General Approach to Solving Macintosh Problems

The general approach

Presented below are some useful tips to remember when troubleshooting Macintosh-related problems:

1. If it ain't broke, don't fix it

If your Macintosh computer works perfectly fine, why fiddle around with it? You may end up creating more problems than you've bargained for.

For example, Apple may issue a software patch for one of your programs. And yes, you should keep a copy of this patch in case you discover a problem. But if your program is working fine, there is no need to update using the patch. Otherwise, new problems are likely to develop in the same program you've patched or for other programs to develop problems trying to operate properly in a new patched-up environment (especially should they rely on common extensions, control panels or specific software libraries used by the system file of your classic OS).

If you must update something, obtain the latest updater for the software program you want to fix. Better still, get the update that is the last (or second last, as sometimes the software manufacturer may introduce new bugs to encourage users to upgrade) in a series and fixes up everything known officially to Apple (or is willing to fix) as a full Combo updater.

2. Backup your data

Before embarking on any type of trouble-shooting exercise, always backup the data on your hard disk (i.e. the disk you are going to be working on!). Even better, try to keep an old backup copy of your hard disk and, if a problem should occur, make a second backup of your latest data just before you begin tinkering with your computer. It can make an enormous difference!

For example, suppose you want to tinker around with your System software and you may discover later after a restart of your computer that you cannot get back to the desktop or, worse still, you cannot load the system software. By having an old or recent backup, you can easily restore your system software to its original state and so enable you to restart your Macintosh properly.

3. Keep troubleshooting simple

If something goes wrong on your Macintosh computer, the last thing you want to do is press a whole bunch of keys, switching things on and off, sending commands to your Macintosh and so on. In all likelihood, by doing so, you may actually make things more intractably complicated than it should be, and perhaps make a solution seem remote.

If you have a problem with your Macintosh computer, stop and take a deep breath. Why not have a cup of coffee if you need to? Or better still, get a notepad and write down what the problem is. In this way, the solution to your problem may come with a fresh and relaxing mind.

4. Do one thing at a time

When you start to tackle a problem on a Macintosh computer, always do one thing at a time. Otherwise, you will lose track of what you have done and may create more problems than you've anticipated.

5. Changes often means problems

When a problem occurs on your Macintosh computer, it is almost invariably has to do with the fact that something has changed. So what has changed?

Ask yourself the following questions: Were you recently connected to the Internet? Did you move the computer or some other device? Have you downloaded a program or file that was infected with a virus? Or perhaps an application such as the Finder has stored some garbage in its preference file, or cache file?

Also consider the possibility that you may have loaded a new extension or control panel or some other software and this may be causing you some grief because of internal software conflict. And what about the fact that you may have added a new hardware device and your computer and/or software cannot handle this change? Did you also upgrade an existing program which may have made it incompatible with other programs or hardware device?

Or perhaps your program is so old that it needs to be reinstalled again (simply because no digital data can remain intact forever on a single storage medium)!

Whatever changes have occurred, if something was changed, try to work out what it was that changed and try to put things back to how they were before. Does the Macintosh computer work again after restoring to its previous state?

6. Software programs are never perfect

About the only other time a problem may occur and there has been no changes done to your Macintosh computer is when a program has inherent instability or incompatibility issues that need patching up due to poor programming. For example, you may be using an old browser to visit a web site that uses new Javascript commands and your browser cannot handle it. Or perhaps your program may have an inherent "memory leak" that is not properly cleared out at certain times (e.g. the dreaded Adobe Acrobat "Exchange" 3.01 program).

To solve this instability issue, you will need to check which program is causing you the problem, go visit the web site of the company who created your program, and see whether they have an upgrade or patch to solve your problem.

7. Insufficient memory

Perhaps the most common problem facing any computer user, especially for the newer variety of software running on any old Macintosh computer, is not having sufficient memory to run the software (whether it is a recently-installed driver for a new hardware device, or a large and complicated new software application like Adobe Photoshop 6.0).

Apply the "Get Info" command on your new software and try setting its memory requirements to a slightly higher amount (go in increments of 1MB at a time). If necessary, consider increasing your virtual and/or physical RAM memory to help get that extra space to run your programs properly.

8. Use quality disk repair, recovery tools and anti-virus software to track down and repair problems

Run your anti-virus software for problems. And try running a copy of DiskWarrior 3.0 (a great tool) or TechTool Pro 2.5.5 or 3.0 (as this will check for most hardware faults as well) and see what problems it will find and can repair for you. But remember, always backup your data before using any disk repair utility. And always run the disk repair utility from a different volume, usually a startup CD.

A basic and free recovery software you may wish to use is Restoration. You can browse for individual files and folders and recover them to a separate disk.

9. The system software may be in need of repairs

If you regularly get cursor freezes on screen or shows a System bomb message and all your non-system software (eg standard applications) appears okay, then you may have a problem with the System software (including the Finder and/or their associated System/Finder files such as extensions and control panels). To solve this problem, see System OS9 Stability.

10. Reinstall your software

As a final resort, reinstall the application and/or system software from the original installation disk. NOTE: Use a disk repair utility first to check for disk problems before reinstalling the software.

11. Can't find something?

And if your problem is simply you can't find a file, maybe it is time to bring some order to your information. For example, if you have a bunch of photo files downloaded from your digital camera named 01.jpg, 02.jpg, 03.jpg and so on in one folder, and in another folder you have downloaded different photo files from another day with the same name, you are likely to find yourself in a situation where one day you will muddle up the files with the samesnames (e.g. lots of 25.jpg) and accidentally replace one file with another. Also, to find the one important file would be difficult if you have a bunch of files named in an uninspiring manner as shown above. So name and date your folders and give meaningful names to your files. It would also be wise to archive on a separate disk all the files you rarely use. Or trash the files if you know for sure you will never use them again. Then you can free up hard disk space and have fewer files, making it easier for you to find what you want (and to troubleshoot your computer).

Take your time!

The process of tracking down problems on any computer, even the seeming simplicity and ease of use of a Macintosh, is actually slow and laborious. To do a quality job, you will have to spend adequate amounts of time to locate the problem and to solve it in the best way possible over the long-term.