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mavericksApple made a splash with its announcement that Mavericks, the latest update to the Mac OS, will be available for the low price of free. Now that the update is available on the Mac App Store, it’s easy for you to pick it up, assuming you have enough bandwidth to pull the update down from Apple’s servers. But, you’ll want to take a couple precautions before heading to surf city.

While Apple tries to make sure that its software updates are a seamless process, you don’t want to get caught in a bind in the event the update hangs and your Mac is left in update purgatory. Here are my tips for getting your Mac seaworthy before running an update to Mavericks.

Clean things out

Apple’s installer file is about 5.3 GB in size. From there, your computer is going to unpack the installer and start moving things around. That means if you’re running your hard drive really close to capacity (not something I recommend) you need to find some space. Even if you’re not going to be pressed for space, you might want to take a second to clear out the cobwebs before updating.

When it comes to finding space on your computer, I recommend a pair of utilities: DaisyDisk, and CleanMyMac 2. DaisyDisk is designed to give you a graphical representation of your hard drive, and it sorts by how much space everything takes up. It’s really handy for finding that game you haven’t played in 2 years but is still taking up 20 gigabytes of space on your hard drive.

CleanMyMac will scan all the nooks and crannies on your computer to try and find files you don’t need to keep around, and sweep them into the trash for you. Unlike some other, similar utilities, CleanMyMac seems to have figured out fairly well what caches and other files are okay to toss while saving the ones that you still need.

Back things up

TimeMachineNext, you want to make sure that you have a current backup of all the data on your computer. If things go south, you want to make sure that you can recover from the update busting your hard drive. The easiest thing to do is use Apple’s Time Machine backup program, which makes it really easy to create a whole backup of your system that you can restore from in the event things go bad.

The one thing Time Machine doesn’t do is create a bootable backup that you can use to run your computer without a working internal hard drive. For that, you’ll want a utility like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! to create a complete, bootable copy of your hard drive. Personally, I don’t think you need to have a bootable backup in order to update your computer, but if you have the time and hard drive space, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Do a quick tune-up

Before you go and try to install Mavericks, you want to make sure that you’re giving it the best chance of success that you can. Do yourself a favor: set aside some time to check out your hard drive and make sure that it’s ship-shape.

To do that, you’re going to want to boot your computer into its recovery partition (assuming you’re on Lion or later) by holding down Command-R on your computer’s keyboard right after you hear the startup chime. Then, select Disk Utility in the menu that you’re presented with, choose your startup volume from the list of available drives, and then click “Verify Disk.” Disk Uitlity will check out your hard drive, and make sure there’s nothing shady going on with it. If it does find something wrong, just click “Repair Disk” and see if OS X can fix things up for you.

Kick back and update

Once you’ve cleaned up, backed up and tuned up, you’re ready to go. Once your download of Mavericks is done, a window will pop up that will walk you through how to start installation, and you’ll be on your way. If you have time to kill, you can get an incredibly detailed preview of what you’re getting yourself into through John Siracusa’s 24,000 word review of Mavericks, which recently posted to Ars Technica, and is also available as a stand-alone e-book in the iBookstore.

Or, you could always slip on some flip-flops and listen to the Beach Boys to get in the mood.

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