Mac Support Resources Online

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2414, 2006-04-07, as a feature article, in both their print edition (on pages 22 and 24) and their website.

While even the most diehard Windows fans would likely admit that Mac computers have traditionally been easier to use, faster to learn, and plagued by far fewer problems (including reboots!), there may be times when your Mac computer is misbehaving — as a consequence of either hardware or software difficulties — and you wisely choose to first see if you can solve the problem yourself, before calling in the cavalry and whipping out your credit card.

Fortunately, there are a number of excellent websites that can help you identify whatever problems are plaguing your Mac, and then consider some possible solutions. Admittedly, if your particular problem at the time prevents you from even getting on the Internet, you will have to borrow someone else's Internet access in order to visit these sites and to perhaps download any needed patches for your Mac's applications or the operating system itself.

Resources at the Source

An excellent first place to stop on your technical journey, would be Apple's own website. On the positive side, their site covers all of the Mac hardware, peripherals, operating systems, their proprietary software applications, as well as links to for-Mac software developed and marketed by other companies. But to the computer user not interested in digital music, the site's contents and priorities make it obvious that Apple has been working hard to transform itself from a computer company into a multimedia juggernaut.

Yet despite the site's emphasis upon iPods and iTunes, it does offer the latest news on Apple products, without any of the rumor mongering or guessing as to whether the information is coming from a legitimate source. On a high level, the website contains sections devoted to business owners, multimedia professionals, and software developers — all of whom want to get the most out of their Mac investments.

When you need help resolving technical problems with your Mac or other Apple hardware, you should try the site's Support section. In terms of hardware covered, the iPod (and iTunes) again appear to outshine Mac computers. For instance, even after clicking on "Computer + Server" to select your product, you are still given a second choice of "Digital Life" (iPod and iSight), apparently just in case you would rather download music than try to resuscitate your Mac.

But once you pass that hurdle, you can get 24x7 online support with a technician via an Internet chat system. You can also read and search through thousands of support articles. Product manuals can be downloaded, in PDF format. There are discussion groups, where you can post your questions and hope to get responses from the many knowledgeable users in the forums; questions and answers posted by other visitors can be easily searched.

For operating system support, the Apple site has what appears to be fairly extensive documentation, including installation and setup guides, overviews, cheat sheets, tips, updates to the operating system, coverage of new features, most frequently asked questions, and discussion groups.

There's even a section devoted to "switchers", i.e., individuals who have switched over from Windows. It explains clearly how to perform on your new Mac the most common computer tasks that you used to accomplish on your Windows PC (or tried to accomplish). Their online guides discuss how to move your PC files over to your Mac, and what work may be needed to convert some of them to the Mac formats.

There is a wealth of information on connecting your PC's peripherals to your Mac, if possible. How to use Mac's built-in software, is also covered, along with a troubleshooting guide and tips on how to customize your Mac's environment.

Heavy Duty Help

If for some reason you find that your Mac's maker is less than divine in assisting you in your troubleshooting quest, don't give up hope, because there are many websites devoted to helping Mac users out of just about any jam (with the possible exception of literal jam, carefully massaged into your shiny new G5 through its air vents, by your two-year-old nephew, who decided that it needed to be colored "raspberry").

MacFixIt has a wealth of information, organized into various areas: "Products" include all of the major applications that run on Macs, as well as Mac OS X itself. "Category" organizes the site's content into such categories as business, finance, graphics, Internet utilities, multimedia, and word processing. Lastly, "Developers" groups the information by vendor, such as Apple, Microsoft, Macromedia, Symantec, etc.

MacFixIt features over 36 forums, many of which contain a remarkable number of threads — a few even in the tens of thousands! There are eight forums alone devoted to troubleshooting Mac OS X, with other forums focusing on hardware problems (any operating system), multimedia, Internet and cross-platform networking, software difficulties, and troubleshooting the (older) MacOS platform. There are dozens of reports that focus on particular topics, such as using Firefox, Microsoft Office, and Safari. There are tutorials listed, and even some online books, most dating from the late 1990s.

Note that the majority of the information available for free on the MacFixIt site, is limited to items posted during the past couple of days. If their free online help is not helpful enough, you could always subscribe to their premium service, MacFixIt Pro, which offers over eight years of Mac troubleshooting information, reports, alerts, release reports, and commentary from leading Mac writers.

Third-Party Help

Some readers may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technical information available on a site such as MacFixIt, and may seek a simpler approach to identifying the cause and solutions for the more typical problems seen on a Mac. Such readers might want to start instead at The Essential Mac, which has a free Troubleshooting section, which clearly explains how to identify the causes of the most common difficulties, as well as how to backup your hard drive, rebuild the desktop, perform defragmentation, do a clean installation, and other needed tasks.

A more extensive resource is offered by About, in the Troubleshooting area of their "Focus on Macs" section. Their material explains how to install new software, perform upgrades, identify Mac error codes, clean up your hard drive, install expansion cards, resolve software crashes, speed up your Mac's performance, fix keyboard problems, and dozens of other critical tasks. If your worst computer fears are realized, and you are unable to solve the problem yourself, there's even a guide on how to get Apple to repair or exchange your Mac.

However, you may want to first check with a Mac consultant in your area, as a quick visit from a guru can often be a much faster and ultimately cheaper solution than shipping the entire Mac back to Apple for repair or replacement, or taking it into one of their shops. It of course depends upon the type of problem that you are having, and whether your Mac or the application in question is still under warranty.

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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