How to solve problems with your Apple Mac

Most computers work reliably for years, but occasionally things go wrong and there is either a software or a hardware fault. How do you track down the cause of a problem and how do you fix it?

Here are some ways in which you can track down the source.

Problems can be due to faults with software or the hardware and of the two, software faults are by far the most common. Hardware faults tend to be rare and when they do occur, they are usually obvious. For example, a disk drive may suddenly stop working for no apparent reason. A screen may develop a serious fault, keys on the keyboard might stop working, the battery in a MacBook no longer charges and so on.

There isn’t much you can do about a hardware fault except to change the hardware. Replace the disk, buy a new battery and so on.

Whenever there is a problem is a good idea to always suspect a software fault first. It is probably not your Mac that is faulty, but OS X or the apps that are installed. Software problems are very common and sometimes apps become corrupted for unknown reasons, sometimes they have bugs in that cause difficulties or even crashes, and so on.

When trying to identify the cause of a problem do not jump to conclusions. Examine all the possible causes and do not focus on one particular and obvious cause. Here is an example.

Suppose you are writing a document in Pages and the printer refuses to print it. You select the print option, but nothing comes out of the printer. Many people immediately suspect a printer problem, but there are actually two possibilities and it could be a fault with the app.

Is it the app or the printer? How can you tell? By trying to print with another app. Run TextEdit, enter a couple of lines of text, and then try to print from it. If it prints OK then it is not the printer, but Pages. However, if other apps like TextEdit cannot print then it may be the printer.

It still isn’t certain, because it could be a fault with the printer drive and that could affect all apps that try to print. How can you tell? By hooking up the printer to a different computer and trying to print with it. If it is a wireless printer that supports the iPhone and iPad, you could print from there. If two computers or devices cannot print, then it is the printer, but you really can’t tell until you try it.

If other computers and devices work fine with the printer then obviously it is OK and the fault is with the Mac, such as with the printer software.

A similar situation can occur with Internet problems. A website may not display properly, it may have faults, a page might not be reachable, and so on. You might suspect a problem with the site, such as bad coding, a problem with the server, and so on. But it could be a fault with the browser.

How can you tell? Use another browser. If Safari has a problem with a website, try Firefox or Chrome. If they work then the problem is with Safari, but if they do not work then the problem is with the website. By trying a different app you can work out where the fault lies.

Whenever there is a fault, try to think of all the possible causes and how you can eliminate them one by one.

If there is a fault with an app, what can you do? Is it really the app? It is easy to assume it is the app, but if you log off and log back in with another account you could try the app as someone else. Sometimes it works, which means that it is not in fact, the app, but it is something specific to your account. For example, the app’s settings have become corrupted.

Many apps store temporary data in caches and if a cache becomes corrupted then the app can have problems. Clearing the cache can solve the problems. On the Go menu, hold down the Option key and click Library to open a Finder window. Open the Caches folder, press Command+A to select all the items, then drag them to the Trash.

OS X Library folder

Clearing the caches should only be carried out in the event of a serious problem you cannot solve. Caches are useful and apps usually function better with them, so clearing them all can result in a slight performance hit until the caches are rebuilt.

The idea behind deleting them is that when they are rebuilt, they will contain fresh uncorrupted data. This can fix problems and in the long term, improve performance. A system backup is recommended before you perform any task like this. Restart the Mac after clearing the caches too.

If you want to see how much data is in the caches folder before clearing it, select it and press Command+I. This Mac has a massive 1.26GB of files in the Caches folder.

OS X Caches folder

If you are seriously short of disk space, you could clear the Caches folder to gain some extra space. (It's what clean-up tools to to recover lost disk space.) It is only a temporary fix though because caches are rebuilt quickly.

 

 

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