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Chapter 4. System Errors: Living with th... > Solve It! A Catalog of System Errors

Solve It! A Catalog of System Errors

TAKE NOTE — Solving System Errors In a Hurry

This chapter provides extensive details about what to do in the event of a system error—more details than you are likely to find in any other single source. Still, if you have a system error right now and want quick advice on what to do, you don't have to wade through this whole chapter to find it. Here's a quick summary of what to do:

  1. If you get any system-error dialog box, jot down any error code that appears in it, just in case it proves to be useful later.

  2. Regain control of your machine. Try a forced quit (press Command-Option-Escape). If this does not work, restart your Macintosh, either by clicking the Restart button in the system-error dialog box, clicking the Reset button (or pressing an equivalent keyboard command—usually, Command-Control-Power, if your model supports this feature), or simply by turning the Macintosh off and then back on again.

  3. Assuming that the Mac restarted successfully, check the Trash for recovered files that may contain unsaved data.

  4. Return to what you were doing before the error. If the error does not recur, forget about it for now. It may not happen again. Resume your work.

  5. If it does recur, and if it is limited to the use of a specific application or document, the software may be damaged. Replace the software from your backups. If you're replacing a program, you may also want to delete any preferences files that are related to that program, because reinstalling typically does not create a new preferences file.

  6. If the error still recurs, you probably have a software bug in the application or a conflict between the application and a system extension, control panel, system software, or hardware. Contact the manufacturer of the application for advice. Otherwise, try to resolve the conflict yourself. For example, check for startup extension conflicts by restarting with extensions disabled (hold down the Shift key during startup) check for disk damage by using Disk First Aid; or check for system software problems by reinstalling the system software.

  7. If none of these measures help, or if you are uncertain about how to perform any of the steps, you do need to wade through the rest of this chapter. Even if the advice did help, browse through this chapter at some later point. What you learn will better prepare you for your next system error.

System Crashes

The Bomb Alert Box Appears

The bomb alert box is the best-known of all system errors. The alert box includes an icon of a bomb, as well as a text message apologizing for what has just occurred (Sorry, a system error has occurred.). Users typically refer to this unhappy event by saying, "My computer crashed" or "My Mac just bombed."

Sometimes, an bomb alert box may appear with no text at all in it. It's still a crash.

This is not a warning that your computer may explode. But it does mean that your Mac's activity has come to a grinding halt.

Breakup of Screen Display

The other type of system crash is so severe that the Macintosh cannot even muster the strength to display the bomb alert message. Instead, the screen display may break up into an unintelligible mess, complete with flashes of light and crackling noises. (This phenomenon is less common on the newer Macintosh models.) Despite the pyrotechnics, it is still a system crash. Again, no permanent harm has been done to your machine.

Figure 4-1. Two examples of system bomb alert boxes.


Most crashes are due to a software bug or a conflict between two active programs. Bad memory management is the likely immediate culprit in most of these cases.

System crashes can also have some hardware-related causes, including defective memory chips, a defective power supply, and SCSI device problems.

What to Do:
Understanding System Error Alert Box Messages (Or What the Heck Is a "Bad F Line Instruction," Anyway?)

Besides offering its apologies, the bomb box error message typically describes the cause of your crash. You are not likely to be impressed by the description. Depending on the exact circumstances of the system error, descriptions either define the problem by name (such as bad F line instruction or unimplemented trap) or by number (such as ID = 02 or an error of Type 1). Not very informative, are they? On a scale of understandability, this information ranks slightly lower than the instructions for calculating depreciation on your tax return.

The truth is, this information was not meant to be easily understood by the masses. It was meant for programmers to understand, so that they can figure out why their programs are crashing. Most of the time, the numbers simply mean that there is a mistake (or bug) in the program that needs to be fixed. (This is what typically causes a bad F-line instruction or unimplemented trap message, for example.) Correcting a program's instruction code is not something that you can do yourself, so the ID information is almost always of little value to you.

If, despite all this, you are still curious about what the error-code numbers mean, several places list their "meaning." Unfortunately, the translation usually is not much more illuminating than the error code itself. You will learn, for example, that an ID 1 error is a bus error and that an ID 2 error is an address error. Coming to the rescue, Table 4-1 lists several common error codes, together with a non-jargonese explanation of what they mean and what you might do about them. Otherwise, check out a shareware utility such as Black & Bleu or MacErrors for a more complete listing. Black & Bleu is especially noteworthy, as it attempts to explain many errors in less technical language.

Figure 4-2. System error ID numbers as they appear in a variety of alert messages. In case you are curious, Type 1 means "bus error," −65 means "read/write requested for an offline drive," and −199 means "map inconsistent with operation." Aren't you glad you asked?

Theoretically, understanding these error codes might help you track down the cause of a system error. But the error code itself may not be accurate. A system crash can mess things up so much that the Macintosh may put up a code that doesn't describe the true cause of the problem... in which case, the information is (once again) useless.

Helpful hint: don't waste much time trying to interpret the error message. Understanding these messages never helps in the immediate crisis of recovering from the crash. It only rarely helps in diagnosing the ultimate cause of the crash. At best, jot down the number for later reference.

Positive vs. Negative Error Codes

Not all error codes are associated with system crashes (the focus of this section!). Actually, error codes come in two basic varieties: positive and negative. Positive error codes most often accompany system crashes or unexpected quits.

Negative error codes occur after a variety of less disruptive problems, such as a failure to copy or delete a file. Negative error codes are more likely to point you in a useful direction for solving the problem than positive error codes are. In the most benign cases, the message may inform you why you can't do what you are trying to do (such as copy a file or open an application), but it allows you to proceed with using your Mac.

Table 4-1 provides a few examples of common negative error codes. File system errors (−33 to −61) are probably the most common. Later sections of this chapter (as well as other chapters, especially 5 and 6) include more examples of negative error codes.

There are literally dozens more negative codes, some of which are undocumented, and even calling Apple tech support for help may not lead to an explanation of what they mean. Utilities such as MacErrors list most of them, however. If you want to know what a given negative error code means, keep this (or a similar) utility handy.

