A fresh start

by Giles Turnbull

Oddness was happening.

Over the last couple of weeks, I noticed odd things kept happening on my PowerBook. Shiira would launch but wouldn't function. Preview did weird things when I tried to quit it. Photoshop Elements 4 wouldn't launch at all, which was pretty annoying at a time when I was trying to write an article about it.

After this last problem appeared, I tried a simple experiment; created a completely fresh user account on the same machine, and installed PE4 there. It worked just fine, so I made my diagnosis: something was broken inside my user space, and whatever it was I wanted to fix it.

True, all the apps I needed to use every day were still working without any problems, but I felt uneasy about using the machine without taking preemptive action. I found myself worrying that it might suddenly die on me just when I needed it not to.

And rather than re-install and simply drag my apps and documents back in from backups, I took the route that required more work: re-install everything manually, from scratch, to make sure everything was as pristine as I could get it.

So that meant downloading fresh copies of all my essential apps, re-entering license codes where necessary, and going through each one to import data, change preferences, and add passwords. It took some hours. Downloading all the updates from raw 10.4 and straight-from-disk iLife 06 took quite a while too.

But now I've almost reached the end of the process and things feel so much better. The computer feels a little more snappy than it was before, and all the symptoms of oddness have disappeared. The step-by-step reset was time-consuming, but worth doing. I can recommend this approach to anyone whose Mac is misbehaving.


2006-05-17 08:09:09
sounds like a windows machine to me :-(
Matthew Sporleder
2006-05-17 08:13:49
Delete your caches in ~/Library/Caches/
I had to do this in 10.3 a few times to fix sherlock and various other apps. Launching them from the Terminal.app and using ktrace can be helpful if you really want to get into it.
2006-05-17 08:21:13
That is an approach that is as old as Microsoft creating ugly software/OSes. Thankfully I did not have to fresh reinstall my powerbook yet.

But it is sad that there are situations where you still have to take a the big tesla to make such strange behavioral artifacts disappear :(

Andy Lee
2006-05-17 08:33:21
I've been considering taking the same drastic step, but I keep telling myself I shouldn't *have* to do this with a Mac. But my Dock has been crashing lately and I've wondered if my system my feel sluggish in general because of some OS-level corruption.

What I will probably end up doing is running DiskWarrior to defragment and generally clean up the disk. That usually helps for a while.

Cameron Hayne
2006-05-17 09:30:12
Since you determined that everything worked fine under a different user account, I fail to see the logic in reinstalling applications. The problem was almost certainly due to some file under your ~/Library folder. The most common problem is a bad preference file (in ~/Library/Preferences) and an easy way to test this hypothesis is to move the whole ~/Library/Preferences folder to the Desktop and log out and in again. A fresh new default version of the Preferences folder will have been created. If this fixes the problem then you know the issue must have been with one of the preferences files and you can proceed to figure out which one.
If that doesn't fix the problem, try the same thing with one of the other sub-folders of ~/Library
2006-05-17 10:15:34
Fair comment, Cameron and Matthew. I did consider the Library (and within it, the Caches folder) as possible culprits, but came to the conclusion (perhaps in error) that a re-install of everything would be about the same amount of hassle. The lazy option, perhaps.
P Brown
2006-05-17 10:40:08
Way overkill to reinstall all apps for "anyone whose Mac is misbehaving," unless the author uncovered something troublesome that he didn't mention and that would specifically point to a mass reinstall. There's a long list of things you can do in less than 30 minutes before you resort to reinstalling your apps. I can tell you as the admin for hundreds of Macs, this step is just almost never necessary. Reinstalling one or two apps that have specific behavior, maybe. Delete all caches, repair permissions, run fsck, run in safe boot (in Tiger, that will clean some things up as well), create a new user account, check your networking in ifconfig and network prefs -- these are just a few fast things to try first. Please don't scare novice users with advice that sounds like a Windows nightmare! Get a nifty utility like MenuMeters and have it put helpful graphs in your menu bar that can point to CPU, networking, disk usage, and stuff like that. See if any of the meters are peaking when you experience "sluggishness." Learn the basics of using Activity Monitor or top, at the very least. None of these practices is any more tedious or difficult to master than the old OS 9 days of removing half your extensions or fonts and rebooting, zapping PRAM, rebuilding desktop files, trashing preferences, swapping in a clean System or Finder file, and defragmenting your disk.
Alain Delisle
2006-05-17 11:01:26
Have you try the Repair Disk Permission function from First Aid section of Disk Utility can bring back some weird behavior from apps. You can try to check the log file with Console sometime that can help to trace the problem.

some nice trick


2006-05-17 13:10:08
Repairing permissions and clearing caches using a tool like Cocktail or Onyx would have probably done the same thing in about 10 minutes plus a reboot.
Keih Robinson
2006-05-17 18:12:37
Clean your cache files either in your home directory or /Library/Caches/ or ~/Library/Caches/ . I find with the machiens at work and the networked users this often clears up any sluggishness or weirdness. The other thing is use the plutil and check your plist files for possible corruption.
Keith Robinson
2006-05-17 18:14:37
The other thing is if you have the Developer Tools installed you can use the FileMerge.app or diff command to compare the files or folders if you wish to create new ones.
2006-05-18 06:08:40
Had coffee today. Tastes bitter. Poured it in a new cup, tastes fine.

"Dude, same thing happened to me. I put sugar in it and it was great!"

I wish ORA paid me to journal the most mundain aspects of my computing life. I'm going to eat a muffin, full report in 15 minutes.

Rainy Day
2006-05-18 08:00:20
This is extremely poor advice for novice users because what you did was almost certainly unnecessary (akin to shooting a mosquito with a shotgun). Your troubleshooting had determined that the problem was not systemic and was in fact localized to your user space, yet you opted for a system-wide solution!

Most likely you had one or more corrupted preference files, nothing more.