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Top Ten Troubleshooting Tips for Panther

When Apple upgraded Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), it didn't forget troubleshooters. Among the many new features in Panther are ones that are especially useful for solving problems. Ted Landau, author of the best-selling Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters and founder of the Web site, offers plenty of troubleshooting tips in his new book, Mac OS X Help Line, Panther Edition. Here are 10 of his favorites.
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Top Ten Troubleshooting Tips for Panther

When Apple upgraded Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), it didn't forget troubleshooters. Among the many new features in Panther are ones that are especially useful for solving problems. Ted Landau, author of the best-selling Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters and founder of the Web site, offers plenty of troubleshooting tips in his new book, Mac OS X Help Line, Panther Edition. Here are 10 of his favorites:

1. Force Quit instantly

When an application freezes, wouldn't it be nice to have a command that could immediately force quit the application—without needing to go to the Dock or access the Force Quit window? Apple thought so as well. New in Panther, just press Shift-Command-Option-Escape and the frontmost application is instantly forced to quit. Should this not work for a particular application, you can alternatively access this same effect via the Force Quit command in the Apple menu: hold down the Shift key when you access the menu and you will see the new variation listed.

2. Force quit applications run by other users

Panther has a great new feature called Fast User Switching that allows multiple users to be logged in at the same time. One potential problem with this feature is that some applications will not run in more than one account at a time. This means that if another user leaves an application open, you won’t be able to use that application from your account until the other user quits it. But there is an easy work-around—if you are an administrator: Launch Activity Monitor and select Other User Processes from the pop-up menu at the top of the main window. This will list all open processes of other logged-in users. You can now highlight the process (application) that the other user has tied up. Then select Quit from the Process menu. Your Mac-mate may not appreciate you doing this, but I’ll let you work that out on your own.

3. Save the installer files used by Software Update

In Jaguar, you had to choose whether to have Software Update automatically install an update or download the Installer package file to the Desktop (where you could then select to manually install it later). In Panther, you can do both at once: Just select Install and Keep Package from the Update menu. Now you get the convenience of an automatic install, but still retain the package file in case you need to install it again or install it on another computer. By the way, the downloaded files no longer get saved to your Desktop. They have been moved to the Packages folder in the root level Library folder.

4. Move anything in the Finder

Many of the operations that were outright prohibited in Jaguar’s Finder (such as moving files from the /System folder) are given a green light in Panther’s Finder. If you are an administrator, you will be asked to give your password; the action is then allowed. On the one hand, this is a great convenience that eliminates the need for a cornucopia of work-arounds that involved either Terminal, Get Info window modifications, or third-party utilities. On the other hand, any administrator (which includes anyone who sets up a Mac for themselves) can now much more easily accidentally trash critical components of the operating system. You’ve been warned.

By the way, to move something out of the /System folder (as opposed to making a copy of the item), Command-drag the item instead of just dragging it.

5. Access Go To Folder from Open dialogs

In Jaguar, if you wanted to open a document from an application’s Open dialog, and the folder that contained the document was “invisible,” you could use the Go To text box to navigate to the folder. This option no longer appears in Panther’s Open dialogs. But it’s still there; it’s just hidden. If you type Command-Shift-G (the same shortcut for the Go To Folder command in the Finder), a Go To box drops down.

6. Print from a Desktop Printer

In Mac OS 9, you could create a desktop printer icon for each connected printer. If you dragged a document icon to this desktop printer, the document would immediately print. Jaguar had no comparable feature. Panther finally brings this convenience to Mac OS X. Just select Create Desktop Printer from the Printers menu of the Printer Setup Utility. Then drag the document you want to print to the Desktop Printer icon.


7. Select a permanent default Printer

In Jaguar, your default printer was always the one you most recently used. Not exactly what most people wanted. In Panther, you can specify a printer to always remain the default—even if you select a different printer occasionally. To do so, just select the desired printer instead of the default Last printer used option in the new Print & Fax System Preferences pane.

8. Skip initial Unexpected Quit dialog

When an application unexpectedly quits in Panther, the dialog that appears includes a button to submit a crash report to Apple. This opens a second dialog that shows the crash report. If you would rather have the Mac skip the initial dialog and go directly to the Crash Report dialog, you can get your wish. To do so, launch Terminal and type the following line: defaults write DialogType crashreport. The next time an unexpected quit occurs, the initial dialog will no longer appear.

9. Diagnose defective preferences files

Many odd symptoms in Mac OS X can be traced to a corrupted preferences file. These are the files that end in .plist and typically are found in the Library/Preferences folder of your Home directory. The simple fix for most such problems is to delete the corrupted file. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear which of the dozens of .plist files is the troublemaker. You could use trial-and-error to ferret out the culprit. However, a potentially faster solution is to run a freeware utility called Preferential Treatment ( It won’t detect all possible .plist problems, but it’s a good initial step. Be sure to read its excellent Help documentation before using it. Among other things, you’ll learn that this utility is based on the plutil command, as run from Terminal.

10. Fix Launch Services problems

Do you have files or folders in the Finder that inexplicably have incorrect icons? Does the wrong application launch when you double-click certain documents? If so, you probably have a corrupted Launch Services database. While there are third-party utilities that can help fix this, Mac OS X has a hidden tool that is virtually guaranteed to do the job. To use the tool, launch Terminal and type (all in one line):

/System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.frame-work/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.frame-work/Versions/A/Support/lsregister -kill -r -domain system -domain local -domain user

Then log out and log back in. Everything should now be working smoothly.

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