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10 Mac OS X problems solved

Persistent beachball


Very often, the pointer turns into a rotating beach ball while your Mac has a thought. Occasionally it remains so.

First, try pressing Cmd +. to cancel any process is in progress. If this has no effect, switch to Finder or another app (using Option + Tab) and continue working. If you wait, the app will finish what it is doing and will give you its full attention. If you are convinced that the app will not be restored, force it to exit by holding Option or pressing Cmd + Option + Esc. Rarely, it refuses to die, or its windows may disappear while the Dock icon keeps its indicator open.

Restarting your Mac will get rid of it, but could give you a message saying that the app failed to exit. Press and hold the power button to force the stop.

You can also use a Unix command for this: run Terminal – found in Utilities in the Applications folder – and type sudo shutdown -h. Close other apps first to avoid losing data.


Lost a file

The first thing to do when you think you’ve lost an important file is to ask Spotlight. Press Cmd + [Space] to open the search bar and type the name of the file as you remember; pause after each letter to see what happens.

If you’ve overwritten your work with a new file with the same name, or you’ve emptied the trash, you have a problem. Time Machine users may be pleased, because Spotlight will find files that do not exist at the moment but have been backed up. The software is integrated into OS X 10.5 and later and the only hardware required is a USB or FireWire hard drive. If you have not configured it yet, you may need a disk recovery utility such as Data Rescue 2. This will detect and restore deleted files as well as more general disk problems.

It is wise to stop using the disk as soon as you understand that you are missing something; the probability of saving a deleted file depends on whether new data has been saved on it.


Switching is slow


Modern Macs are happy to be able to run many apps at the same time – in fact, there’s no limit. Yet your Mac has a limited amount of memory (RAM), so what does it give?

It is made with ‘virtual memory’. When Mac OS X runs out of RAM space for all the programs and data you’re using at the same time, move some of them to a temporary file hidden on your hard drive. It works so perfectly that you do not notice it.
But with many apps moving, it can happen every time you switch between them, and with the main apps and large files this can take some time.
One solution is to close some programs. Deleting files from your hard drive will not help; it’s the space in RAM that is the problem. So the answer is more RAM. To check how much Mac can do, select the model in Memory Advisor on Upgrading may involve adding more memory modules or replacing existing ones with higher capacity chips.


Safari is slow


One solution for an annoying Safari is to choose Restore Safari from its menu and restore everything. If there is a normal delay before pages are loaded, Safari may not be looking for them efficiently.

Go to the Network pane of System Preferences, click on your Internet connection (Ethernet or AirPort), then click Advanced and go to the DNS tab. Under DNS Server, you will not see anything or your router’s IP address, grayed out. This leaves Mac OS X to find a default DNS (domain name server) that translates the web addresses you type into the actual IP addresses where the sites are hosted. Pointing it to a specific DNS could speed things up.


Documents open in the wrong app


Although hardly a catastrophe, this can be a continuous source of irritation. Yet it’s easy to fix once you know how. For example, when you download a JPEG file, double clicking on it will normally open Preview. But if you habitually use Photoshop to work with photos, Preview could be irrelevant.

To change this, select any JPEG and press Cmd + I (Get Info). Under Open With, select your favorite app, like Photoshop, and click Change All. Confirm this and all JPEG files will always open in Photoshop.
Works with any combination of file type and compatible application. The files themselves are not changed; you’re just editing the list of Mac OS file associations.


Mac won’t start


A total lack of response to the power button could mean a blown fuse in the plug, so check first. If it is not completely dead, the Mac will perform an “automatic start-up test” (POST) at start-up and will emit an acoustic signal if an error occurs. The power LED may also flash. Four and five beeps indicate problems with the ROM or the system’s processor, while the Air also has an “SOS” code consisting of three short, three long and then three short beeps. If you hear these, look for professional Mac help.


Need to rescue my files


If something is not right with your Mac, copy as much data as possible before something else happens. This may be possible even when you can not access the Finder, using FireWire Target Disk mode.
You’ll need another Mac: read this page and compare the specifications in System Profiler (go to About this Mac from the Apple menu and click Learn more).
Turn off the Mac problem, leaving the other running. Disconnect all FireWire devices and connect a FireWire cable between the two (use one with a 6-pin connector, not the 4-pin camera jack).
Start your Mac problem by holding down T. This is the destination Mac, while the other is the host. The goal should look like an icon on the host’s desktop and drag the files to it.


Mac starts, but stops


The boot may crash with a blue or gray screen, a flashing question mark, a broken folder icon or, rarely, a “sad Mac”. Sometimes, especially in the last instance, you may have a hardware problem, but look at the bright side. Connected to a USB or FireWire device? It could be incompatible or in conflict with another device; disconnect everything and start again. Memory updates can sometimes go through POST (see Tip 6) but then crash; try reinstalling. The same applies to other internal updates.
Nothing so obvious? Try a safe boot, which adds more self-tests. Turn off, then start by pressing Shift. If it works, try a normal restart immediately.


Kernel panic


When the operating system stops, it can exit only with the message “You need to restart the computer”. This is a kernel panic. It is rare and, fortunately, often repaired by restarting.
If not, try disconnecting all the add-ons from your Mac and restarting. Internal updates, including dubious RAM, can cause kernel panic, as well as devices such as USB hubs. Another possibility is that a system file is damaged. Restart by pressing and holding x; if it works, go to System Preferences, click on Startup Disk and make sure the correct disk is selected. Or, restart by holding Option, releasing it when the icons appear; you will be asked which disk to boot from. Or zap the PRAM (see the tip above).
If none of these features, perhaps you have moved, renamed or deleted a system file. The inversion of this can solve the problem – or not.
The last resort is reinstalling Mac OS X. Run from your Mac OS X DVD, run the installer and choose Archive and Install. You’ll still need to reinstall the apps.


An application is playing up


When an application suddenly does not work properly, a common cause is the damaged preferences. Each application has its own preferences files containing configuration data, and since they are read and written so often these are quite susceptible to corruption.
When an app crashes, Mac OS X may offer to restore your preferences. You can also do it manually.
The preferences files, identified by the .plist extension, are stored in / Library / Preferences (on the main hard disk) and in / user / Library / Preferences, where the user is the Home folder of your user account. Look here and you can usually see which prefs belong to which apps.
After closing the application, create a folder on the desktop called Suspicious Prefects (for example) and move all the application preferences files into this. Now restart the app. This forces him to rebuild his lists, which should solve the problem.
If it does not, please return the lists. Some apps also have auto-repair functions; for example, by holding down the Option key during startup you can display a settings window. Have a look in the manual of your app. Otherwise, you will need to reinstall the application from its DVD or disk image file (.dmg).

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