Table 4-1. Some Common System Error Codes[*]
Positive Error Codes  
01/Bus error02/Address errorMost often due to a software bug, extension conflict, or insufficient memory assigned to an application. The exact cause varies with when the error occurs. Immediately at startup: probably a problem with an externally connected SCSI device (possibly an incompatible disk driver); while the extensions are loading: probably an extension conflict; while in the Finder: probably corrupted system software; any other application: a bug in the application. Most common on 680X0 Macs.If problem is specific to one application, try increasing its memory size (Fix-It #5). Otherwise, call the manufacturer to find out about a possible bug. If the error happens across many applications, replace system software (Fix-It #4). See Fix-Its #3, #14, and #15 for more on extension conflicts, SCSI problems, and logic-board problems, respectively.
03/Illegal instructionMost likely, a software bug. Technically, the Macintosh is trying to execute an instruction that is not in its processor's vocabulary.Problem is usually specific to a single application. Contact the manufacturer for information about a bug-fixed upgrade.
04/Divide by zero errorA mistake in the program code caused the program to attempt to divide a number by zero. Because this is impossible, the system error results.Problem is almost assuredly specific to the program in use. Contact the manufacturer for information about a bug-fixed upgrade. Also, see Fix-It #3 to check for possible extension conflicts.
08/Trace mode errorA debugger (such as MacsBug) isn't installed, and the processor is accidentally placed in Trace mode (a mode that should ordinarily be used only by programmers when debugging a program). Assuredly, a software bug. Installing MacsBug (see: "Protect Against Data Loss Due to System Crashes," in Chapter 2) can work-around the error. Otherwise, upgrade the software.
09/Line trap (A-line) error

10/F-line instruction error

12/Unimplemented trap of core routine (operating system)
Typically, an extension conflict or a software bug.

A program may assume, for example, that the Mac's ROM contains information that is only available in newer Macs; thus, it bombs when run on an older model. Technically, it typically means that a call was made to the Macintosh's ROM for an entry that doesn't exist.

Type 10 errors are essentially the same as "No FPU Installed" errors.
Problem is usually specific to a single application. Contact the manufacturer for information about a bug-fixed upgrade.
11/Miscellaneous hardware exception errorAn error generated by the processor and not covered by IDs 1 to 10. Exact cause unknown. This error is much more common on Power Macintoshes than on 680X0 Macs.Problem is usually specific to a single application. Contact the manufacturer for information about a bug-fixed upgrade. Before Mac OS 8.0, this error was common and could be caused by any number of unrelated problems. It is now relatively rare.
15/Segment Loader ErrorMacintosh programs can be broken into segments that may be separately loaded, so as to minimize RAM use. The system software's Segment Loader, in conjunction with instructions from the program, determine how this is done. A bug in the system software and/or the program can cause this error.Upgrade the program or system software. If an extension is the cause, disabling the extension is a workaround.
25/Out of memory 28/Stack ran into heap Although this error should be caused by an application running out of memory, the Macintosh may be "fooled" by other causes into thinking that there is a memory problemIncrease the application's memory allocation (see Fix-It #5). Otherwise, try the more general solutions described in this chapter.
Negative Error Codes  
−34/Disk is fullNot enough room on the disk (typically occurs when you are trying to save a file to a disk). Otherwise, the disk may be damaged.Delete or transfer files on the disk to free more room for what you are trying to do. Otherwise, try to repair the disk (see Fix-Its #10).
−39/End of fileIndicates a discrepancy between the actual and expected sizes of a file. Usually means that the file is hopelessly corrupted.If it is an application, replace it and its preferences file (if any). See Chapter 6 (on deleting files) and Fix-It #2. For a data file, recover data, if possible; then delete it (see Fix-It #11). Otherwise, try replacing the System and Finder (see Fix-It #4) (either from backup copies or by reinstalling from the Mac OS CD) and/or check for disk damage (see Fix-Its #10).
−43/File not foundA file you are trying to use could not be located.Unless the file is really missing, it probably means you have disk damage (see Fix-It #10).
−97/Port in useMost likely, a problem with a serial port (printer or modem) connection; possibly a problem with an SCSI device.Turn off the serial-port peripheral device and turn it back on again. Restart the Mac. Try again. If problem persists, zap Parameter RAM (see Fix-It #9). Otherwise, check for disk driver (Fix-It #12) or other SCSI problems ( Fix-It #14)
−108/Out of memoryAlthough this error should be caused by an application running out of memory, the Macintosh may be fooled by other causes into thinking that there is a memory problem.Increase the application's memory allocation (see Fix-It #5). Otherwise, try the more general solutions described in this chapter.
−127/Internal file system errorUsually due to a corrupted directory.Try repairing the disk with Disk First Aid or other repair utilities (Fix-It #10). Otherwise, reformatting the disk will probably be necessary (Fix-It #13).
−192/Resource not foundUsually due to a corrupted application.If it happens with only one application, the application is probably corrupted. Replace it. A bug in an extension or control panel can also cause this error.

[*] Most other positive number error codes imply either a bug in an application (especially likely with IDs 5–7, 16, or 26) or a damaged file, particularly the System file (especially likely with IDs 17–24 or 27). Negative number error codes have a variety of specific, usually technical, meanings. See a utility such as MacErrors for a more complete list, if needed. Also see Chaoter 15 for a discussion of the Type 119 error and Mac OS 9.

[**] Refer to main text for more complete explanations of suggested actions.

TAKE NOTE — System crashes at startup

If a system error occurs during startup, skip the rest of this chapter for now. Instead, go immediately to Chapter 5, which deals with startup problems.

TAKE NOTE — Protected Memory

One of the most annoying problems with system crashes is that even though the problem may be restricted to only one of several applications that are currently open, the crash brings down the entire system, forcing a restart. If this happens several times in one day, you could be wasting an hour or more of your time just waiting to return to where you were before each crash. How much better it would be if a crash caused only the problem application to crash, leaving everything else fully functional, with no restart required or even recommended.

If this is your dream come true, it's about to become a reality. It's called protected memory, and it's one of the new features of Mac OS X (see Chapter 15).

For now, the rest of this chapter assumes that you are still working with Mac OS 8.x's or 9.x's "unprotected" memory.

TAKE NOTE — Power On, Power Off

The Restart and Shut Down Commands Before getting into restarting your Mac after a system crash, let's go over how to restart and shut down your Mac when things are going well.

The most common method is simply to choose Restart or Shut Down from the Finder's Special menu.

Restart essentially turns off your machine momentarily and then immediately restarts it. This technique may be useful, for example, when you add system extensions to your System Folder. These extensions require the Macintosh to be restarted before they can work.

Shut Down turns your machine off—period. In most Macintoshes, the Shut Down command completely shuts off the machine. No further action is necessary. In certain (mostly older) Macintosh models, however, choosing Shut Down results in a message that says It is now safe to turn off your Macintosh. You then have to turn off your machine by using the machine's on/off switch (power button). The location of this button varies from model to model.

As discussed in later sections of this chapter, choosing Shut Down is a more complete shutdown than when you choose Restart. On some Macs, the contents of a RAM disk, for example, may be preserved after Restart, but not after Shut Down. For this reason, if you are having any problems with your Mac, and you want to Restart to see whether that fixes the problem, choose Shut Down and then turn your Mac back on, rather than choosing Restart. Shut Down is more likely to clear up whatever the problem may have been.

