Mac Emergency! Part 1: fast fixes for the most common Mac problems

Joe Kisell
30 August, 2013
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Crashing apps

Crashes and freezes in OS X happen infrequently, and most of them are easy to resolve. Better still, even though a crash or freeze may have numerous causes or symptoms, the same troubleshooting procedure works for most of them. BY JOE KISSELL

Send a report, or don’t

Your first step should be to determine the scope of the problem. Is just one application having difficulties, or is your whole system affected?

If an app quits unexpectedly, it’s at least part of the problem. Most app crashes trigger an error message. If you see one, click Reopen to send Apple an automated report with details about your system configuration and what went wrong, as well as to relaunch the app. Or click OK to send the report without relaunching the app.

If you don’t want to send Apple information about crashes automatically, go to the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences, click the lock icon and enter your username and password to unlock it. Then click Privacy, select Diagnostics & Usage and uncheck Send diagnostic & usage data to Apple. After you do that, the options in the crash dialogue box will change to Ignore, Report and Reopen; note that your system will send information to Apple only if you click the Report button.

Send a report. Click 'Reopen' to relaunch the app and send Apple a crash report; click 'OK' just to send the report.

Skip reopening windows

If the app crashes again after you relaunch it, you’ll see a message asking whether to reopen the windows that were open the last time. I recommend clicking Don’t Reopen, because something in one of the open windows may have caused the crash. Either way, as long as the app functions correctly from then on, you can go about your business. (If it continues to crash, follow the steps on the next page, beginning with ‘Restart.’)

Sometimes, however, an app freezes but doesn’t quit. If your symptom is an unresponsive Mac – perhaps featuring the dreaded spinning wait cursor, also known as the ‘spinning beach ball’ or, as we like to call it, the ‘spinning pizza of death’ (SPOD) – you’ll need to isolate the cause.

Switch to another app

Try switching to another app – by clicking its dock icon, for example, or by pressing c-Tab. If other apps respond, and especially if the SPOD appears only when you hover your pointer over a window or menu belonging to the app that was in the foreground when your Mac stopped responding, try force-quitting the foremost app.

One way to do this is to press c-Option-Esc, select the app in the list that appears, and then click Force Quit. (You may need to repeat this once or twice to get the app to quit.) If force-quitting succeeds, try relaunching the app. More often than not, that simple process will be enough to bring the app back to life.

If relaunching (or force-quitting and then relaunching) an app fails to do the trick, if none of your apps respond, or if your mouse pointer is frozen in place on your Mac’s screen,

move on to the following steps, performing each one in the order in which it appears, until the problem goes away.


If you can, choose Restart from the Apple menu. If not, force a restart by pressing c-Control-Eject. (The Eject key, if your keyboard has one, looks like an upward-pointing arrow with a horizontal line beneath it.) If even that doesn’t work, press and hold the power button until your Mac shuts down, and then press the power button again to turn your Mac back on.

Check disk space

A startup disk that’s extremely low on disk space (10GB or less) can lead to slowdowns and worse. Delete some files (or move them to another disk) to free up more space. For help with this operation, see

Try another document

If an app always misbehaves when a particular document is open, try closing that file and opening a different document. A damaged or corrupted file could be causing the problem.

Update your software

Make sure that OS X and any apps that you use regularly are up-to-date. A posted software update may have corrected a crash-producing bug that’s bedeviling you. Choose Software Update from the Apple menu to update your Apple software as well as anything you may have downloaded from the Mac App Store. For anything else, either use the app’s built-in software-update feature or download the latest version.

Disconnect peripherals

Try disconnecting any new devices you’ve recently attached – especially USB devices – one by one. Restart after each disconnection, and see if the problem recurs. If not, the device may be faulty, or (more likely) it may require updated software or firmware. Contact the device’s manufacturer for assistance.

Disable plug-ins

Disable or remove any extensions or plug-ins included with the app that’s crashing. Try them one by one, to rule out the possibility that the add-on software is the culprit.

Coming up tomorrow: the second part of Mac Emergencies: Part 1 will be ‘System Slowdown’

by Joe Kissell





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