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Tired of restarting your Mac?

Forcing Applications to Quit

Microsoft has taken the last decade to steadily move Windows to a level comparable with the MacOS. In some areas, Windows still lags behind, sometimes far behind. In other areas, Windows has pulled ahead. One of the more publicized areas is that of system stability. Under Windows '95, an application crash will not normally pull down the entire system. When an application written for '95 stops responding, Windows will let you force the application to quit and you can happily go on working with your applications. If you're unlucky enough to be running an application that is not written for '95, when it crashes it will bring down all the pre-95 applications but, again, your computer will probably keep plugging along.

Now that all the Mac users out there are grumbling, you can achieve much the same effect on MacOS computers for all applications. And, surprise!, Apple has written the solution. It's not coming in MacOS 8.0 or Rhapsody. It's actually been around for years. Apple just hasn't let the public know how to do this.

What's the right curtain?

The solution is a small tool called MacsBug. From the strange, hard to handle name, you can probably guess that it's designed as a tool for geeks, err developers. Before, we talk about MacsBug for the average computer owner, I want to explain this strange little tool. The first several times I tried it, I was, shall we say, puzzled by the junk that filled my screen. Once you understand the basics of where this tool is coming from and what it's designed to do, it's very simple to use. Dare I say, as simple as forcing an application to quit under Windows '95. Just not as pretty.

For developers, MacsBug is a wonderful tool. In essence, it's designed to help Joe Developer play investigative cop (or reporter, if you prefer) on the scene of the crash of Joe Developer's Killer Virtual Sock Washer nee Excel Killer. Then the developer can start making guesses about whether it was the wash or rinse cycle that's out of balance.

Although you can, if you try very very hard, force a complete lock of the machine --for instance, where the cursor freezes in place-- normally when the computer crashes, MacsBug starts up. And starts instantly. There is no error message, just do not pass Go, Advance straight to what may look very much like jail. The screen will be divided up into a number of areas full of numbers and letters. Welcome to the closest you'll ever get to a command line on a MacOS computer (at least until Rhapsody). The important thing is that there is a place to type about an inch from the bottom of the screen. At this point the developer will start typing in a number of strange dos-like commands to cruise the inside of the computer's mind. A strange journey, needless to say.

Using MacsBug

Since I haven't scarred you off, it's time to explain the handful of things you'll need to know to make this little oddity to use serving your needs.

The first rule of MacsBug is don't panic.

The second rule is ignore all the odd text.

Once you've got those two rules down, here are the five commands to remember for MacsBug. And I won't complain if you write them down or even print out a copy of the article. Please, do. Frame them next to your computer. Bronze them. Just don't claim my article as your own. Fair enough?

The first command is the difficult one: escape. It's the "esc" key at the upper left corner of the average keyboard. On the small keyboards of PowerBooks, you'll find that it's wandered off other places; often down by the space bar. If you want to see what was on your screen right before MacsBug kicked on, hit the escape key. At this point, you get to say, "ahhh, yes, it was Bubba Wash 2000 that crashed". Was that program the real cause, that's harder to say. But, now you know what went in the dumper. Once you get through with looking at the frozen screen and the offending application, hit the escape key again to switch back to MacsBug. In fact, you can keep hitting the escape key and get something just entertaining enough for the average two year old. Of course, you may have fun answering the repeated "whaz dat?"

The second command is "ES". ES stands for exit to shell. Which sounds suspiciously like DOS. More likely it has a UNIX heritage, but we digress. ES tells MacsBug to force the offending application (again, for the sake of argument, Bubba Wash 2000) to quit and then to quit itself. My guess is that the shell in the command refers to the Macintosh Finder.

The third command --"EA"-- does the same thing as the second. It forces the crashed application to quit and then shuts down MacsBug, leaving you back in the Finder in all it's uncrashed, no five-minute restart, glory.

The fourth and fifth commands are "RS" and "RB". These are the ahh, shucks commands. As I mentioned earlier, occasionally MacsBug won't save you. Instead of searching for the power switch or unplugging it, either of these commands will tell MacsBug to restart your machine.

If all else fails

It's worth noting that if you find yourself caught by some seriously bad Karma (yes, that software your friend "gave" you will come back to get you eventually) you may need to know where the power switch is on your computer. This is very rare, but does happen to even the most stable computers once in a long while. And sometimes the powerswitch will not work --perhaps it's worn out. At that point you want to know where to find where your computer is plugged into the electricty and unplug it to shut it down.

I'll take what's behind the curtain

So, how do you get this wonder called MacsBug? MacsBugs is available from Apple's software library at Once you get to that page, choose "US" and then "Macintosh" and start scrolling. There will actually be three files: the actual program (MacsBug 6.5.3 sea hqx) and two files of information. Like most downloads, you'll need a copy of StuffIt Expander (available free at all sorts of places including to expand the files. Once you expand the files, drop them in the "System Folder" on you harddrive. The next time that you restart your computer, you'll see "Debugger Installed" pop up at the bottom of the MacOS smiley-face window.

You can test out MacsBug now, if you'd like. Start by running any application. I'd choose one that loads fast and isn't hard to reinstall. Even under MacsBug crashes can toast your application. After you start the application, hold down the command key (sometimes called the Apple or propeller key), the option key and the control key (usually there's a complete set on either side of the space bar). While you hold down the three keys, press the escape key. Then let all three up. This will drop you into MacsBug. Now you can try the different commands.

The "I'm not liable" section

As with all such advice, it is provided as-is, buyer beware, caveat emptor, etc. I've worked extensively with MacsBug, but your mileage may vary. At the same time, I'll be more than happy to update this page with additional information, so please mail me suggestions.

Note, the current release version of Macsbug doesn't work with a few specific models running MacOS 7.6 (and presumably 7.6.1). If you're computer drops into MacsBug and the display turns solid grey or the text turns yellow, you'll want to get the less complete, but still functional 6.5.4 alpha version from Apple's Developer World site at Apple's Developer World site. The link, according to Apple, should take you directly to the current alpha version, 6.5.4a1. If THAT link doesn't work, Apple may have moved the file or introduced a later version. In that case, check around the developer world file archive at

Further information

As I have time, I plan to update this article. With such things as spelling corrections. And ways to save the information that your crashed application still has hidden away in the depths of the machine. Yes, something resembling the Excel spreadsheet you're boss needs within the hours is still there. And if you want to save it, let me know. You could even try and call me directly. If you're on deadline I'll only ask for the pinky of your first born child, honestly. Nudge nudge wink wink.

If you want to learn more about MacsBug, MacConnect has a turotial at

For even more technical information, MacTech magazine has some hardcore articles available on their site (