How To Manage OS X Processes

Remember in Windows when you’d open the task manager to terminate a problem program or process? Perhaps you’ve been told that it’s best to not worry about such things, because OS X will do this for you? All of this is great, except that you’re not on Windows anymore and you do, indeed, need to kill off a stalled program that would otherwise force you to reboot. When I had Finder stall on me not too long back, the first thing I ended up doing was rebooting. Why? Because I’m not a full time Mac user and options didn’t occur to me!

Task Manager is Activity Monitor

Apparently Mac users have “activities,” not “tasks” to monitor? Whatever, the point is that the Mac provides a very solid tool with its activity monitor in which you can find what’s running, if its eating through your resources, and what you can do about it. Yes, the famed Force Quit is available from this menu as well, so you can kill off problem applications from here instead of the Apple Menu if you like. What struck me the most is how similar this is to the system monitor in Linux, especially the one provided to GNOME users with distros like Ubuntu. It’s laid out almost exactly the same way.

How To Manage OS X Processes
Photo by FHKE

Where things might get a little spotty, however, is how different this is from what Windows users are used to working with. The process names are completely different. You have both user processes and system wide processes. During your exploration with this tool, you find that some of the software it shows running sounds familiar. Other parts of it, not so much. So it’s helpful to only kill off programs you’re familiar with and basically use this as a voyeur tool instead.

Speeding up OS X

Now if you’re under the impression killing off some of the running processes is going to make a significant difference in how well your Mac is running, you would be wrong. The best bet for speeding up your Mac is simply to make sure you’re working with enough RAM, not to mention your machine is reasonably new. If you’re finding that the old PPC Mac mini isn’t cutting it anymore, it might be time for an Intel iMac instead.

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  • Ed Gelb

    Oops! I meant make sure that the process you want to stop from opening at startup/login is not critical and does not need to be running all the time. Only remove processes that are not essential. I would only consider, for removal, my processes and not system/root processes.

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  • charles

    don’t forget about top from Terminal… (sudo) kill PID, or sudo killall (process name). accessible from ssh AND not hidden away in obscurity by apple…

  • Ed Gelb

    Very clear and concise article. I would add, that Activity Monitor can be found in the Utilities folder. I have it in my dock next to System Preferences. I keep it running all the time and have it set to display Memory Usage. I like to know how much free memory I have left so that I can close a program that is hogging memory. I find that Firefox needs to be restarted from time to time because it slowly uses more and more memory. One last point, some processes begin automatically when you start your computer (or login to your account). You can add to this list and remove some of these items if you do not want them to start at startup/login. You can find this list in System Preference. Go to Accounts and then to the Login Items tab. Remember, though that this is not a complete list of all the processes that begin at startup/login. And, make sure that the process is not critical and should be running all the time.

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