Common Macintosh Problems

Examples

PROBLEM: Icons have turned to the generic (blank) format.

Answer:

  • Either the original application that created them has been trashed, or the desktop is in need of rebuilding. Find another copy of the application or rebuild the desktop.
  • Certain programs may be compressing files which usually changes the icons.

PROBLEM: It is difficult to maintain icon colours on the desktop. Also the network connection is lost everytime the Macintosh is powering up and has to be reestablished.

Answer:

  • The most common cause for this problem is a flat battery. For LCs, this is usually located on the logic board inside the machine and costs about $15 + labour to replace it.
  • However, if the problem is more to do with just changing colours on filserver icons using labels and keeping it that way, the likely reason is due to the administrator of the server setting strict access priveleges to guests and registered users. Talk to the administrator about this issue.

PROBLEM: The desktop keeps rebuilding everytime the machine is rebooted.

Answer:

  • Remove or rename the visible folder called "Desktop" or "Desktop file" on the HD. The name Desktop is normally reserved by the System software and is suppose to be invisible. By placing another folder with the same or similar name in the same place is likely to cause problems to your machine.

PROBLEM: Regular system freeze errors.

Answer:

  • Avoid using third-party software extensions and control panels like Flash-It etc where possible as this may be causing conflict with your system software. Also consider going through the System Stability Check List and see if the problem persists.

PROBLEM: The computer comes up with an error message that it is about to shut down and then the icons lose colour and the user is unable to save. It can happen several times a day.

Answer:

  • Replace the battery on the logic board.

PROBLEM: The computer does not want to startup.

Answer: If you cannot startup your computer:

  • For PowerBooks, make sure the battery is recharged;
  • Check to see that the power cord is plugged into a working outlet and to the computer (and monitor for desktop machines);
  • Switch on the power!
  • Press the reset button at the back of the machine (or at the front end of some newer PowerMac models).

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but a flashing question mark icon appears at the centre of the screen.

Answer: There are several reasons for this, namely:

  • The system software on any disk cannot be located or may be damaged. Insert a system disk or install new system software;
  • External devices such as a Zip Drive may be connected to the computer. Disconnect all devices so that the computer can use its own system software on the internal HD.

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but it is using the wrong disk as a startup disk.

Answer:

  • Choose the Startup Disk control panel to select the correct startup disk.
  • The computer may not be recognising the presence of an external device for starting up. Use SCSIProbe in this instance.
  • Reset PRAM to bring back the original startup settings for your machine.

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but the desktop does not appear.

Answer:

  • Increase or decrease the screen brightness and/or contrast control.
  • There may be a problem with your hard disk (e.g. dust on the hard disk connectors, the hard disk driver is corrupted or whatever).

PROBLEM: The startup process is very slow.

Answer:

  • Consider replacing the Finder and Finder Preferences as they may have been corrupted.
  • Consider disabling Norton's AntiVirus extension as this constantly checks each extension loaded into memory for viruses.

PROBLEM: During startup, the computer freezes or displays an error message.

Answer:

  • Press down the keys Command, Option and Esc. This may force a Finder quit.
  • With power turned off to all devices, disconnect all external devices to the computer.
  • Hold the Shift key down to turn off all extensions during starting up.
  • If a message appears saying it is a System error, press the reset button.
  • Reset the PRAM.

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but a message appears saying there is not enough memory.

Answer:

  • Turn off all unnecessary extensions.
  • Turn on virtual memory.
  • Expand the physical RAM by installing a RAM card.

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but it always rebuilds the desktop.

Answer:

  • Look for a folder inside your hard disk called "Desktop" or "Desktop file". Rename the folder to something else. Then restart the computer.

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but no icons appear in the windows, and the cursor switches back and forth between an arrow and a wristwatch, or an empty flashing box appears.

Answer:

  • Restart the computer and hold down the Option key until the desktop icons appear. This will close all windows properly.

PROBLEM: The computer starts up, but the monitor or display unit only temporarily lights up, then shuts down.

Answer:

  • Use the correct power adapter for your computer.

PROBLEM: Email received on my Macintosh looks garbled on screen.

Answer: This is not so much a network problem.

  • Check to see whether it has been converted and compressed into Base 64. There is a utility to convert it back to normal text.
  • Make sure the Email is not a very large text document. If it is too large, the text may begin to lose its content. Consider using the enclosure/attachment feature to send the text as a Word document.

PROBLEM: There is a problem printing my document to a printer.

Answer:

  • Make sure the printer is selected in the Chooser.
  • Make sure the printer cable is plugged into the correct port on your computer and printer.
  • Zap the PRAM, then select the printer in the Chooser and try printing again.
  • Make sure the correct printer software is installed in the Extensions Folder.
  • For network printers, make sure AppleTalk is active. Use the Chooser to activate AppleTalk.
  • If the printer and connections are okay and your computer is able to communicate with your printer, but still does not want to print out your document or an error message appears when trying to print something, then increase the amount of memory allocated to the application you want to print from and/or the memory allocated to PrintMonitor. If necessary, consider switching off background printing as this consumes extra memory.
  • Make sure the printer is turned on.
  • Check to see whether the printer is "out-of-paper".
  • Open PrintMonitor and ensure the printing queue is not in the "Stop" mode.
  • As a last resort, reinstall printer software.

