Your Mac develops a serious problem that can't be ignored: Perhaps it won't print your documents. Or applications keep crashing. Or the Mac itself crashes on startup. That's when you need to pull out your emergency tool kit. We've assembled a collection of essential utilities you should have on hand.
You'll probably reach for a disk-repair utility most of the time. Fortunately, you already own one if you have OS X: it's Apple's Disk Utility. (For more freebies, see "Fix It for Free.") Go to Applications: Utilities, launch Disk Utility, select the problem volume, and click on the First Aid tab.
For almost any imaginable problem that you can't easily fix, click on Repair Disk Permissions. This is worth trying even if you think that permissions have nothing to do with the trouble.
If permissions problems are preventing you from launching Classic, select the Fix OS 9 Permissions command in Disk Utility's File menu.
When permissions fixes don't do the trick, click on Repair Disk to repair problems involving the hidden directory area of a drive -- an area critical for tracking the name and the location of all the items on the drive.
But some situations are beyond the scope of Disk Utility. That's when you should look elsewhere. Alsoft's $80 DiskWarrior 3 (; www.alsoft.com) succeeds more often than any other repair utility. If you have extra cash, add Symantec's $100 Norton Utilities 8.0 ( ; www.symantec.com) or Micromat's $98 TechTool Pro 4.0.1 ( ; www.micromat.com). There are always a few problems that neither Disk Utility nor DiskWarrior can fix, but that one of these utilities can. Also, they both have troubleshooting features beyond disk repair, whereas DiskWarrior is more focused.
No matter how damaged a disk becomes, you won't have to worry about losing data if you've backed it up. For simple backups of critical documents (such as iPhoto or iTunes libraries), the Finder is a sufficient copy tool. But to back up your entire drive (especially if you want a bootable backup to completely restore your drive), you need a dedicated backup utility.
Although you can use the new Restore tab in the Panther version of Disk Utility, Bombich Software's free Carbon Copy Cloner 2.3 (; www.bombich.com) makes creating bootable backups a breeze. Dantz's $129 Retrospect 6.0 (full review to come in a future issue; www.dantz.com) and Prosoft Engineering's $49 Data Backup X ( ; www.prosoftengineering.com) give you additional options. For example, you can back up just the files that have changed since your last backup, dramatically speeding up the process. Though it's more difficult to master and more prone to problems than Data Backup, Retrospect excels at tasks such as backing up over a network.
If you need a recovery utility, you probably also need a tranquilizer. You've failed in your attempts to resurrect a damaged disk with a repair utility. There are critical files that you never backed up. A recovery utility is your last hope -- it won't fix the disk, but it may be able to recover your files. The best tool for this job is Prosoft Engineering's $89 Data Rescue X (mmmmh). If it can't recover your files, they're probably not coming back. If you've already bought Norton Utilities or TechTool Pro, their included recovery functions can be an economical alternative to Data Rescue.
Don't Erase That!
Have you ever had a panic attack after selecting Empty Trash because you just unintentionally deleted your only copy of an important document? There's a utility with a permanent cure for such attacks:
Prosoft Engineering's $49 Data Recycler X (; www.prosoftengineering.com). With this program installed on your drive, you can instantly recover almost any deleted file. It can even recover files you've deleted using Terminal's rm command. No other utility offers this protection.
Once again, Norton Utilities provides a viable alternative, this time via its UnErase option. It doesn't have the success rate of Recycler, but it's your best chance of quickly recovering a file that was deleted before you installed any protection software.
Neither I nor anyone I know has been the victim of a virus that directly attacks OS X. Still, a Mac antivirus utility can prevent you from becoming a carrier for viruses that attack Windows machines via e-mail. You have two sound choices: Symantec's $70 Norton AntiVirus 9.0 (; www.symantec.com) and Network Associates' Virex 7.2.1 ( ; free with a subscription to Apple's .Mac service or available for $70 from www.networkassociates.com).
Be sure to add a couple of multipurpose utilities to your tool kit. They combine otherwise unrelated functions into single mega-utilities. The best of the lot provide the greatest number of features along with an interface that simplifies finding and using the feature you want. Kristofer Szymanski's $12 Cocktail 3.2 (; www.macosxcocktail.com) is my favorite. It can automatically delete potentially corrupt cache files (which can cause applications to crash), force-empty the Trash (when selecting Empty Trash fails to work), and make invisible items appear in the Finder (helpful when you want to locate items in Unix directories). Another excellent choice is Laurent Muller's $19 Xupport 1.3.7 ( ; www.computer-support.ch/Xupport). It offers many of the features Cocktail does, as well as firewall and backup capabilities. Look for Xupport 2.0; in beta at press time, it has a much-improved, redesigned interface and several new features.
If you can't fix printing problems with Panther's Printer Setup Utility, get Fixamac Software's $15 Printer Setup Repair (; www.fixamac.net). It can fix incorrect permissions of printing-related files (a common source of printer errors), delete corrupted printing-related preferences and cache files, and delete and reinstall printer drivers.
Don't Get Caught Without Them
There are easily a dozen other utilities you could add to your kit. But the ones listed here will get you out of the vast majority of jams. All that's left is to get a good pair of overalls, and you'll be ready the next time disaster strikes.
Fix It for Free
Panther includes applications that can solve software problems. Disk Utility is one ; here are three others.
Activity Monitor Activity Monitor can force-quit processes that are not listed in the standard Force Quit window, such as the Dock.
Font Book Duplicate fonts can cause applications to crash. Font Book checks for these duplicates and disables all but the version you want to keep.
Terminal Unix-savvy readers know that many of the utilities mentioned in this article (especially the shareware) are graphical front ends to Unix commands that do the actual work. If you're willing to master the relevant Unix basics, you can launch Terminal and run the commands directly. Terminal also provides access to additional commands for which there are no graphical front ends.