The other common way to shut down your Mac is to press the Power key (discussed next). This brings up the Shut Down alert box, which asks, Are you sure you want to shut down your computer now? This alert box has four options: Restart, Shut Down, Sleep, and Cancel. Choosing Restart, Shut Down, or Sleep does the same thing as choosing these commands from the Finder's Special menu.

Figure 4-3. This alert box appears when you press the Power key on the keyboard.

Power buttons and Power keys There are two types of power buttons on Macintoshes. Some Macs have only one of these buttons; others have both. One is usually on the machine itself (it's on the front of iMacs and Power Mac G4s). I refer to this button simply as the Power button. The other button is on the keyboard. On ADB keyboards, the button is in either in the top-right corner or the top middle of the keyboard and usually has a triangle symbol on it (yes, it's similar to the symbol on the Reset button). On the USB keyboard (used with the iMac and all newer Macs), the button is on the top of the keyboard between the main keys and the numeric keypad; its symbol is an open circle with a vertical line through the opening. I refer to all these buttons as the Power key.

Pressing the power key when the Mac is off typically turns the Mac on. Pressing the Power key when the Mac is on does different things, depending upon the specific Mac model. On some older Mac models, it does nothing at all. Most typically, it brings up the Shut Down alert box (as described in the previous section).

Similarly, the exact function of the Power button varies from model to model. In some cases, it functions like the Power key—shutting down the Mac if it is on (either directly or via the Shut Down alert box) and turning it on if it is off. On the original iMac models, the Power key brings up the Shut Down alert box, whereas the Power button bypasses this alert box and shuts down the Mac directly. On the newer iMacs (those with the slot loading CD/DVD drives) and on all newer Macs, pressing the Power button normally puts the Mac to sleep if it is up and wakes it up if it is asleep.

Under most circumstances, do not use the Mac's Power button to directly shut down the machine. Choose one of the Restart or Shut Down commands instead. These commands do some final cleanup, updating, and proper closing of files before they turn off your machine. Using the Power button without first choosing Shut Down bypasses these actions and may result in the loss of data and possibly damaged files.

Restart the Macintosh

There is no way to completely undo the effects of a system crash or other serious system error! It would be wonderful if you could simply choose an Undo command and return your Macintosh to exactly where it was before the crash, with all your data still intact, but this is not possible. Even if it were, though, the crash might recur a few moments later.

Here's what you can do: Restart the Macintosh. To do this, try the following solutions. If one doesn't work, or if it is not applicable, try other options until you are successful.

  • Click the Restart button in the System error alert box System bomb alert boxes usually include a Restart button. Clicking this button, as its name implies, should restart the Macintosh just as though you chose Restart from the Finder's Special menu. This button, however, works only about half the time at best.

    If the Restart button does work, you probably notice that it takes longer for the Welcome to Macintosh screen to appear after a system-crash restart than after you choose the Finder's Restart command. This is largely the result of the startup sequence's partially compensating for the lack of cleaning up (including saving and closing all files, updating directory files, and so on) that would normally have been done after you chose Restart or Shut Down from the Finder. In recent versions of the Mac software, however, I have noted a trend toward the Restart button's resulting in a proper shutdown that does prevent the long disk access time at the beginning of the next startup.

    Note: If you installed Norton Utilities CrashGuard or Apple's MacsBug, you may get something other than the system bomb alert box. Refer to Chapter 2, "Protect Against Loss of Data Due to System Crashes," for more details.

  • Click the Reset button (not the Interrupt button)

    The (physical) Reset button Most, although not all, Macs have a physical Reset button located somewhere on the Mac's case. It is one of a matched pair of buttons—the one of the pair that is identified by a triangle symbol. The other button (the Interrupt button) is identified by a circle symbol.

    On some Mac models, you can actually press these buttons with your finger. In other cases, the button is a recessed button that you can access only by inserting the end of an unbent paper clip into the hole. On an iMac, for example, the Reset button is in the panel on the side where the USB and modem ports are located. For the first generation iMacs, you did need a paper clip to access it. With the newer iMacs (such as the iMac DV), it is accessible by your fingers.

    Pressing the Reset button restarts the Macintosh in almost the same way as clicking the bomb box's Restart button. Unlike the Restart button in the bomb box, however, the physical Reset button is almost a sure thing. One exception is the iMac; it is not uncommon for the Reset button to do nothing.

    The (physical) Interrupt button The partner of the Reset button is called the Interrupt button (identified by a circle symbol). In most cases, you can just ignore the Interrupt button; it is rarely, if ever, useful to you. If you press it by accident, when you meant to press the Reset button after a system crash, don't fret. Just press the Reset button next. Alternatively, if you should press the Interrupt switch by accident, when nothing is actually wrong with the Macintosh, you should be able to return to where you were, with no data lost, by typing G and then immediately pressing Return. (Note: If you have MacsBug installed, pressing the Interrupt button invokes MacsBug.)

    The keyboard Reset and Interrupt commands As already implied, one notable problem with using the Reset or Interrupt buttons is finding them. The hardware designers at Apple occasionally amuse themselves by devising ways to hide these buttons. Some models have no Reset and Interrupt buttons at all. On some of these Macs, however, you can use keyboard equivalents to mimic the effects of these buttons:

    Command-Control-Power (all three keys held down at the same time) acts as a Reset button.

    Command-Power acts as an Interrupt button. If this does not work on your Mac, you can still add this capability via a freeware extension called Programmer's Key.

    Helpful hint: The Reset button/command is designed to be used after system crashes. It is not the ideal way to restart your Macintosh routinely. Use the Finder's Restart command for routine restarts. The Finder's Restart command has the advantage of prompting you to save all unsaved work before the restart. Also, there is a small chance that restarting with the Reset button may cause some software damage to files on your disk (especially if you press the button while something is being written to a disk). This has never actually happened to me, and I use the Reset button quite often, so the risk must be quite small. But why take it at all, unless you must?

  • Turn the Macintosh off and then back on with the Power button If the Reset button ever fails to work, and if your Mac has a separate Power button (see: "Take Note: Power On, Power Off"), use it. It may turn the Mac off. Then wait about 10 seconds (to make sure that everything has really shut down). Next, depending on your model of Macintosh, either press the Power button again or press the Power key on your keyboard. Doing this initiates a restart that is similar to using the Reset button—that is, it does not do the cleanup (such as saving and closing all open files) that occurs after you choose the Finder's Restart command.

    At this point, you may well wonder why you should bother with the Reset button at all. Why not always use the alternative of turning the Macintosh off and then back on again? Won't this do pretty much the same thing as the Reset button? The short answer is, "Yes, it will." So go ahead and turn the Macintosh off and on again to restart it after a system crash, if you want.

