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Mac troubleshooting FAQ: slow-downs and passwords

Christopher Breen, | May 6, 2011
Speed up your Mac, get rid of the spinning beach ball, and recover forgotten passwords


I keep seeing the spinning rainbow cursor in an application. I can’t do anything with that app until it goes away. How can I get rid of it?

Commonly known as the Spinning Beachball of Death (SBBOD), this cursor is the bane of Mac users everywhere. The Mac displays it to signal “I haven’t crashed, I’m busy. Keep your shirt on, please.” Regrettably, you may have to remain clothed for minutes at a time before the cursor disappears.

Sometimes the SBBOD appears for a very good reason—when the Mac correctly needs to spend a fair amount of time accomplishing a particular task. For example, you might see it when your Mac is retrieving and indexing six months’ worth of old e-mail or pulling together a massive iTunes library. In such cases, give the Mac the time it needs to finish its job.

The Spinning Beachball of Death

If you see the SBBOD frequently and you haven’t restarted your Mac in a while, now’s the time. Doing so can set things right. If, however, you continue to see the SBBOD after restarting your Mac, launch Activity Monitor to see if a particular application or process is eating up your processor. If so, again, update or do without.

The SBBOD can also appear when you have too little RAM or free hard-drive space. In such cases you may see the SBBOD anywhere—even in the Finder. And, of course, if an application is completely hung up, it can display this loathsome ball. Force-quitting the application will take care of a hung-up app. (You can force-quit applications from within Activity Monitor by selecting the application and clicking the Quit Process button at the top of the window. Or simply press Command-Option-Escape; select the misbehaving application in the Force Quit Applications window, displayed in red; and then click the Force Quit button.)


My hard drive is almost out of space. What’s taking up all that room?

Start with the usual suspects. If you’ve installed iLife but you’ll never use GarageBand, go to /Library/Application Support and toss out the GarageBand folder; it contains nearly 5GB of audio files. Move to the Audio folder in that same Library folder and you’ll discover an Apple Loops folder that may have another gigabyte of audio files. You can toss that too. Similarly, the iDVD folder, within the Application Support folder, weighs in at just over 2GB. If you don’t use iDVD, out it goes.

Next, locate your iPhoto Library file, or Aperture Library file if you use Aperture (found by default in youruserfolder/Photos), and Control-click on it. Select the iPod Photo Cache folder and press Command-I to get the Info window. You may be surprised at how much data it holds. Inside this folder are images you’ve converted for display on an iPod or iOS device—even those files that you no longer sync with your device. Toss out the images to free up a lot of space. When you later sync images to your device, iTunes will create new converted copies.

GarageBand files
You can free up space on your Mac’s drive by deleting GarageBand audio files you never use.


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