My very first computer was a Mac SE. It had one whole megabyte of RAM and two floppy drives. It sat atop an external Jasmine 20 MB hard disk that was the biggest drive that the University Computer store carried for Macs and when I bought it I was sure it would be years before I could begin to approach filling it. Needless to say, it was more like a matter of a few months.

Back then hard drives were mighty expensive and those of us on limited budgets resorted to some desperate measures to fit all of our stuff in a fixed amount of space. Compression programs like Stuffit were vital for helping reduce file sizes, not only to fit more on a drive but to make transmission over our 2400 baud dial up modems possible. When drive space ran low it was time to hunt for files that could be archived onto floppy disks, and Stuffit was a lifesaver for finding ways to fit more files into the space available

DiskDoubler was another piece of software that would compress files on your hard disk in the background and automatically decompress them when you double-clicked them. I still run across files on floppy disks that I know are Word or MacWrite documents, but their icons indicate they are compressed with DiskDoubler. If I ever want to know what they are I will need to locate my copy of Disk Doubler Expander.

All of that is a long introduction to the reality of hard disks. Even though you may upgrade to a hard disk that’s larger than you ever imagined, it won’t be long before you discover that you don’t have enough space. Especially since our Macs now store music and photos that take up gigabytes of space.

And even if you can afford to upgrade the drive or attach an external you’ll soon realize that you must face the reality of drive housekeeping. Chances are you don’t need a larger or additional hard disk, you need to clean out the one you have, deleting unused files, archiving rarely used ones, and backing up everything you don’t want to lose.

When I have to squeeze every available megabyte out of my PowerBook drive I am able to save a little space using compression. No, I don’t use Disk Doubler or Stuffit! – just the “create archive” menu item under the File menu in the finder that creates a ZIP archive. But far more rewarding is finding the enormous files lurking in the depths of your disk that you can delete. Sometimes they are temporary files that didn’t get deleted properly.

The best tool I’ve found for discovering exactly what’s taking up all your drive space used to be Omni Disk Sweeper. I tried it once and paid the reasonable license fee an hour later. Recently I discovered WhatSize – a free application that appears to offer the same features. If you need to see what’s taking up all the space on your hard disk I recommend it highly.

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