    Still, the official view is that using the Reset button is preferred, because by not actually shutting down the system, it places less strain on the computer's electronic circuitry, thereby prolonging the life of the components. It may also extend the life of the on/off switch (although you would have to be having a lot of system crashes for this to be relevant). Personally, I believe that this threat is highly exaggerated and suggest that you not worry about it too much. Nevertheless, I use the Reset switch whenever possible. Why take chances, especially when (on most models) the Reset switch is more conveniently located than the on/off switch?

  • Pull the plug If everything else has failed to shut down and/or restart your Mac, simply unplug the Macintosh from the wall outlet. Wait a few seconds (or minutes), and plug it back in. You should now start up successfully. If not, you probably have a hardware problem. Start by checking Chapter 5 for how to deal with startup problems. Otherwise, contact Apple or an authorized Apple dealer for help.

  • Special case: the iMac (and other Macs with USB keyboards) and restarting after a system error On the iMac and all newer Macs that use a USB keyboard, Command-Control-Power no longer works to restart the Mac after a system crash. It works only as a normal Restart command (as if you chose Restart from the Finder's Special menu). Thus, after a system crash, this keyboard combination does nothing. (As Apple explains: "On ADB-equipped Macintosh computers, the ADB keyboard has a hardware line to the circuitry, which controls the reset of the computer. In all but the most extreme cases, it is possible to reset the Macintosh via the keyboard at any time. With the iMac (and other Macs with USB keyboards), this direct hardware line to the reset circuitry does not exist but is emulated in software. If the iMac has reached a state where the low-level software is not able to interpret the reset signal, the keyboard reset will not work.") The Interrupt keyboard combination should still work, however.

When you're trying to restart your iMac after a system crash, do the following until one method works:

  1. Try the Power key. It will likely do nothing, but give it a try.

  2. Try the Power button on the front of the Mac. It may restart your Mac even when the Power key fails—especially if you hold it in for about 5 seconds or so.

  3. Try the Reset button (the one that's recessed in the side panel).

  4. Pull the plug and then replug; then press the Power key.

Some people report that Command-Shift-Power restarts these Macs after a system crash. I have not found this to be the case.

Finally, pressing these keys (or even either of the Power keys) does not interrupt a normal startup sequence on these Macs. Instead, when the startup is over, the Shut Down message appears or a Shut Down initiates.

Command-Control-Power does work to restart an iBook after a system crash.

BY THE WAY — The Shut Down Warning Message

If you restart after a system crash (or, really, any time you shut down in a way other than choosing the Shut Down command), you will probably get a message during your next startup sequence, telling you what you already know: that you did not restart your Mac last time in the normal fashion. Typically, this also triggers an automatic check of your disk by Disk First Aid. (You do not see the Disk First Aid window at this point; the only way you know this is happening is that excessive disk activity takes place, prolonging the time it takes for you to start up.)

If you don't want to keep seeing this message every time you have a system crash, you can turn it off by unchecking the Shut Down Warning checkbox in the General Controls control panel.

By the way, here's how the Mac knows that you crashed: there is an invisible file of size 0 bytes called Shutdown Check at the root level of the startup volume. The presence or absence of this file determines whether the warning message appears on your next startup. The file normally gets deleted at shutdown. In such cases, the warning message does not appear. If you restart after a system crash, however, the file is not deleted, so the warning message does appear. This also means that the warning message appears the first time you start up with a disk after it has crashed, even if you started up successfully with other disks in the meantime.

Figure 4-4. This message may appear after restart following a system crash.

The Shut Down warning dismisses itself automatically after two minutes, so the startup warning does not remain on the screen until you dismiss it.

Occasionally, the Shutdown Check file gets corrupted and does not get deleted as it should. In this case, you see this message at each restart, even if you did not have a system crash. Or you may see some error message that appears to be unrelated to Disk First Aid (including one that refers to International Utilities). In either case, the solution is to manually delete this invisible file. You can do this in numerous ways. The simplest is to use a utility (such as File Buddy) that lists and allows you to delete invisible files.

  • SEE Chapter 8 for more information on working with invisible files

BY THE WAY — When not to turn on or off your Macintosh

  • Don't turn the Mac on during a thunderstorm. If a power failure occurs during the storm, the Macintosh may restart itself when power returns. This is the equivalent of using the on/off switch under normal power conditions. During a storm, however, the return of power may be accompanied by a power surge that could damage your hardware even if you are using a surge-protected outlet. Because a power failure may be momentary—too short for you to react to it by turning the Macintosh off—your safest action is to turn off and unplug the Macintosh until the storm is over. Then you can turn the Mac back on.

    I have ignored this advice myself many times, and nothing has ever happened. You'll make your own decision on what risks you want to take.

  • Never turn the machine off (or press the Reset or Interrupt button) while the Macintosh is reading from or writing to a disk. You may damage the data files that are currently in use.

BY THE WAY — Energy Saver and Shut Down/Restart

Apple's Energy Saver control panel is used mainly to put the Mac in various stages of sleep. There is a separate Sleep setting for the display and for the hard drive. This difference explains why sometimes when waking up from sleep, the computer seems to "snap" awake (display sleep), while at other times, it seems to drag itself back to action (hard drive sleep).

Energy Saver can also be the source of some surprises. Does your Mac start up or shut down seemingly spontaneously? If so, check the Scheduled Startup and Shutdown panel of this control panel. You (or someone else) may have set this feature to turn your Mac on or off automatically. Similarly, check the Server Settings Preferences control panel, which includes an option labeled Restart Automatically After a Power Failure. If this option is enabled, it can also lead to some unexpected restarts of the Mac, even when you have not had an actual power failure.

Various problems have been attributed to Energy Saver. If someone ever recommends that you try disabling this control panel, take note: simply disabling it (via Extensions Manager) does not really disable it entirely. The preferred technique is to set its Sleep settings to Never. Then restart. Then disable the file. Sleeper, a shareware application, is an often-recommended alternative.

  • SEE "Take Note: The iBook and Preserving Memory Contents on Sleep and Restart," in Chapter 11, for related information about Energy Saver options.

Recover Unsaved Data After a Restart

OK, you're back in the saddle again. You've successfully restarted your Macintosh and returned to the Finder's desktop. What now? If you didn't lose any unsaved data or didn't care about what you did lose, just return to whatever you were doing before the crash and hope that it doesn't happen again. In the meantime, be careful to save your work frequently.

You can also try to recover any data that wasn't saved before the crash. I know—this sounds almost impossible. It also seems to contradict my own previous statements that unsaved work at the time of a system crash cannot be recovered, because unsaved work is present only in RAM, and information in RAM (other than, perhaps, RAM disk contents) evaporates when you restart the Macintosh. Nevertheless, you may yet be able to recover some unsaved data.

