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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Use the console to diagnose errors and solve problems

When you have a problem with your Mac it can be difficult tracking down the cause. It could be something to do with the hardware or software, but of the two, it is far more likely to be a software fault. The hardware doesn't go wrong nearly so much as software, but even assuming that it is a software fault doesn't always help that much and it can be difficult knowing where to start searching for the cause of some problems. Of course, if you are running an application and it crashes or doesn't do what it is supposed to, then it's usually the app. However, some problems are more difficult to track down though and one tool on your Mac that can help is Console.

OS X and some applications create log files that contain a record of every event that happens. This includes tasks that have been sucessfully completed and also errors that occured. Crashes are recorded too. The Console is an application that allows you to view all the logs that have been created. It doesn't just show historical events though and it is also a live display of what is happening right now. You can use the Console to track down problems.

Start the Console in the Applications/Utilities folder and you'll see a panel on the left with lots of catagories of logs. Expand the sections and select the logs and see what's displayed in the main pane on the right.

Console

Some logs are useful, but others aren't. Even the logs that are useful may contain technical jargon and information that means very little. However, sometimes you can spot useful bits of information in the logs. Useful items to select on the left are All Messages and Console Messages under DATABASE SEARCHES. Another useful one is system log under FILES. If you leave Console running as you use your Mac, you'll see that new events are added and the window scrolls up.

Run Console as soon as the Mac starts to check for problems starting up. Read the log entries from the bottom up, which is the most recent events.

If you want to check for problems in a particular application, select Console Messages or All Messages in the left panel and then click Clear Display. Don't worry, this only clears the window and not the log. You will then only see new events in the window, so it is easy to see what's happening. Start the application, use it, then check the Console window.

The Console won't always tell you what is wrong or how to fix it, but with a bit of luck you might be able to spot the cause and this means that you can do something about it. For exaple, if it's an application, then see if there's an update from the supplier.

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