as the developer's name implies, free to download. It finds those pesky supporting files that apps use and deletes them, along with any extraneous apps themselves. You simply drag and drop the app you want to remove onto the AppCleaner window, and it scans your drive to find whatever's "attached" to that app — preference files and the like. AppCleaner doesn't have some of the more thorough disk-cleaning capabilities as the other apps on this list, but the price is right.
- Free - Download now
DaisyDisk is one popular way to get rid of the junk on your Mac. It provides you with an interactive map that shows what's taking up space on your Mac's drive and helps you recover disk space quickly and easily. It integrates QuickLook support so you can preview file content, and if you have more than one disk to check, it runs those scans in parallel to do it faster.
- $9.99 - Download now
DiskDiag is yet another tool you can use to check the status of your hard drive and to clean up space. It shows you a "smart gauge" that tells you how much space different types of data are taking up on your drive, and helps you manage app caches, downloads, mail attachments, and other frequent disk hogs.
- $0.99 - Download now
Hopefully this list will get you on your way to a safer, more secure and more reliable Mac. I'm sure you have some other ideas for apps or tools you'd like people to know about, so share 'em in the comments!