A word to the wise before you start trying the options that I am about to describe: they really are good only for rescuing text data, and even then, they are often unsuccessful. Even if they do work, they typically save only part of your data or save them in a form that requires deleting unwanted text, rearranging paragraphs, and reformatting (fonts, margins, and so on) before the file resembles the way it appeared originally. All this takes time. If you lost only a small amount of work, you may be better off simply starting from scratch and redoing the work. When you really are desperate, try the following techniques.

Check for temporary files Many (but far from all!) programs create temporary files (sometimes called work files) that hold part or all of a document's data while the document is open. Ordinarily, you are unaware of the existence of these files. The software manual may not even refer to them. This is usually OK, because these temporary files should be deleted automatically when you quit the program. You never see a trace of them. After an unexpected quit, a forced quit, or a reset after a system crash, however, these temporary files typically do not get deleted and remain somewhere on your hard drive.

These temporary files may contain data from the document you were working on before the crash, even if you had not yet saved the data! On the other hand, these temporary files are more often useless, containing virtually no data at all. Still, it can't hurt to try.

Often, temporary files are invisible—that is, you never see them on the Finder's desktop or in most Open or Save dialog boxes. This arrangement prevents you from using them inadvertently during normal operation of the Macintosh. Deleting a temporary file while the application that is using it is still open, for example (assuming that the Macintosh lets you do this), could cause a system crash! The downside, however, is that this invisibility makes these files more difficult to find when you do want to use them.

Some temporary files on your disk may be left over from system errors that are now ancient history. These files, obviously, are of no value to you in recovering data from your current system error. Ideally, you are looking for the one temporary file that contains data from the document you were working on at the time of the system error. Often, you can figure this out by checking file names, which tend to give away the files' origin and nature (such as Word Work File for Microsoft Word temporary files). To be certain that you have ferreted out all these files, look for both visible and invisible temporary files.

BY THE WAY — Word Work Files Hassles

Word 98 has an annoying habit of creating multiple (visible) Word Work files in some seemingly random fashion, located in the same folder as the document you are working on. Certainly, the more often you click the Save button, the more of these files you start to collect.

Normally, this situation is not much of a problem. When you close the document, the Work files evaporate. If you get a system crash while the document is open, however, these files will still be there when you restart. Now you have to drag them to the Trash to get rid of them. Don't worry—you don't need them.

Finally, if too many of these Work files open, you may get an odd error that says that you cannot save your document because too many files are open or because of insufficient memory. This can be a real annoyance. Even choosing Save As will not work. There are two possible solutions. The first solution is to close other open applications. This technique may allow Save to work. If so, close the document as soon as you save it; then reopen it. This will get rid of the Work files associated with the document. The second solution is to choose Save As and use a different file format, such as Word 6 or Rich Text Format (assuming that you have no special Word 98-only formatting that would be lost when you do this). Again, if this technique works, close and reopen the document. Then you can save it again in Word 98 format.

By the way, one suggestion for preventing this buildup of Work files is to turn off Word's Fast Save option (in its Preferences window). When I tried this, however, it only made matters worse.

  • SEE Chapter 6 for more information on problems with opening and saving files.

  • Look for visible temporary files (check the Trash!) After a system crash, the first place to look for visible temporary files is in the Trash! I'm not kidding. The Mac OS creates a special folder called Temporary Items. Any programs that are written to be aware of this folder place their temporary files in this folder. This folder, and the files within it, are normally invisible.

    After a system crash and a subsequent restart, however, the Macintosh automatically places all the items in the Temporary Items folder in a new folder called Rescued Items from <name of your disk>. This folder is visible and is placed in the Trash. It contains the files that were in the invisible Temporary Items folder at the time of the system error. In some cases, the folder may simply be named Temporary Items.

    The Macintosh places the Rescued Items folder in the Trash for a good reason: deleting these files is usually the best way to deal with them. Still, the point of this discussion is that these rescued files may contain some of your unsaved data. So if you find the Trash contains items in it immediately after a restart, double-click the Trash icon to open its window. If you find a Rescued Items folder in the Trash, remove it and place it in any other location. All the temporary files in the folder should be from applications that were open at the time of the system error, so it should be relatively easy to check for one that is useful to you.

    Occasionally, visible temporary files on your disk do not make it to the Trash. They are typically in your System Folder, in the same folder as the application that was active at the time of the crash, or at the root level of your disk. You can use the Finder's Find command to locate these temporary files, if necessary. If you are unsure what the name of the temporary file might be, try search words such as Temp or the name of the application itself. Even better, search by creator (as explained in Chapter 8).

    Figure 4-5. A Rescued Items folder, normally located in the Trash following a restart after a system crash.

  • Look for invisible temporary files If you are having trouble locating the temporary file you want, it may be invisible. Invisible files can still appear in the Open dialog boxes of some applications. Microsoft Word can do this (as described in the following paragraphs). Otherwise, your main hope of finding invisible temporary files is a special utility (such as Norton Utilities and File Buddy) that lists them. For text data files, these utilities may be able to extract and save the text to a separate visible file, using the same technique you would use to recover text from a damaged file. Alternatively, these utilities can change the invisible file to a visible file. The probability of successfully recovering any data from these files is fairly low, however. Unless the lost data is important, don't feel compelled to learn how to do this.

    • SEE Fix-It #11 on extracting data from damaged files.

    • Chapter 8 for more information on invisible files and folders.

  • Recover data from temporary files After you locate the appropriate temporary file by any method, open it to view its contents. To do this, your best bet is to open the application that was in use at the time of the crash. See whether it lists the relevant temporary file in its Open dialog box. If so, open the file.

Some applications do not list their temporary files as openable. Others do so, but only after a bit of fiddling. To see temporary files listed in Word, for example, choose the All Files option from the List Files of Type pop-up menu in the Open dialog box. Otherwise, for text files, try any other application you have that can read text files. In general, choose the option that shows the broadest range of file types.

If you are successful in opening the temporary file, you may find some useful data in it (primarily only text data), even if it is only a partial recovery. If so, edit and save the data as you would in any other file. If you find any garbage data along with the real data, you can cut it.

Temporary files that remain on your disk after a system error are not used again as temporary files. Rather, the program creates a new temporary file the next time one is needed. Thus, if there is nothing worth saving in these recovered temporary files (which, unfortunately, is all too often the case), delete them. Otherwise, they remain on your disk, taking up space. As long as you are doing this, you might as well delete any other old temporary files that you find.

Delete these temporary files only when the program that created them is not open, however. This practice ensures that you do not accidentally delete a temporary file that is currently in use, which (as mentioned earlier) can lead to a system crash.

