Bugs & Fixes: Running on Empty

Sometimes the solution is too close to see. While you’re searching (and failing) to discover an obscure esoteric cure, the actual answer can be standing so close that you could tap it on the shoulder. Hopefully, you eventually turn your head a bit and notice it. Such was the case for me when I came to the aid of a friend last week.

For several weeks, my friend had been complaining about her Mac running slower and slower. She was getting spinning beachballs more and more often, where previously they had never occurred. Nothing was frozen, the actions eventually completed. It just took surprisingly long.

She had a older iMac. I gently suggested that maybe it was time to get an upgrade to a newer faster model. Nope. She wasn’t ready yet. So I promised to check out her computer, to see what might be going on. But I hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

This is when things took a turn for the worse. She had just written a long email in Mail and clicked to Send. The email message never sent. Worse, although she had saved the email, the unsent message was not to be found. Not in the Sent mailbox, not in the Drafts mailbox, not in the Outbox. Nowhere. Even searching the Mail folder in her Library directory failed to locate it. It was completely gone. There was no error message or any other indication of what had gone wrong or why. The failure to send the email was a headache. The loss of the text made it a migraine. Ugly.

At this point, I stopped over to take a look. I tested sending an email and confirmed the symptoms. This was a new one for me. I had no immediate idea what might be causing it.

After spending around twenty minutes experimenting with various possibilities, I spotted the culprit. It was in the Status Bar that appears at the bottom of Finder windows. The Bar read: “0 GB available.” As in zero, zip, nada, zilch.

I couldn’t believe it. No hard drive space left! How was this even possible? Given the absence of space, I was amazed that we were able to do anything at all. I kept thinking that at any moment the entire computer would crash. It was like removing the pin from a hand grenade and waiting to see what happened next.

Before anything exploded, I found about 10 GB of files that could easily be deleted. That fixed everything. No more slowdowns, no more beachballs, and email could now be saved and sent. Then, at some point later in the evening, an unexpected bonus: the previously vanished messages appeared in the Sent mailbox, having been successfully sent.

My friend claims that she can’t recall ever getting a warning message about running out of drive space. Certainly none appeared while I was working with the Mac. Regardless, she was running on empty. Once I figured out the cause, I provided a bit of roadside assistance and she was on her way.

Follow-up re Mac Pro slowdown: Last week’s column described a slowdown due to a high % CPU for WindowServer on my Mac Pro. Several other programs were potentially implicated as well, including My Living Desktop and Flip4Mac WMV. Since that posting, I have been testing a new beta version of My Living Desktop and have upgraded to a later version of Flip4Mac. The result? Good news. The slowdowns are gone.

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