OS X First Aid

More Stories in this Series

Fight Mac frostbite

It happens to all Mac users sooner or later. You’re about to select a menu command in a favorite application, and suddenly your cursor turns into a beach ball that spins and spins and spins. You do everything from pounding on the keyboard to offering a sacrifice to the computer gods—all to no avail. In the jargon of the Mac world, your app has frozen.

First some good news: usually, only one application freezes at a time—even if that application happens to be the Finder. So if you move your cursor away from the program’s window, the beach ball should disappear as your Mac’s behavior returns to normal. But you’re still stuck with an application on ice.

How do you get an application to quit when you can’t access its Quit command? In the spirit of freedom of choice, OS X offers a few ways to force-quit a program. (You need to use only one, as they all do the same thing; however, you may find one method more convenient than another. And sometimes one may work when another doesn’t.)

1. Force Quit Go to the Apple menu and select Force Quit (or press its keyboard equivalent: Command-option-escape). This brings up the Force Quit window. You’ll see a list of all your currently open applications. Typically, the name of the frozen one will be followed by the phrase “application not responding.” Select the program’s name and click on Force Quit.

No Quit To Pick How do you quit something—say, the Dock—that doesn’t appear in the Force Quit window? Use Activity Monitor.

Sometimes a program will be frozen but the Force Quit window won’t indicate that it is. Conversely, sometimes your Mac mistakenly assumes that there’s a problem when the program is just taking an unusually long time to complete a request. If you wait a bit longer, the program might heal itself.

2. Use the Dock Menu You can also force an application to quit from the Dock. Click and hold over the frozen application’s Dock icon. When the Dock menu pops up, the item that normally reads Quit should say Force Quit. If it still just says Quit, release the mouse and start over, this time while hold-ing down the option key. This makes the Force Quit command appear.

3. Use Activity Monitor On rare occasions, you may need to quit a program—such as the Dock itself—that doesn’t have a Dock icon or appear in the Force Quit window. In that case, launch Activity Monitor (it’s in /Applications/Utilities). From the list in the main window, select the frozen application (see “No Quit to Pick”). Click on the Quit Process button in the toolbar; then click on Force Quit in the dialog box that appears.

[ Contributing Editor Ted Landau continues to search for new ways to get into and out of trouble. For more troubleshooting tips, see his book Ted Landau’s Mac OS X Help Line: Tiger Edition (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

Treat Safari anemia

If Apple’s Web browser has slowed to a crawl, here are some tips that can perk up its performance:

• Select the Safari icon in the Finder, press Command-I to bring up Safari’s Info window, click on the triangle next to Languages, and disable all languages except those you use. Also choose Safari: Empty Cache—clearing the cache has been known to make Safari sprightlier.

• If you don’t care for bells and whistles, use image- and animation-filtering utilities such as Mike Solomon’s Pith Helmet ($10) or Hao Li’s Saft ($12) to turn off Web-page animation and graphics.

• If you visit the same sites daily, speed up your routine by creating a folder full of Auto-Click bookmarks (these are called Auto-Tab bookmarks in Panther), so that when you click on the folder in the Bookmarks bar, all the sites will load at once.

To do this, choose Bookmarks: Show All Bookmarks. Click on the plus-sign (+) button at the bottom of the Bookmarks window to create a new folder. Drag the bookmarks you access each morning into this folder. Name this folder and drag it into the Bookmarks Bar entry. Enable the Auto-Click option next to the folder and choose Bookmarks: Hide All Bookmarks. Click on this bookmark to open each site within the folder in a separate tab.— Christopher Breen

Treat smart-mailbox dementia

Apple’s Mail lets you use smart mailboxes to sort messages by conditions—a certain subject or sender, for example. But these mailboxes occasionally get confused. For example, when you open one and try to read a message within, you may be told that the message is on the server although you know full well it isn’t.

If your smart mailboxes have grown unreliable, try this: Quit Mail. Make a copy of the Mail folder ( your user folder /Library/ Mail) for safekeeping, in case something goes wrong. Then open the original Mail folder and delete the Envelope Index file. Restart Mail and wait (a long time) while Mail re-indexes its messages.

If this fails to do the trick, try choosing Mailbox: Rebuild; then quit Mail and relaunch it. With luck, your messages will be where you expect them and you’ll be able to open them.— Christopher Breen

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