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Applications Gone Bad

If you've launched your copy of SuperWhizzoPaint 6.2.7 only to be confronted with a cryptic error dialog box, had your Web browser vanish in the middle of downloading the SuperWhizzoPaint 6.3.2 update, or locked up your Mac while attempting to send a terse email message to support@superwhizzopaint.com, you have some idea of where I'm going: applications that misbehave on an otherwise well-mannered Mac. I'll begin by examining why applications act up.


Last time I counted, my copy of SuperWhizzoPaint had exactly 3,872,164 lines of computer code. Given this many lines of code, it's possible that somewhere along the line, a programmer typed O when he meant 0. I mean, heavens, there are days when I'm lucky to punch in my four-digit ATM PIN number correctly.

When such mistakes are introduced, they can cause unexpected things to happen—a program freeze or unexpected quit, for example. If you're lucky, the application will throw up an error message before it goes down for the count, and if you're really lucky, you'll be able to make some sense of that message.

As a user, there's not much you can do to deal with software bugs directly. After all, your software license agreement probably forbids you from going in and fixing the bug yourself (yeah, right…). But you can do your part by making sure that you really have discovered a bug. To verify that a bug exists, you should consistently be able to reproduce the behavior that causes the problem. If the application crashes every time you type the letter t, for example, there's a good chance you've come face to face with a bug.

When you're sure that you're dealing with a bug, tramp around on the Web to see whether other people are having the same problem. MacFixIt (www.macfixit.com) and the Macworld forums are good places to look. Also log onto the application vendor's Web site and check its support area to see whether the bug is mentioned there. While you're there, check for any application updates that might eradicate the bug.

If the bug appears to be unknown, give the folks in tech support a jingle and tell them what's happening. The tech may be able to help you deal with the problem.

The other option when dealing with buggy software is simply to avoid using it. I understand that certain applications would be inconvenient and expensive to replace—SuperWhizzoPaint, for example—and therefore, you have to put up with problems until a fix arrives. But if that $5 shareware copy of Joe's Handy Dandy Text Munger isn't doing the trick, and a dozen other shareware apps can do the same job, dump Joe's shoddy work and try a different tool.


What, we're still dealing with conflicts!? Yes, like you, I'm heartily sick of these discussions of software conflicts, but I'm afraid that's the nature of the Mac OS 9.2 and earlier troubleshooting beast. You see, software conflicts can raise a ruckus beyond the startup process. A conflict may not rear its bitter little binary head until you've launched an application or asked that application to perform a particular chore.

You should be well aware of how to deal with Mac OS 9 and earlier software conflicts by now:

  1. Use Extensions Manager to create a lean and mean set of extensions and control panels.

    Start with the Mac OS 9.x Base set, and add any extensions and control panels you need to run the application.

  2. If the problem remains with a base set of extensions, try booting the Mac with the Shift key held down to disable extensions and control panels.

    (Note: Some applications, such as Norton Utilities, won't run without their extensions switched on.) If things are hunky-dory with all extensions off, it's time to look for the bad apple.

  3. If problems remain, see the “Bugs” section earlier in this chapter.

Memory Allocation

If you've used a Mac running Mac OS 9.2 and earlier for more than a few weeks, you've undoubtedly encountered mostly benign-but-annoying Type 1 errors. Despite what an error dialog box or Apple's technical documentation might tell you about such errors, they often crop up when insufficient memory has been assigned to an application. Fortunately, this problem is easy to fix:

With the application closed, click its icon.

Press Command-I, or choose Get Info from the File menu.

In the resulting info window, choose Memory from the Show pop-up menu.

Increase the number entered in the Preferred Size text box.

Note that memory in this field is allotted by kilobytes. So if you want to allot an extra megabyte of memory to the application, add an extra 1,000 KB.

Now I Remember. Boosting application memory may keep your programs from quitting unceremoniously.

The idea here is that you're instructing the application to set aside the amount of memory you've entered in this Preferred Size box, whether the application needs it or not. This procedure may prompt the question “How much additional memory should I give my application?” The answer: as much as you need to keep the application from crashing.

You can do this by adding 500 KB, launching the application, and seeing how things go, allotting more RAM each time the application quits. Or you can do it the Breen Way.

