Blog Post

Dealing With Stubborn Applications: Installation and Spring Cleaning

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Stubborn Applications

Occasionally, every Mac user (from amateur to power user) has issues either installing stubborn applications or removing them. Fortunately, there are utilities for such instances, which every Mac user should keep handy.

Installation Woes

If you’re new to Macs, or just haven’t really noticed before, Mac OS X uses package files (with a file extension .pkg) for installing some applications. These files are optimized for OS X and are easier to manage than their equivalents in the Windows world (which would be a .exe file and many, many other little files littered around it). Double-clicking one of these packages will usually start the install, however occasionally you might run into one that doesn’t install correctly. Is there a solution? Enter Pacifist.

Pacifist, a $20 shareware application, is basically a power installer. Drop a package file onto Pacifist and you can quickly see the components of that installation, and selectively choose what you wish to install. Instead of reinstalling all OS X, you could quickly just reinstall Safari or Address Book, for instance.


Going a step further, Pacifist can also be used to verify current installations against the original package files, helping you to find specific files that are missing or may have incorrect permissions.

A word of warning, however: As Pacifist is a very powerful application, it can lead to incomplete installations and unexpected application behavior if used incorrectly.

Spring Cleaning

While some enjoy installing every third-party application they can find, others strive for a minimalist Zen quality that involves cutting the clutter by removing any unused ones.

In the Windows world, applications install data everywhere. The same is true for some Mac applications as well (though they tend to be installed in consistent and predictable places). To remove applications completely, I like to use another shareware application called AppZapper.

AppZapper, which retails for $12.95, bills itself as “the uninstaller Apple (s aapl) forgot” and that is a perfect description of what it does. Echoing the simple drag-and-drop nature of OS X, you simply drag an application icon into the AppZapper window. It scours your entire hard drive and finds all associated files (cache files, package receipts, log files, etc.) and in one click, instantly deletes all traces of the application.


Another unique feature of this application is the “genie lamp” icon which will scan your hard drive and show you all of the applications you have installed. At a glance, you can quickly see both what you have and how long it’s been since each application was last used. Cleaning out clutter couldn’t be any simpler!

Again, such a powerful application comes with a word of warning: be careful when deleting applications. But AppZapper does feature a “safety,” which will allow you to protect specific applications (including all system applications), and unlike red shirts in Star Trek, once an application has been zapped, you can still recover it (until you empty your trash).

A Secret Tip That Mama Never Told You

Even after you’ve “deleted” your application and it sits happily in the trash can, sometimes that stubborn can will just not empty itself. You try and you try but constantly get error messages telling you something is still in use. To fix this, make sure that any potentially associated applications are not running when you empty the trash. If the trash still refuses to empty, hold down the option key while clicking empty trash. If, after both of these steps, you still are having no luck, try logging out and logging back in to your user account. If all else fails, a restart should fix the problem.

3 Responses to “Dealing With Stubborn Applications: Installation and Spring Cleaning”

  1. thewinchester

    A fan of AppDelete myself. Works so well at cleaning up installed applications I ended up handing over the $5 for the full version.

  2. AppZapper appears to be abandonware. I know Austin is working on AppZapper 2, but the last update was months ago. I recently installed Amnesia by Koingo and it picked up several files that were not detected by AppZapper.