Use special recovery utilities You can recover text by using utilities such as Spell Catcher's GhostWriter feature (described in Chapter 2). To briefly review, this feature records each keystroke that you make as you type. The resulting text is automatically saved in a special file that is typically stored in your System Folder. This is done every minute or so, without your having to choose any command. This feature is separate from any auto-save function you might have. Auto-save saves the actual file you are using, whereas these utilities save data to a separate file, even if the file itself was not saved. After a system crash, locate these special files and open them in a word processor. With luck, you will find your unsaved text. The recovered data may not be in perfect shape (some data may be missing or garbled), but it should be far preferable to having nothing at all. On the other hand, if you remember to use the ordinary Save command often enough, these utilities will probably not be of much extra benefit.

What If the System Error Keeps Recurring?

After completing all the previous advice, you can typically return to what you were doing before the system crash and continue your work. Most often, another crash will not occur. But what if it does? What, most especially, if it keeps recurring every time you get back to the same point? Ah, yes. If this unfortunate event happens to you, you will have to spend some time trying to determine the source of the error. The only other alternative is to stop doing whatever caused the system error. Sorry.

To solve recurring system-error problems, skip to the last section of this chapter.

  • SEE "Solve It! Recurring System Errors" later in this chapter.

System Freezes


The Macintosh appears to lock up. Without warning, everything on the screen display comes to a complete halt. If the cursor is animated, like the watch cursor, all animation has stopped. At best, the cursor may continue to respond to the mouse, but you can't get it to do anything. Menus do not drop down; applications do not open. Typically, keyboard input has no effect, either. At worst, everything, including the cursor, refuses to move or respond to any input. For the moment, your computer screen has become little more than an expensive paperweight.

When any of these things happen, you have a system freeze (also called a hang).


A freeze is almost always caused by a software bug. But identifying the program that contains the bug can be tricky. The bug can be in the application, it can be in the system software, or it can be a conflict between two programs that are active at the same time. Most often, the bug is related to problems with the way a program is trying to access RAM memory.

Damaged files, particularly damaged System, Finder, or font files, may cause a freeze. A damaged directory may similarly lead to a system freeze. Trying to defragment a disk with a damaged directory can result in a system freeze. A loosened and disconnected cable can cause the same symptoms as a freeze, although no system error has occurred. A multitude of other causes remain, including low memory and SCSI problems.

What to Do:
Try to Save Your Work (Press Command-S)

Despite the system freeze, you may still be able to save your unsaved work. Presumably, you cannot actually choose the Save command from the File menu because of the freeze. Sometimes, however, the Macintosh responds to certain keyboard input even though it seems to be frozen. By pressing Command-S (the keyboard shortcut for Save), you may be able to save whatever document you were using at the time of the freeze. Otherwise, the data is almost certainly lost. In either case, you still have a frozen Macintosh that needs to be unthawed.

Try a Force Quit (Press Command-Option-Escape)

To do a force quit (or forced quit, as it is often called), press Command-Option-Escape. An alert box should appear. Its message asks whether you want to force the active application to quit and tells you that any unsaved changes in that application will be lost. Because you have few other alternatives at this point, go ahead and do it.

This technique should return you to the Finder's desktop. The Macintosh should be functioning fairly normally now, except that the application you were using has been closed, and any unsaved work is lost. Still, if you had other applications besides the active one open at the time, you should be able to return to them and save any previously unsaved documents in these other applications.

Figure 4-6. The "force quit" alert box

A force quit is designed to work primarily after either a system freeze or an endless loop (described in "Endless Loops" later in this chapter). I have never seen it work following a system crash (in which the bomb alert box appears), but it can't hurt to try.

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING — Force Quit From the Finder

If you press Command-Option-Escape when you are at the Finder level, the alert box asks whether you want to quit the Finder itself. You can elect to do this. Because under most circumstances, the Finder must be running at all times, the result of this action is to quit and then immediately relaunch the Finder. Normally, there is little reason to do this. Simply restarting your Macintosh accomplishes the same thing and is more reliable. If you are having problems with the Finder, however, short of a system freeze or crash, quitting the Finder sometimes eliminates the problem without requiring you to restart.

Several shareware/freeware utilities (such as one called Terminator) allow you to quit the Finder directly. It is generally believed that using one of these utilities is a safer way to quit the Finder than using the Force Quit keyboard combination. I have never seen that belief officially confirmed, however. These utilities work only if you want to quit the Finder before you get a freeze, however.

If the Force Quit Succeeds...

If a Force Quit succeeds in giving you back control of your Mac, here's what to do next:

  • Try (again) to save your work Assuming that the force quit succeeds in bringing your Macintosh back to life, immediately save any unsaved work that is still open in other applications. Otherwise, the danger is that another error may occur again soon, because you have not fixed whatever problem caused the first error to occur. You may even be able to recover unsaved data from the application that led to the freeze, either by searching for temporary files or by using other special recovery utilities.

    • SEE "Recover Unsaved Data After a Restart" in the section on System Crashes earlier in this chapter.

  • Choose Restart from the Finder's Special menu To be honest, I have recovered from a freeze with a force quit and then continued using my Macintosh for several more hours without any problem. Doing so is a risk, however. You can try it, but don't blame me if it soon leads to another freeze or crash. Problems are especially likely to recur if you were online at the time of the freeze and attempt to reconnect immediately after a force quit.

Instead, restart the Macintosh. This usually corrects the problem that led to the system freeze. The best way to restart is to simply choose the Restart command from the Finder's Special menu. This ensures that all files are properly updated, saved, and closed before the actual restart occurs. This prevents any accidental loss of data and minimizes the (admittedly unlikely) chance of damaging files.

Some other utility programs contain a similar Restart command. If this command is more convenient, you can use it instead of the Finder's command.

Figure 4-7. The Restart and Shut Down commands in the Finder's Special menu

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING — To Sleep...Perchance to Power Down

If you have a PowerBook, and you choose Sleep from the Special menu, the computer appears to shut down. But it doesn't. Power to the hard drive is essentially cut off (to preserve battery power), but enough current is maintained that the information in memory is preserved. On most PowerBooks, pressing any key (except Caps Lock) awakens the PowerBook. On some models, you must press the Power On key. The hard drive then spins up, the screen brightens, and everything returns to normal.

On most recent PowerBooks, just closing the lid puts the PowerBook to sleep. A small blinking light lets you know that the PowerBook is sleeping. Pressing the Reset button on the back of the machine turns it off completely.

All recent desktop Macs have a similar sleep capability. But the Mac continues to make enough noise that you know that it is still on.

  • SEE Chapters 11 and 14 for more information on sleep and PowerBooks.