As I write this chapter, memory costs just a bit more than a bucket of gravel. You can add 256 MB of RAM to your Mac for around $50. If, by the time you read this book, RAM is still inexpensive, I suggest that you drop as much RAM into your Mac as you can (some models hold as much as 1.5 GB!). That way, if an application rudely quits with a Type 1 error, you can avoid this 500 KB pussyfooting and throw dozens of extra megabytes of RAM at the application. If it continues to malfunction, you've learned that lack of memory isn't the problem.

While we're on the subject of memory allocation, let's talk about virtual memory. What makes virtual memory so, well, virtual is that it's not the kind of computer memory you may be accustomed to thinking of: small chips that hold a computer's Random Access Memory (RAM). Instead, it's memory that's placed on the hard drive and accessed like RAM.

Because virtual memory is contained on the hard drive rather than on computer chips—and because your computer can access RAM much faster than it can a hard drive—using virtual memory can slow your computer. If it slows your computer, what good is it?

Back in the days when 8 MB of RAM cost about the same as a new Dodge Dart, virtual memory was a very cool way to open applications that required more RAM than your Mac had on-board. Sure, your Mac was slower when you used it, but at least you could run that copy of Microsoft Word 6 or open more than one application at a time.

Given that RAM is so inexpensive, is virtual memory still worthwhile? For the most part under Mac OS 9.2 and earlier, no. However (and this is why I'm introducing the subject here), some applications running under Mac OS 9.2 and earlier will crash if they're unhappy with the state of virtual memory. With virtual memory switched off, SuperWhizzoPaint may crash. Switch it on, and the application is happy as a pig in slop. The opposite can be true as well; with virtual memory on, an application may act up.

Applications shouldn't misbehave in this manner, of course, but when all else fails, it's not a bad idea to toggle the state of virtual memory. To do so:

Choose Control Panels from the Apple menu and then choose Memory from the Control Panels submenu.

Locate the Virtual Memory portion of the Memory control panel, and choose On or Off.

If you're switching VM on, allocate 1 MB more of virtual memory than the amount of real memory you have in your Mac.

Much Like Memory. Although it's not as fast as real RAM, virtual memory can allow your Mac to run more applications than RAM allows.

If you have 128 MB of RAM, for example, allocate 129 MB of virtual memory. This setting allows VM to do its job without gobbling up massive amounts of hard-drive space. If you're using VM for its original intended purpose—fooling your Mac into believing that it has a ton of RAM—set this number high enough to accommodate your needs.

A few notes in passing:

Note 1. Virtual memory is a nonissue under Mac OS X, which allocates memory in a different way from Mac OS 9.2 and earlier; it has its own virtual memory scheme. So don't bother scouring Mac OS X's System Preferences window for a way to adjust memory: In Mac OS X, virtual memory is on all the time. Although you can still adjust the memory allocation of applications running in Mac OS X's Classic environment (that Get Info trick I detailed earlier in the chapter), the Memory control panel doesn't work in Classic. If you try to use the Memory control panel in the Classic environment to switch virtual memory on or off, you'll see an error message indicating that this feature is not supported in Mac OS X.

Note 2. If your Mac has a huge scoop of RAM in residence —say, a gigabyte—the Memory control panel, overwhelmed by your greed, will tell you that you have too much RAM on-board to allow virtual memory to be switched on.

Note 3. Although Type 1 errors are notorious pump-up-the-memory indicators, other error types can also crop up as the result of too little memory. On occasion, you can put Type 2 and 3 errors to rest by throwing more memory at the problem. Conversely, increasing memory may have no effect on these Type errors whatsoever. I mean, if the Mac were really smart enough to know exactly what the problem was, it probably would be smart enough to fix it without your intervention.

Note 4. Low memory can also cause an application to quit without sending up any kind of error at all. If an application routinely quits for no apparent reason, try a memory boost.


Every so often, someone sends me a question that begins “I'm using [insert Web browser name here], and it [insert unexpected behavior here]!” I stop reading and paste this bit of canned text into the reply:

Dear Reader,

You're having problems with your browser because it's a browser! Please don't take this behavior personally. In all likelihood, you've done everything you can to make your browser behave—allotted it a load more RAM (even tripled the amount of RAM it requires), cut way back on your extensions, tried opening fewer pages, turned graphics off, turned Java off, used it only on every third Wednesday of the month—and yet it repays you in this horrid fashion.

