Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Beach Ball - Curse or Friend?

By Herbert Block

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Against my better judgment, I had learned to live with that most annoying symbol - the Beach Ball. The Beach Ball appears when your mouse’s arrow pointer converts to a spinning Beach Ball. The Ball keeps spinning until the application’s many parts are settled. Why did my Beach Ball hang on for so long - even minutes?

The "beach ball" officially is called the Progress Indicator. This appears when an application is busy and needs time to finish its tasks. The lingering Ball typically appears when a number of applications are all kept active (open). Of course, the quick cure is to close as many applications not crucial to the job at hand. If certain applications refuse to quit, resort to Force Quit (command-option-escape). You can readily determine what is open and the extent of activity by using the Activity Monitor application found in the Utilities folder. Despite repeated attempts to keep my Mac in good operating condition, the Beach Ball irritant remained.

This past week I had an experience that I thought would be interesting to relate.

I needed to install Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 on my Mac. That should have been a very quick and easy project. Over the years, I have installed many programs without a hitch. But to my amazement, the Adobe Installer Icon simply flashed and did not open. I try diligently to keep my Mac in good operating condition so it could not have been a machine fault. I frequently go through the process of repairing and verifying permissions with Disk Utility. I keep my hard drive from being overloaded. I even recently gave my Mac a Disk Warrior treatment. Also, I periodically clear caches and clean the system using such applications as MacJanitor.

So the problem could not have been with my Mac. Most likely the failure was the Adobe CD-ROM disc.

I telephoned the Tech Specialist with Adobe. Fortunately I was assigned a fellow who spoke clearly and loud enough so that our conversation was most pleasant. We were on the phone for nearly thirty minutes during which time he had me try a number of new arrangements including setting up a separate user account of my hard drive. He finally concluded that the fault lie in my computer.

Was the fault my computer? To test that possibility, I installed Photoshop Elements onto another available Mac. Behold, the installation went smoothly. Conclusion: the operating system in my computer was the culprit. The operating system had to be reinstalled.

I booted from my Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger CD-ROM and selected the option Archive and Install. That procedure sets aside the old operating system in a folder titled “Previous System.” To make space available, I had to transfer about 2 gigabytes of data to my external drive. Then it was a matter of watchful waiting as the new system was being installed. How long? About an hour and a half.

As soon as the installation process was completed I inserted the Adobe Photoshop Elements disc in the Mac, double clicked the Installer icon, and yes, the installation process was under way.

But my work was not finished. My new operating system was a bare, basic Mac OS X 10.4. To bring the system to the latest configuration, Mac OS X 10.4.11, I had to go to http://www.APPLE.com/support. I located the appropriate download site and waited another 45 minutes for the process to be completed. Of course, the process took a heavy toll of time, but I am the happy owner of a clean, up to date operating system. [Editor’s note: of course, you still must use the Software Update preference pane in System Preferences to make sure you are completely up to date.]

But the very best benefit resulting from my trouble trying to install Photoshop Elements is that the duration of the ever-present Beach Ball has been very substantially reduced; in fact it hardly breaks through.

Conclusion: If you have a Beach Ball hanging on and on, you should give your Mac a thorough fitness treatment, including possibly the installation of a clean new operating system. In that sense, the Beach Ball is a friend.