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Hard drive space recovery software Washing Machine is just not there yet

Sections: Mac Software, Reviews, System Utilities

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Intego is known for virus and Internet protection, and is now delving into other areas to help your Mac. Their Washing Machine program is a “clutter-cleaner-upper” (that’s my term, not theirs) for your Mac to remove redundant and/or unnecessary files. While I like the interface and the ability to focus in the various types of items you may want to investigate for cleaning up, I found the lack of detail about what you might be doing potentially dangerous—you really do not want to delete files you need, nor do you want to make the wrong choice and delete the wrong one of multiple files. Additionally, I found that Washing Machine would occasionally not identify some duplicates in the same folder in which it had identified other duplicates.

The sad truth is that the larger the hard drive we have, the more we clutter up our Macs both due to the computer’s ability to let us hoard and the common lack of critical organization skills on a computer. As our Macs get more and more cluttered, the slower it will run and the less room we have for (you guessed it) more stuff.

The interface of WM is clean, allowing easy access to hints and tips on how to use it. Below is a composite image showing the basic WM interface on the left. On the right, I’ve overlaid what happens if you click any of the “i” icons on the application; you get a blue overlay showing you what the various features and options are and what they do. Clicking the “x” on the top right corner removes the overlay so you can continue to work on cleaning your Mac.

with info overlaid over standard view

Standard and info view of Washing Machine.

The Preferences are also straightforward, but I do have one big gripe about one of the checkbox options: “Allow anonymous information to be collected.” I’m sorry, but in this day of concerns of information gathering, the default setting should not have this checked. If Intego wants to pop up a message asking me to consider checking this box, that’s fine. But please, no company should assume that I want any information to be sent to someone else. I, for one, am happy to provide information but I do not want it assumed that I want to provide information.

The various options provided for cleaning are divided into three sections. The first is Reclaim, which includes Caches, Downloads, Languages, Logs, and Trash. Reclaim involves items that WM considers potential wasted space. Next, there is the Duplicates section. This involves actual duplicates of files on your computer such as folders, files, music, video, etc. Lastly, there is Organize. This last section provides various options to help you figure out a better organization scheme than you might be using. This includes organizing your Dock (not a bad idea from some of the Docks I’ve seen).

One feature I really had hopes for in “Organize” is the Smart Folder option. This option lets you create a “faux folder” of sorts that is placed in your Left-hand side window in your Finder windows that links to specific items. For example, All your Music or All your Spreadsheets. What appealed to me was Recently Changed Documents. Unfortunately, there’s no way to fine-tune this to “the last 24 hours” or “Recently Changed Word documents.” And, unfortunately, when I tried “All Presentations,” it found three presentations amongst 46 (both Keynote and PowerPoint) I actually had on my computer.

By default, all items are turned “on,” and by clicking on each “button” the user can select which item you want WM to search for. Personally, I find it easier to do each one one-at-a-time so that I can focus on the specific item at hand. With that in mind, it would be easier if there were a button to turn off all items, letting you turn on the one you wanted to work with. As it is, you now have to turn off the five buttons in Reclaim, the six buttons in Duplicate, or the three buttons in Organize.

Some of these, such as Trash (last item in the screen shot above) are pretty straight forward; if you empty your Trash, you will remove those items from your computer. Here, WM is providing the option of deleting the trash for you. While it may seem strange to most of us, it’s surprising how many users can go months and month (years?) without emptying their Trash. Once, a work acquaintance had asked me as a favor to do some maintenance on her computer. After I finished, she was livid that I emptied her trash can as she kept important files there. Regardless, even an obvious thing like the Trash must me mentioned when cleaning up your Mac.

When you start getting into specific items for removal, you start to realize the potential pitfalls of using Washing Machine. The application does a fine job of saying (for example) that there are other languages occupying space on your computer that you may not want. It turns out WM identified that I have over 1 GB of languages other than English on my computer. But when you look across the folders, Washing Machine doesn’t provide any information and/or warnings that any given application may need these other languages, where these files are specifically located, or what potential harm you might get yourself into by deleting these files.

As you can see below, WM does a fine job of displaying the various applications on your computer and showing you how much space the extra languages are occupying. I can leave the items checked for removal or un-check them and those items will not be removed. But what happens (or can happen) if I remove them? No information is provided.

display of analyzed content

View of how Washing Machine displays content for review.

When going through the Duplicates option, you start to observe other issues with Washing Machine. On the bright side, you can focus in on what folders you want WM to dig through. For example, you can search the entire computer or only those folders contained within a specific part of your computer, such as the Users folder. Once the scan is done, though, you now have choices to make. Do I want to keep this file or not? Is this the kind of file or folder I need in two places or not?

If you do any web design, you probably have a lot of “_CSS” and “_Images” folders. You DO NOT want to delete any of these. But if you want to do any examination of these files by actually looking at them, you find one of the biggest design limitations of Washing Machine—you can’t click on a file and have WM “Display that file within the Finder.” WM does provide a bird trail if you mouse over the file, but that’s it.

One of the strengths of Washing Machine is that it’s not comparing filenames exclusively. Rather, it’s reading and comparing the actual data on the hard drive, comparing the “zeros and ones” as it were. Thus, when looking at (say) comparing folders, it found a website that I had done and states that it had three folders with the same images. That’s all well and good, but right next to that folder was another folder that was a duplicate of the previous folder, which means that I had six copies of the same contents adjacent to each other.

Alternatively, I found with Washing Machine that I had several incidences where two folders existed with duplicate files, but not all of the duplicate files were listed as duplicates. I should point out that Washing Machine compares files by comparing the contents, not (just) by file name(s). But in these situations, they were the same files, same names, same everything, but were overlooked as duplicates.

In short, I can say that Washing Machine seems like it could be a very good application in time, but it’s not there yet. More information is needed to explain to the user any potential downfall for deleting any given item. If there are websites you go to often, your computer keeps caches of these sites to speed the data (or remove the need to download the same information again). Removing the cache will cause your computer to need to download the data from scratch. This is not mentioned. If you download updaters from various companies, the software instructs your Mac to keep these downloads to help organize subsequent downloads. Removing these files can confuse subsequent updates. Again, none of this is mentioned.

Deleting files is both great and potentially dangerous. It is a very bad idea to delete files with abandon and with no regard to potential consequence. The space saved may not be worth the aggravation caused by removal of that file.

Removing duplicate files is a really good thing if you have multiple copies of the same report. But Washing Machine fails in preventing you from easily accessing the files to actually look at them and their location. But if Washing Machine is going to miss duplicates that do exist, you are already several steps behind.

Surprisingly, this is Washing Machine version 10.8.2. This is a brand new release that does run faster than the 10.8.1 release. Unfortunately, the same kind of errors are showing up in both versions. Hopefully some of the issues and problems I had will be dealt with in future versions.

Appletell Rating:
Washing Machine review
Buy Washing Machine

Provides: Hard drive space recovery
Developer: Intego
Minimum System Requirements: OS X v10.6, an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor, and 50 MB of free disk space
Price: $29.99 – 1 license; $49.99 – 2 licenses; $79.99 – 5 licenses
Availability: Now

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