It's not your fault. Browsers, by their very nature, are funky. If you've tried all the remedies I suggested above, try reinstalling your browser or—if that fails to do the trick—switch to a different browser.

Your friend,


Preferences Files

After I've confirmed that an application isn't buggy, doesn't appear to conflict with something else on the Mac, and has enough memory, I direct my steely gaze at its preferences files. As the name implies, preferences files can hold all kinds of user-configuration settings: preferred fonts, window arrangements, and word processing styles, for example. When an application's preferences file is corrupted, all sorts of wacky things can happen.

Fortunately, dealing with funky preferences files is a simple matter. With the application closed, locate the preferences file—usually housed in the System Folder's Preferences folder—and drag it onto the Desktop. (Drag it to the Desktop rather than the Trash, in case the preferences file wasn't the problem, and you want to restore your old preferences quickly by moving the original preferences file back into place.) When you launch the application the next time, that preferences file will be replaced with a new one, and ideally, your problems will be at an end.

When you create a new preferences file, you lose your old preferences. This situation can mean that you'll have to spend some time once again telling the Microsoft Assistant to get lost or configuring AppleWorks so that the default font is Palatino instead of Times, but making these adjustments should be no more than a minor inconvenience.

I'll add a couple of notes here as well:

  • Under Mac OS 9.2.x and earlier, not all applications place their preferences files in the System Folder's Preferences folder. You'll find, for example, that the email clients Eudora, Outlook Express, and Entourage put their support and preferences files in the Documents folder at the root level of your startup drive. And some applications place their preferences files somewhere inside the application's folder—the Adobe Photoshop 5 Prefs file is inside the Adobe Photoshop Settings folder inside the Adobe Photoshop 5 folder, for example.

  • Native Mac OS X applications have preferences files as well, and giving these files the big toss can be just as helpful when an application misbehaves under Apple's latest operating system. You'll find these preferences files by following this path: ~/Library/Preferences (where “~” is your users folder).

Preferred Path. To find your application preferences under Mac OS X, just follow the path.

Microsoft Word Preferences

While we're on the subject of preference files, let's talk about Microsoft Word for a moment. Like many people, I believe that beneath Microsoft's chinos-and-khaki edifice beats a cheating black heart, but its Macintosh division has churned out some very impressive products in the past few years—including Microsoft Office 98, Office 2001, and Office X.

That said, I think that Microsoft Word 98, 2001, and X are annoyingly presumptuous—automatically creating hyperlinks, capitalizing words at the beginning of sentences, selecting entire words when you click them instead of the space between two letters…and don't even get me started on Max, the goofy animated “assistant” who hops around like grease on a griddle. If, like me, you want to tame Word's most “helpful” features, try this:

In Word 2001, choose Preferences from the Edit menu to open the Preferences window, click the Edit tab, and uncheck the When Selecting, Automatically Select Entire Word checkbox.

In Word 98, you'll find the Preferences command in the Tools menu. To reach it in Word X, choose Preferences from the Word application menu and click Edit in the left pane of the Preferences window.

In this same Preferences window, click the Spelling & Grammar tab, (in Word X, click Spelling and Grammar in the left pane), and uncheck any option in the Grammar section.

(Ain't no gol-durned grammar checker gonna tell me how to write good.)

Choose AutoCorrect from the Tools menu, click the AutoCorrect tab, and uncheck the Capitalize First Letter of Sentence checkbox.

Switching this option off allows you to begin a sentence with the word iMac.

In this same window, click the AutoFormat tab, and uncheck the Ordinals (1st) With Superscript, Symbol Characters (--) With Symbols (—), and Internet Paths With Hyperlinks checkboxes.

Repeat step 4 in the AutoFormat As You Type tab.

Doing so allows you to type 2nd without fear that the trailing nd will turn into a couple of tiny letters that can completely mess up your Mac 911 book template, lets you type a couple of hyphens in a row without Word turning them into a single em dash, and keeps all your text black and un-underlined when you type http://www.buttoutandletmecreatemyownformattingdammit.com.