PROBLEM: I keep having memory problems (so what's new?)!

Answer:

  • Install and/or increase virtual memory if possible using the Memory Manager control panel. NOTE: Installation of virtual memory may involve upgrading your system software and/or your hard disk may need to be expanded to a higher capacity for this to work properly.
  • Increase the memory allocation to various applications using the "Get Info" command. Check the "Largest Unused Block" number by looking at the "About This Macintosh..." from the Apple Menu and determine how much of the free memory you would like to allocate to the applications beyond the normal amount given to them by the software manufacturer.
  • Install a RAM expansion card.
  • Reduce the size of the disk cache using the Modern Memory Manager control panel.
  • Reduce or remove the RAM disk (if you have set up one in the first place) using the Modern Memory Manager control panel.
  • Quit other applications to free up extra memory.
  • Quit the finder after quitting all applications and relaunch your applications. Sometimes the Finder file may collect some garbage in memory which needs to be cleared out.
  • If a program suddenly quits or disappears, or a message appears saying a program has to quit, this may be due to a temporary memory problem requiring a simple restart of the machine.
  • Get the latest update on the application program (or use an older version of the application) to help solve memory problem issues.

PROBLEM: I can't open my document.

Answer:

  • Make sure you know how to use a mouse to aim the cursor on the file you want to open and then double-click on it.
  • If you get a message saying "...the program can't be found.", then you may not have a copy of the application to open the document with.
  • Or try opening the document from within another application program that you think may open the document.
  • If you know the program to open the document does exist on your hard disk, try rebuilding the desktop. To rebuild the desktop, restart the computer and press down the Command and Option keys until a message appears asking you if you want to rebuild the desktop. Click on the OK button to rebuild.
  • Otherwise, you will need the right software to either convert or open the document properly.

PROBLEM: My application suddenly quits or disappears, or a message says the program has quit.

Answer:

  • This may be a temporary memory problem requiring a simple restart of the machine.
  • Otherwise, increase the memory allocated to the application program using the "Get Info" command.
  • Turn on virtual memory and/or install a RAM card in your machine to give the program extra memory to use.
  • Get the latest update on the application program to help solve memory problem issues.

PROBLEM: I get unexpectedly odd behaviours on my application or system files.

Answer:

  • Check for viruses on all your disks and eliminate them.
  • Check to see whether any extensions and/or control panels (especially recently introduced ones) are compatible with the system software and/or application you are using it with.

PROBLEM: My SCSI device is playing up. What's wrong with it?

Answer:

  • Cables to the SCSI device should be connected properly and securely. Make sure they are not loose.
  • Turn on the SCSI device before starting up the computer.
  • Use a utility like SCSIProbe to ensure the SCSI device is assigned a unique ID number between 1 and 6 which is not the same as your computer or another hardware device connected to your computer.
  • Turn off Password Protection control panel for Powerbook users.
  • Use the correct cable for SCSI disk mode (e.g. HDI-30 SCSI Disk Adapter for PowerBooks), especially if the flashing question mark icon appears.
  • For PowerBook users, make sure the battery is fully charged. Some SCSI devices may draw power from your computer.
  • If you cannot shut down the computer in SCSI disk mode, press the reset button.
  • Turn off all extensions. This may help to eliminate the likelihood of system extension incompatabilities with your SCSI device/driver.
  • Upgrade the driver for running your SCSI device to the latest version.

PROBLEM: My application-specific icons have changed to the boring generic ones. How do I restore the icons?

Answer:

  • It is time to rebuild your desktop files by holding down the Option and Command keys at startup until you see a message to do so. This problem is common on Macintosh operating systems version 9.2.1 or less.

PROBLEM: I have one of those stubborn hard disks that I can't rename. What's stopping me from giving my hard disk a new name?

Answer:

  • It looks like you have File Sharing turned on. Go to the File Sharing control panel and turn off this feature. Then rename your hard disk to whatever you want.

PROBLEM: I want my trash can to stop giving me that annoying message asking me if I'm sure I want to remove the items inside. How do I do that?

Answer:

  • Click on the Trash can icon and then press the Command button and the letter "I" on the keyboard. You will see the Get Info window. Uncheck the box that says "Warn Before Emptying".

PROBLEM: I can't empty the trash can because it says some of the items are locked. How do I remove the items?

Answer:

  • Press down the Option key and choose the Empty Trash menu command on the Finder. The locked items will be trashed.

PROBLEM: My Mac hangs and it won't finish a task.

Answer:

  • If the cursor is still animated, it may be that you need to give it ample time to complete the operation.
  • Press Command and "." (or period) to end the current operation. This should work if the cursor is still animated.
  • If the cursor is not animated, it is likely an operation has gone into an infinite loop. However, your keyboard might be able to accept commands. So try Command-S to save your work and then Command-Q to quit the application.
  • Try the Force Quit command by pressing the Command-Option-Esc keys.
  • In the worse case scenario, you will have to switch off the power and turn it on again. This should get you back to the desktop.

