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Simple Mac Troubleshooting

Macs have a reputation for being user-friendly and easy-to-use personal computers. And, generally speaking, they live up to that reputation. Most Macs perform flawlessly for years. However, every Mac occasionally misbehaves. You might know what we're talking about. Sometimes programs on your Mac won't launch, wireless hotspots won't appear in the menu bar, or applications keep crashing. Things just act wacky.

Macs have come a long way since they were capable of displaying the infamous "Sad Mac" image, but things can still go wrong on your new Mac.

Before you run your Mac down to the local Apple Store, read this guide. We'll show you basic troubleshooting tips that you can perform in a matter of minutes, from the comfort of their own home. With any luck, you won’t have to call Apple!

Force Quit Applications

If an application on your Mac freezes or start behaving slowly, you can force quit the application. This is a simple fix for most problems that demand immediate attention. Remember that force quitting an application will cause unsaved changes to be lost. For example, if you force quit your word processor, the unsaved changes to your document may disappear forever.

To force quit an application, select Force Quit from the Apple menu. You can also access this feature by pressing Command + Option + Esc.

You can also force quit the Finder itself, which is a little like restarting. Of course, if the Finder crashes, you might not be able to access the Force Quit window at all. In that case, you'll need to restart your Mac.

Kill Processes

If force quitting applications doesn't work, or if you suspect the problem is with a process instead of an application, you can try killing processes. This isn't for the faint of heart! To kill processes, you need to run your Mac's Activity Monitor application. You can find it here:

Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor

In this case, our Mac's Dock isn't responding. So we search for Dock, and we find the "Dock" process in the list. We select it and click the Quit Process button. A dialog box appears, and we select Force Quit. After that, our Dock automatically relaunches.

Repair Disk Permissions

If your Mac's files and folders start acting wonky, you might need to repair disk permissions. Disk permissions are important access rules that tell your Mac which files and folder you're allowed to access. Sometimes your permissions can become corrupted, and when that happens your Mac becomes confused. Repairing disk permissions fixes problems by restoring permissions to their correct state.

To repair disk permissions, you'll need to run your Mac's Disk Utility application. You can find it here:

Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility

Once Disk Utility is open, click on your hard drive and then click Repair Disk Permissions. Don't bother with Verify Disk Permissions -- repairing permissions will not harm your computer, and skipping to that step will save you the time it would take to verify the permissions.

Repair Your Disk

If you're experiencing major problems with your Mac, you may want to select the Verify Disk option in the Disk Utility application. If you verify your disk and it returns errors, you will have to fix them. There are two ways to do this:

  • Safe and Easy: Find your Mac’s install disc, or Retail disc, and insert it into the computer. Restart while holding down "C" Until you see the Apple logo. Select the language you want to use when prompted. Don't worry: you won’t be installing anything or hurting your system in any way. From the Utilities menu, select Disk Utility. From there, it will allow you to “Repair Disk.” Hopefully, this will solve your problems.

  • Advanced: Restart your computer while holding down Command + S to boot into Single User Mode. Hold the keys down until your screen goes black with the terminal-looking UNIX shell command prompt. After it’s done loading, type in fsck -f and hit the Return key. This will check and repair your hard drive without the use of a CD. After it says your disk has been repaired, type reboot and your computer will reboot into Mac OS X.

Try Restarting

Most minors problems can be solved by simply restarting your computer. It sounds easy, and it is, but you'd be surprised at how many people fail to perform this basic troubleshooting step. Restarting gives you a fresh start and clean Mac to work with. It's the easiest way and fastest way to fix most problems.

As a side note, if you regularly put your Mac to sleep instead of shutting it down, you may find your Mac becoming slow or even non-responsive after several sleep-wake cycles. TidBITS has documented how sleep mode creates files that take up valuable space on your hard drive and in your RAM. It's important to restart your Mac every couple of days to clear out your RAM and delete the temporary files on your hard drive.

Find the Answer on the Internet

Finally there’s the web, and of course there's Google. However, that will only get you so far. The best place to look for specific issues with your Mac is Apple's own discussion website. You can search for your problem, which 90% of the time someone else has had. Apple employees, IT professionals, and normal Mac users like yourself use these forms everyday. If your don’t see your problem, post it! Someone is bound to answer your question, not to mention the fact that you’ll be helping others in the future that may have the same problem.

Meet Your Macinstructor

Stephen Korecky has been using Macs for as long as he can remember, and he currently supports Macs at a photography studio. He has extensive knowledge of the Mac OS X operating system and is always trying to learn something new and exciting. Stephen has been designing and building web sites for many years and is currently working towards a degree in graphic design.


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