In Word 2001, choose Turn Assistant Off from the Help menu to keep Word's virtual assistant, Max, from bouncing off the walls. In Word X's Help menu, deselect Use Office Assistant to accomplish the same task.

Killing Max in Word 98 is a little more difficult. Max lives inside the Assistants folder, which is inside the Office folder inside the Microsoft Office 98 folder. To give Max the ax, drag the Max file out of the Assistants folder. Now when you click the Office Help button, the traditional Microsoft electronic help system will appear (provided that you haven't installed any other Assistants in this folder; if you have, drag them out as well). If you'd simply prefer that Max dispense with the noisemaking and jumping about, open the Preferences window (choose Preferences from the Tools menu), click the General tab, and turn off the Provide Feedback with Sound and Provide Feedback with Animation options.


An application that quits or freezes may do so because it's ailing. Applications and their support files can, unfortunately, get munged up after a crash and become unstable. It's very difficult to tell whether an application is corrupt. Diagnostic/ repair utilities occasionally can pick out a funky application, but for the most part, you won't really know that an application was corrupt until you replace it with a clean copy.

To do so, I insert the application's installation disc, run the installer, and pray that the installer has an Uninstall option. If an installer complies with the Apple way of doing things, you should be able to uninstall an application by following these steps:

Run the installer.

Click Continue through any introduction windows and license agreements until you get to the Install window.

Choose Uninstall from the Install pop-up menu, and click OK.

The installer should now sift through your hard drive and wipe out not only the application but also any of its support files.

The advantage of using this method is that the uninstaller has a far better idea than you do where all its little support files are squirreled away.

Regrettably, far too few applications offer such compliant installers (and I've yet to see an uninstaller in any Mac OS X application installer), and you must dump the application by hand. To begin, toss the application and its surrounding folder into the Trash. Then dig through the Extensions and Control Panels folders for any obviously related support files. If you're cleaning out SuperWhizzoPaint by hand, and you find the SuperWhizzoPaint Extension in your Extensions folder, give it a toss.

It's possible that you won't know which files to hurl. (Who knows whether the dxir4498Lib file is necessary for SuperWhizzoPaint to function?) In such cases, don't sweat it. If the installer knows its business, it will shove a new copy of the application and all its support files onto your hard drive.

Now install a clean copy of the application from the original installation disc, apply any updates, restart your Mac, and see what happens. With any luck, this remedy will end your troubles.

Uninstaller Utilities: Don't Bother

If you've come from the Windows world, you've surely seen Windows' Add/Remove application, along with a plethora of third-party utilities for uninstalling software. You may wonder why the Mac OS doesn't include such a utility or why more savvy Mac vendors don't market an uninstaller utility.

The answer is simple: Windows stinks, and the Mac doesn't.

Given that you've purchased this book, I'm likely preaching to the choir. But honestly, when it comes to troubleshooting and adding or removing software and hardware, Windows can be a nightmare. The reason why you find such a crowd of uninstaller utilities for the Windows platform is because they're absolutely necessary.

Most of the time, when you install a piece of software on the Mac, little more than an application and a few support files make their way onto your hard drive. You can remove these files by using the methods I mention outside this sidebar. When you install a Windows application, not only does the application grace your drive but several .DLL (driver) files also may be added to some obscure corner of your Windows folder, along with a host of other support files that are tucked away God knows where. And Windows may alter something called the Registry (a database file conceived in Hades) to make the whole mess work. If you carelessly toss a Windows application into the Trash—oops; I mean Recycle Bin—and neglect to get rid of those .DLL files (which may now have become attached to some other application) and expunge certain Registry entries, horrible things can happen. To prevent these horrible things, you must run an uninstaller application.

As I write this chapter, two uninstaller utilities are available for the Macintosh: Casady & Greene's $40 Chaos Master and Aladdin Systems' $50 Spring Cleaning. I can't recommend either one, because neither is smart enough to know which files are necessary and which are disposable. Instead, they present you a list of files that may or may not be unnecessary and offer you the option to toss any or all of those files. Should you accidentally trash a file that the Mac needs, your Mac could be in for a world of hurt.

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