If the Force Quit Fails to Work...Restart

Unfortunately, sometimes the force-quit trick fails to work. Instead, when you click the Force Quit button, your system freeze worsens, from the type in which you can still use the cursor to the type in which now even the cursor is frozen, or the freeze develops into a system crash. In some cases, the force-quit dialog box never even appears. In any of these cases, your main recourse is to restart the Macintosh as you would for a system crash—that is, press the Reset button or the Power button.

  • SEE "Restart the Macintosh" and "Recover Unsaved Data After a Restart," in the section on System Crashes, earlier in this chapter.

If the Freeze Recurs

After restarting, you can usually continue your work without another freeze occurring. If the freeze recurs after restarting, you need to try to figure out the cause. As you will see, knowing exactly when the freeze occurs (such as during startup or when you try to launch an application) is useful in diagnosing the cause.

  • Check for disconnected cables If the freeze reappears immediately upon startup, your best bet is to check the keyboard cable, especially if your mouse is connected to the keyboard rather than to the back of the Macintosh. In this case, a loose or defective keyboard cable prevents both keyboard and mouse input from having any effect. I call this situation a false freeze.

    A disconnected cable does not halt any operation in progress (such as a printing process), but otherwise mimics a true system freeze. It is not a true freeze because the processing of information has not been disrupted.

    If other cables, such as a printer cable or the SCSI cable (most commonly used for connecting an external hard drive), become disconnected, this can precipitate a true freeze.

    It is strongly recommended that you turn off the Macintosh before disconnecting and reconnecting ADB and SCSI cables. Although the threat is generally conceded to be minimal at best, why take the risk at all? And even if you do reconnect a cable while the computer is running and nothing adverse happens, the reconnection by itself may not restore the Macintosh to normal. You still probably have to restart the Macintosh.

    On the other hand, it is perfectly OK to disconnect and reconnect USB and FireWire cables.

    • SEE Fit-It #14 for more on USB and FireWire cables.

  • Check whether a cable, the keyboard, and/or the mouse needs repair It is always possible that a cable, the mouse, and/or the keyboard has suddenly gone belly-up. This situation, too, may mimic a freeze immediately upon startup. If this is the case, try to swap your keyboard and cables for other ones, if other ones are available. (Remember to turn off your Macintosh before removing or connecting any cables.) If replacing components eliminates the freeze, you need to replace the defective components.

  • Check for problems with peripheral devices If a freeze occurs before extensions start to load, the problem may be SCSI-related. To check for this situation, disconnect external SCSI devices from the Mac and try to restart. See whether the problem goes away. Similarly, check for USB or FireWire devices, if your Mac supports these types of connections.

    If a system freeze occurs whenever you try to mount an external hard drive, try to repair the disk with software repair utilities. If that attempt fails, reformat the disk.

  • Give the application more memory Freezes that occur when you launch or quit an application are sometimes due to insufficient memory for the application. To solve this problem, go to the program's Get Info window, increase its Preferred Memory size by at least several hundred K, and try again. Repeat several more times, if necessary, assuming that you have sufficient free RAM. Use virtual memory or RAM Doubler to make more memory available (although watch out for the next item in this list!).

  • Turn off virtual memory or other memory-enhancing utility Freezes are often due to problems with memory-enhancement software. If you are using virtual memory or a utility such as RAM Doubler, turn it off. RAM Doubler is often suggested as a possible cause of freezes while you are running communications and/or networking software.

  • Replace damaged font files If a freeze occurs whenever you try to launch a particular application, a damaged font file may be the cause. This situation is particularly common with AppleWorks. Damaged font files may also cause a freeze to occur during printing. The solution is to identify the damaged font and replace it from your backups.

    • SEE Chapter 9 for more information on identifying and replacing damaged font files.

  • For freezes that occur during printing, turn off background printing Freezes that occur during printing are often memory-related. Turning off background printing is a useful first step. Try printing again. You also may have an incompatible printer driver.

    • SEE Chapter 7 for more information on printing problems.

  • Replace the Finder Preferences file (and possibly do a clean install of the Mac OS software) This technique is particularly likely to work if the freeze occurs only when you are in the Finder or performing system-related activities. A freeze could occur whenever a floppy disk is inserted into a disk drive, for example. Similar situations include freezes that occur when you are copying files or emptying the Trash.

    Replace the Finder Preferences file to attempt to correct these problems. If that does not work, you may need to try a complete clean install of the Mac OS software.

    • SEE Fix-It #2 on replacing Preferences files.

    • Fix-It #4 for more information on replacing Mac OS software.

  • Extensions conflicts and other causes If none of these suggestions solves the problem, it's time to look elsewhere. Extensions conflicts are the most likely cause at this point.

    • Fix-It #3 on extensions conflicts.

    • "Solve It! Recurring System Errors" later in this chapter, for a longer laundry list of things to try.

Endless Loops


The symptoms of an endless loop appear, at first, not to be symptoms at all. Everything appears to be perfectly normal. Usually, whenever a process promises to take more than a few seconds to complete (such as a complex transformation in a graphics program), the cursor (most often, an arrow) changes. Typically, it shifts to a watch cursor with rotating hands or a spinning beach ball. This display is perfectly normal; it is the Macintosh's way of telling you to wait a minute.

During this time, the cursor continues to move across the screen in response to mouse movement. All other activity, however, is disabled until the task is completed, at which time the regular cursor (usually, the arrow) reappears.

The signal that you have a problem is that the task never seems to reach completion. The watch cursor appears destined to remain on the screen until at least the turn of the century. Welcome to endless loops! Be especially suspicious of an endless loop any time a task is taking much longer to complete than expected. (Saving a document, for example, should almost never take more than a few seconds.)

A similar situation occurs when the computer's activity is monitored by a progress bar on the screen (as occurs when you are copying disks from the Finder). The dark part of the bar continues to grow as the activity moves to completion. If the progress bar seems to stop, no longer showing any sign of progress, you may be caught in an endless loop.

At a practical level, the endless loop is a first cousin of the system freeze. Your course of action is similar in both cases.


Before taking any action, consider that you may not be in an endless loop. The Macintosh may be doing something that takes a very long time to complete. Depending on your printer, for example, it can take more than 10 minutes to print one page of a complex PostScript graphics document.

The other alternative is that you are in an endless loop. This problem is typically due to a software bug that causes the program to attempt the same action repeatedly—and indefinitely.

What to Do:
Break out of the Loop with Command-Period

Often, a long delay does not mean that you have a freeze; it may just be that the operation really takes an unusually long time to finish. To check for this situation, press Command-period (holding both keys down together). This is an almost universal command for canceling an operation in progress. Hold the keys down for several seconds before letting go. Wait a few more seconds to see whether the operation halts. Typically, the progress bar (if any) disappears and/or the animated cursor is replaced by the arrow cursor. If nothing seems to happen, try again. Continue retrying for at least a minute before giving up.

