When Apple Screws It Up

12 07 2005

One of my quasi-joyous tasks in life is bring front-line tech support for my Mom. Fortunately, she’s been a Mac user ever since there was such a thing as a Macintosh (yes, we spent $4k on one of the original 128k Macs. Copying a SINGLE floppy disk on that machine required 4 disk swaps. And used video RAM for temporary storage. Fun 🙂
Anyway. There’s an expectation with the Mac platform that “they won’t do something dumb”. That’s sort of a given with Windows (“Oh yea, that happens. Reboot”), but Macs are supposed to be more sophisticated. Smarter. Not easy to screw up.
This weekend, in the midst of our move, my Mom calls me and says “The screen is blank on the Mac Mini. I reset it, nothing happens, I’m stuck. The screen says ‘OUT OF RANGE’.”
No amount of fiddling caused it to come back, so I schlepped over there to figure out what was wrong.
All indicatations were that Mom had set the Mac to some video resolution that the spiffy LCD monitor we had could not support. “No problem”, thinks I, “I’ll just reset it… somehow.”
And that Somehow became the problem. No amount of fancy keyboard shortcuts, such as resetting the PRAM via a complex keystroke combo via Cmd-Control-P-R, nor starting into ‘single user mode’ and deleting the library preferences files for the user cleared the condition. Upon reboot, it would show the grey Mac screen, the spinny dial, then go to OUT OF RANGE.
I had 3-4 fairly competent Mac geeks on IRC and the phone working on this, and nothing we could try worked. In the end, I had to haul out an old Sony monitor (in fact, the one we had discarded in favor of a new LCD monitor), and hook that one up. Now that we could see the desktop, a simple click on Monitor preferences reset it to 1024×768 at 72hz (it was NOT set to that once we got the Sony hooked up. It was something… else).
My issue here is that a novice user completely crippled her machine, with no possible recourse, and she didn’t know how she did it. A malicious app may have reset the resolution, or she may have mistakenly clicked somewhere she shouldn’t have. This sort of crippling is almost expected behaviour in the Windows world, let alone Linux land, but on a Mac? ALso note, this problem would not have been able to be fixed by calling tech support. It took external hardware to bring the machine back to useability.
How hard would it be to have OSX have a ‘safe mode’ – something that Windows world has had for ages – that brings the system up under common default configurations. A sane video resolution, etc? I’ve tried the ‘no extensions’ boot key combo on the mac, and that didn’t work at all.
If there is a fix for this problem, is sure wasn’t obvious, easy, or found in a simple doc. I’m disappointed. Apple should know better.

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