PROBLEM: I think my portable Macintosh computer is playing up. It seems as if my battery life is unusually short, and it may not recognise the AC adapter or battery, or it crashes whenever I plug the AC adapter into my computer.

Answer:

  • You will need to reset the power manager. Each PowerBook and iMac model will have its own way of resetting the power manager. Go to http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n14449 and look for your particular model. Follow the instructions given at the web site.
  • For FireWire-equipped PowerBooks and certain iBooks, resetting the power manager requires a hard restart using a paper-clip pressed through a pin hole at the back of the computer. But remember, for these computers, you will also reset your PRAM. It is normally not recommended that you do this on the Macs mentioned above unless you absolutely have to.

PROBLEM: The Ethernet port on my PowerBook 3400 or PowerBook G3 is not working.

Answer:

  • Try installing the Apple Modem Tool extension. Restart the computer.

PROBLEM: I can see that dreaded "Sad Mac" icon in the middle of the screen as soon as I have turned on my Macintosh computer. What's happening here?

Answer:

  • If it is just the plain old "Sad Mac" look, then it may be nothing more than a corrupt system software. Insert an Apple system installation disk and reinstall a fresh copy of the system software.
  • If you see a "Sad Mac" icon with two crosses where the eyes are, this is a hardware error. To know what type of hardware error you have, look at the number displayed on the screen:
    * If it's a 1, you've got a ROM chip problem. Send it to your local Apple shop for repairs.
    * If it's a 2, 3, 4 or 5, you have a RAM problem. Make sure your RAM card has been inserted properly into its slot, or get a replacement RAM card in case the original card is faulty. Otherwise, it is off to the repair shop for your Mac.
    * If it's an 8, you have an ADB chip problem. Check your ADB connections, cards and devices.
    * If it's an A, you have NuBus devices or controller chips problem. Check your Nubus connections, cards and devices.
    * If it's a B, C or D, you have a bad SCSI, floppy or serial-port chips, respectively. Your Mac needs to be repaired.
    * If it's an F, or if the Sad Mac appears after you see a Happy Mac, your system software on the hard disk is probably corrupted. Reinstall a fresh copy of the system software with the help of your system installation disk. Otherwise, zap the PRAM, check the hard disk physical connection to your computer. If you can startup your Mac and get to the desktop, try to run a disk repair utility like Apple's Disk First Aid to iron out any hard disk errors. If all else fails, you may have to reformat your hard disk and reinstall your system software.

PROBLEM: My Mac is showing me the plain grey or white screen with an error message saying, "Apple iMac Open Firmware."

Answer:

  • You probably have one of those Macintosh computers (e.g. a 233MHz, 266MHz or 333MHz iMac) that doesn't accept a hard disk capacity greater than 8GB. Use the Drive Setup application on your CD installation disk to partition the hard disk. Make sure one of the partitioned hard disks is less than 8GB and then install your system software on that disk.

PROBLEM: I've just installed MacOS9.1. Now my applications either crash or refuse to launch.

Answer:

  • Try trashing the application's preference file (usually stored in the Preferences folder inside the System Folder). Otherwise you will have to reinstall the application.

PROBLEM: My copy of Microsoft Excel 5.0, PowerPoint 4.0 and Word 6.0.x behaves erratically.

Answer:

  • The applications you have mentioned are incompatible with MacOS9.x. It is time to upgrade to at least Microsoft Office 98 version.

PROBLEM: My favourite application does not want to launch on any version of MacOS9. Why?

Answer:

  • It seems like you have an old application. Some older applications made prior to MacOS8 were able to run because the default system font was "Chicago". Now that the font has been changed to "Charcoal" since the introduction of MacOS8 and there has been some significant "under-the-bonnet" changes to MacOS9, you will have to remedy the situation by going to the Appearance control panel, clicking the Fonts tab, and choosing "Chicago" in the drop-down menu.
  • You may be able to change the default font type in the old application by using the Apple utility called ResEdit. But this is a somewhat complicated operation for the average user. Seek professional help on this one.

PROBLEM: I've just installed the Apple Firmware Update 4.1.7 or 4.1.8. Now my Mac says I have less RAM available.

Answer:

  • Let's see now. You've probably installed MacOS9? If so, you need to run a utility called DIMM First Aid. The utility will reprogram your old DIMMs on the RAM card to make them work again after the firmware upgrade installation.

PROBLEM: I've installed a huge amount of RAM on my Macintosh. Now my computer takes a long time to startup.

Answer:

  • It's time to use MacOS9's Memory control panel to uncheck the "Startup Memory Tests" box. That should speed things up.

PROBLEM: My hard disk icon appears to have clones all down the side of my desktop.

Answer:

  • Welcome to one of MacOS9's oddities. Begin by checking for SCSI ID conflict. Use your SCSI Setup control panel to specify the ID number for one of your SCSI devices to a number other than 7 (ID 7 is reserved for your Mac). Then restart your Mac.
  • Restart with your start-up installation CD in the drive and run the system software from that disk. Do the extra icons disappear? If so, it is time to reinstall a fresh copy of the system software.
  • Zap your PRAM.
  • Seek professional advice.