Simple cures for ailing Apples

May 25, 1998|By Dave Zeiler | Dave Zeiler,SUN STAFF

As much as Mac owners like to gloat about the reliability of their computers compared to Wintel machines, sometimes your Apple will go sour.

Yes, Macs suffer their share of freezes, crashes and annoying error messages. Not to worry. A few simple procedures usually will bring it back to normal.

Here are a few tips for resuscitating an ailing Mac:

Force quit: If you're not completely frozen, sometimes you can get control of the machine by "force quitting" the program - hold down the Command-Shift-Option-Escape keys simultaneously. This sometimes allows you to save a document that you have open in another application but typically leaves your system unstable. You should restart to be safe.

Reboot: You can clear up the majority of the problems you'll experience on a Mac just by restarting. This is especially true if you run your Mac for hours and open and close several programs, which fragments the memory. You don't need to turn off the power, either. Many Macs have a reboot button (older Macs in the back, most newer models in the front). Most Macs also reboot when you hold down the Command-Control-Restart keys simultaneously.

Mind your memory: If you keep getting a message that says, 'The application 'Unknown' has unexpectedly quit because an error of type 1 occurred," then you have a memory-allocation problem.

To fix this, find the application's icon and highlight it by clicking on it once. Select Get Info from the File menu in the Finder. You will see two boxes that set the minimum and preferred amount of system RAM the program can use. Increase each number by several hundred kilobytes. Higher is better, but you don't need ,, to go hog wild unless the program documentation recommends it.

Rebuild: If the problem recurs after a restart, try rebuilding the desktop files, a set of files the Mac uses to keep track of things. Hold down the Command and Option keys while the machine starts up. Better yet, use Micromat's free TechTool utility (, which deletes the desktop files and forces the Mac to create fresh ones.

Delete the preferences: If you keep having trouble with the same program, take a trip to the Preferences folder inside the System folder.

Quit the faulty application first. Then locate the preference file for that program and drag it to the trash. The program will create a clean, new preference file the next time you launch it. If that doesn't fix the problem, you should try reinstalling the program from the original disk.

Check for conflicts: If you just installed a program, it could have added some extensions or control panels to your System folder that don't get along with existing ones. Often, deleting a newly added extension will correct the problem. You also might consider buying the handy utility Conflict Catcher (

Call the doctor: If your Mac persistently behaves strangely (programs freezing, frequent error messages), you may have a problem with your root disk files.

If you don't have a repair utility such as Norton Disk Doctor (, get one. Such programs fix a multitude of otherwise impossible digital afflictions.

Zap the PRAM: Sometimes you can have trouble getting the Mac to start up at all. While this could be a symptom of a dead hard drive, it may be corrupt PRAM (Parameter RAM). You can reset the PRAM by holding down the Command-Option-P-R keys simultaneously immediately after turning on your Mac. When you hear the Mac start-up chime a second time, let go.

If all else fails: You have a serious problem, possibly hardware related. Seek professional help.

You can reach Dave Zeiler via e-mail at

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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