Save 75% - Only $49.99 for 1 full year! digitalPLUS subscription offer ends 12/1

Taming Mac OS X

Books and MagazinesTechnology IndustryComputer HardwareRobin WilliamsApple Inc.

Most longtime users of Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh machines know their way around its venerable operating system, OS 9, pretty well.

But if they've purchased a new Mac or boldly installed OS X on an existing machine, they find themselves facing an almost completely alien computing environment.

For OS 9 users who have avoided making the transition, the day of reckoning is fast approaching. Until recently, most Mac users who had switched to the graphically appealing, much more stable OS X were the “early adopters” and “power users” like myself who feel compelled to have the latest thing.

Of the estimated 25 million Mac users in the world, only about 20 percent have moved to Mac OS X, according to Apple. The other 80 percent still are using some version of the original Mac operating system, the final version of which was Mac OS 9.

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., says the transition is on schedule, but most folks have no desire to change their operating system; some of it is inertia, some of it is fear: “If it ain't broke ... .”

But Apple's campaign to push OS 9 users over to OS X has grown more intense in the past year. Last January, it made OS X the default operating system on new Macs; in May CEO Steve Jobs declared OS 9 “dead” to developers; in September Apple said that Mac models introduced or upgraded in 2003 only would boot OS X.

Many OS 9 users fear upgrading because they know that when something does go awry in OS X, all their years of Mac experience will be almost useless.

They're right. Fortunately, a few tips I have gleaned from 16 months of using OS X should help hesitant OS 9 users become more comfortable with the new system.

First, a few troubleshooting tips from OS 9 still hold true:

  • Always check the last thing you've changed in your system to see if it is the cause of the problem. If it's hardware, disconnect it and remove the driver. If it's software, uninstall it. If the problem disappears, you've narrowed the issue down to the new item and can call Apple's tech support line for help.
  • You still can zap the PRAM -- parameter random access memory, where certain system preferences are stored -- by holding down the Command-Option-P-R keys simultaneously at boot. While this usually was recommended with OS 9, it is unclear how effective this works in OS X.
  • If one application is misbehaving, trashing the preferences still works. The difference in OS X is that the preference files are no longer stored together in the same folder.Most, however, are in the preferences folder buried in the library folder in your users folder. The path: Macintosh HD/Users/yourname/Library/Preferences. A detailed explanation with illustrations of where to find an application's preferences may be found in the Tutorial archives of the Creative Mac Web site.Beyond those procedures, troubleshooting and maintaining OS X is all new territory.The good news is, however, that less goes wrong in OS X; system crashes are rare, and usually are caused by hardware issues.If Mac OS X becomes unresponsive, it could be that one program has locked up. In OS 9, this meant rebooting, but in OS X you can force-quit the offending program without causing general system problems.To bring up a menu of running programs, hold down the Command-Option-Escape keys simultaneously. Select the troubled program from the list -- often the unresponsive program will be highlighted in red -- and click on the “Force Quit” button.But the worst scenario in OS X is a “kernel panic,” a total system crash. When this happens, the Mac's screen dims and a multi-lingual message appears instructing you to restart the computer. It's the equivalent of OS 9's "System Bomb" message.The difference is that kernel panics are not normal and usually indicate a hardware incompatibility -- often a memory chip not up to OS X's standards. As always, first check the latest change or addition you've made to your system.For the kind of general issues people tend to experience with OS X, such as unusual sluggishness and problems with printing, a few utilities typically clear things up.The best place to start is with Apple's provided Disk Utility, the successor to the OS 9 application of the same name. Disk Utility can check for problems on your hard drive and fix them as it did before, but adds a new function in OS X: repair disk permissions.Because OS X is a multi-user system, it provides for different levels of user authority and assigns “permissions” to each file so the system can keep track of whether a particular user, say, has the authority to delete that file. If the file permissions somehow get addled, which seems to be common in OS X, it can cause problems.Running the “Repair Disk Permissions” in Disk Utility has become one of those “try this first” troubleshooting options akin to rebuilding the desktop in OS 9.Another good idea is to make sure you have the latest version of the software you're using, particularly OS X itself.For example, OS X 10.2 Jaguar has had three updates since its release last August, and version 10.2.4 is expected within the next several weeks. Each of these seemingly minor updates usually contains lots of bug fixes and often clears up nagging problems for many users.Your Mac can download the updates automatically via the Software Update Preference Pane in the System Preferences; by default, Apple has it set to check for updates once a week, although you can do it manually.Commercial utility packages -- Symantec Corp.'s Norton SystemWorks, MicroMat Inc.'s Drive 10 and Alsoft Inc.'s DiskWarrior, among them -- that fixed so many problems in OS 9 have not proven as useful in OS X.So far, it seems that Apple's Disk Utility and a host of shareware utilities can serve the needs of most OS X users.One such shareware utility, the $10 Print Center Repair, addresses many of the printing issues some Mac OS X users have experienced.Northern Softworks Inc.'s Jaguar Cache Cleaner, a $7.95 utility, cleans out various cache files in OS X that can get corrupted and cause problems. It also repairs disk permissions.Be careful with this one, though, as it forces a reboot of your Mac after it performs its operations.Several shareware utilities provide preventive maintenance. MacJanitor and Macaroni both run daily, weekly and monthly maintenance routines common to all versions of Unix, the base code that OS X is built upon.MacJanitor requires the user to run the program manually, while Macaroni creates a Preference Pane in the System Preferences that permits the user to schedule the maintenance routines. MacJanitor is freeware; Macaroni costs $7.99 after a 35-day free trial period.Should none of these basic steps solve your problems, there's always the Internet. Apple's Knowledge Base is a good place to begin, but doesn't necessarily have all the answers.On the general Mac Web, sites with oodles of troubleshooting tips include MacFixit, OSX Hints and OSX FAQ. If you're looking for OS X software that restores a missing function from OS 9, check out VersionTracker.com.Perhaps the most concise, comprehensive troubleshooting guide on the Mac Web is Randy B. Singer's page on the MacAttorney site. Besides being a lawyer, Singer has worked on three of the Macintosh Bible books, so he knows what he's talking about.Finally, OS 9 users tentatively wandering into the Aqua environment of OS X might also consider buying a book.David Pogue's "OS X: The Missing Manual" ($20.99) recently was updated for Jaguar, as was noted Mac book author Robin Williams' "Mac OS X Book" ($20.99) and Gene Steinberg's Mac OS X.2 "Little Black Book."In addition, Ted Landau, who runs the MacFixit Web site, has a book called "Mac OS X Disaster Relief" ($24.49). There are plenty more, but those four writers are respected in the Mac community.

  • Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    Books and MagazinesTechnology IndustryComputer HardwareRobin WilliamsApple Inc.
    • Links

      Troubleshooting web sites - Apple Knowledge Base - MacFixit - Mac OS X Hints - OS X FAQ - Randy Singer’s Troubleshooting guide - Creative Mac Tutorial Links to shareware - Print Center Repair - Jaguar Cache Cleaner - MacJanitor - Macaroni Links to commercial products - Norton SystemWorks -...

    • A bittersweet Thanksgiving 6,500 miles apart
      A bittersweet Thanksgiving 6,500 miles apart

      The family will gather at Bill and Rose Stevens' two-story home in Perry Hall early Thursday afternoon, just as they've done every Thanksgiving for 25 years.

    Comments
    Loading