If canceling does work, you either halted a normal but slow process, or (less likely) you have a forgiving program that was able to break out of an endless loop with this technique.

BY THE WAY — Cancelling a Command

This Command-period technique is useful any time you want to halt an operation that you no longer want to perform, even if there is no suspected endless loop. It does not always work, but it is worth a try whenever you need it. Depending on the operation in progress, it may take as long as a minute or so before the operation is cancelled.

Retry the Procedure

If you were able to break out of the loop, retry the procedure. Wait even longer before resorting to Command-period.

If the process is just a slow one, it may reach completion this time. If the problem was an endless loop, it may have been a one-time-only problem, and it may not repeat.


If you cannot break out of the endless loop, treat it exactly as though it were a system freeze. In particular, try a forced quit (press Command-Option-Escape). If this doesn't work, restart the Macintosh.

  • SEE "System Freeze," earlier in this chapter, for more details.

Whether or not you can break out of the endless loop, if it continues to recur, you have to figure out the cause.

  • SEE "Solve It! Recurring System Errors" later in this chapter.

Unexpected Quits


An application abruptly and inexplicably quits, returning you to the Finder. Often, you see an alert message informing you that the application unexpectedly quit. (I guess that unless the Mac detects that you choose the Quit command, it treats the quit as "unexpected.") This is the most benign of system errors described in this chapter, because the system almost always continues to function after the unexpected quit.

Figure 4-8. Two examples of the unexpected quit alert box


Unexpected quits are usually due to software bugs that affect memory management. Typically, less memory is available than the program needs. Ideally, the program should detect this situation and warn you of the problem. If the program was not written carefully enough, an unexpected quit happens instead.

If this happens, you can consider yourself to be lucky, in a way. The alternative is usually a system crash that would require a restart of the computer.

What to Do:
Interpreting System Error Codes...Again

An unexpected-quit alert box often indicates the type of error that led to the unexpected quit (such as an error of Type 4). These numbers refer to the same codes that are used for system crashes. Although trying to figure out exactly what these codes mean is not likely to be helpful, you can refer to Table 4-1 earlier in this chapter for guidance. Sometimes, the alert box says that the cause of the quit is of "unknown," making it irrelevant to look up the meaning of the error code.

Save Data in Open Applications

As with almost all system errors, any unsaved data in the application that unexpectedly quit is almost certainly lost. You should still be able to save any data in other applications that remain open, however. You may even be able to recover unsaved data from the application that led to the unexpected quit, either by searching for temporary files or using other special recovery utilities.

  • SEE "Recover Unsaved Data After a Restart," in the section on System Crashes, earlier in this chapter.

Restart the Macintosh

To restart, choose Restart from the Finder's Special menu. You probably can continue using your Macintosh without restarting. To be safe, however, you should restart first, because once this problem occurs, the probability that it will recur increases until you restart.

Actually, if you want to return to the problem program, it may be necessary to restart. I have occasionally had a program that would no longer relaunch immediately after an unexpected quit; it simply quit again whenever I tried to launch it. Restarting the Macintosh cleared up this problem.

Increase Preferred Size of Memory

The immediate cause of some unexpected quits is insufficient memory assigned to the application. This can be the case even if you are using the default assignments given to the application. So if the unexpected quit persists after a restart, try increasing the Preferred Size of the application's memory in the file's Get Info window.

If increasing the application's preferred memory size does not work, you may have to increase overall memory availability, as described in Fix-It #5.

Finally, make sure that there is adequate memory in the Font Cache of Adobe Type Manager. You can adjust this setting in the Adobe Type Manager control panel. Adobe recommends using 50K to 80K for every font that needs to be rendered on screen at the same time (including italics, bold, and so on).

If the Unexpected Quit Occurs During Launch

Unexpected quits often occur in the middle of using an application. Sometimes, they occur as a program is first launched, preventing you from opening the program. If this happens, and the previous solutions did not solve the problem, try removing the application's preferences file from the Preferences folder or, if that technique fails, replacing the application itself. Although a damaged application file may be the cause of any unexpected quit, it is more likely a cause if the quit occurs during launch.

  • SEE Fix-It #2 on replacing applications and their related files.


Sometimes, an unexpected quit develops into a system freeze or a system crash before you can successfully restart. If so, refer to the sections on those topics earlier in this chapter for details on what to do.

Finally, if the unexpected quit continues to recur despite all your attempts at a solution, you need to track down what else may be the cause.

  • SEE "Solve It! Recurring System Errors" later in this chapter.

The Finder Disappears

  • The desktop seems to vanish. All disk icons and folder windows disappear. Sometimes, the menu bars at the top of the screen disappear. At the same time, the Macintosh appears to freeze.

  • A similar problem has been dubbed the "oscillating Finder crash." In this case, the Finder disappears and is followed by periodic screen flashing.


Basically, this is yet another variation on the freeze or endless loop, and it has similar underlying causes. In this case, however, it is more likely that something is amiss with the Finder and/or System files.

What to Do:
Wait a Minute

Occasionally, the Finder reappears by itself if you wait a minute or two, or the oscillating stops (unlikely). If this happens, I would still be suspicious that a more serious error will occur soon. Restart to be safe.

Try a Force Quit (Command-Option-Escape) and Restart

If the Finder does not return on its own, try a force quit. Occasionally, as in a generic system freeze, a force quit may return you to a fully functional desktop.

If the force quit does succeed, rather than immediately resume your work, you should save any unsaved work and restart the Macintosh by choosing the Restart command from the Finder's Special menu. If the force quit does not succeed, press the Reset button to restart. In either case, the Macintosh should return to normal following the restart.

  • SEE "System Freezes," earlier in this chapter, for more details.

Replace the Finder and Its Preferences File

If the problem keeps recurring, replace the Finder and its preferences file. With Mac OS 8.5. or later, also consider replacing Mac OS Preferences, Display Preferences, and Sound Preferences.

Also, if you are using Mac OS 8.1 or later, and there is a file in your Extensions folder called ObjectSupportLib, delete it.

  • SEE Fix-It #2 on problems with the Finder preferences file


If the oscillating Finder crash happens only when you are online, go to Remote Access's Options Connections tab and disable the option labeled Flash Icon in Menu Bar While Connected. That may help.

More generally, if the Finder continues to vanish, replace or upgrade the entire system software. If even that doesn't work, it's time to look for more esoteric causes.

  • SEE Fix-It #4 on replacing system software.

  • "Solve It! Recurring System Errors" later in this chapter.

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