Mac Lab Report

Software Updates, Murphy's Law, Failure to Boot, and a MacFixIt Forum Rescue

- 2004.11.03

I finally decided to catch up on some old software updates that had been accumulating over the past few weeks, given the news about various worms and so on that are beginning to afflict the Mac OS X community. I ran all the recent ones, including Security Updates from September 7, 16, 30, and October 27.

To my dismay, after rebooting I discovered I could not log in. The boot screen stayed at "Starting login window..." and never got past it.

I tried all of the usual fixes. Starting in Safe Mode (hold shift key down) got stuck at the same place. Starting in Single-User Mode (Unix mode) got me to a Unix prompt, but I didn't know what to do from there, so I just typed "reboot" and borrowed my wife's computer (also running OS X) so I could track down the problem.

You know how these things go. I spent most of a Sunday afternoon reading and trying things. My purpose in writing this is to point out two things: An interesting reference from Apple's site that didn't work but looks instructive, and what worked in case you have this problem someday.

First, most references pointed me to Your Mac won't start up in Mac OS X in the Apple Knowledge Base, which I did find informative.

This article discusses a series of increasingly arcane fixes you can do to a computer that won't boot properly in OS X. If you experience a computer that won't start, displays an empty blue screen, gets stuck, displays a broken folder or a "stop" sign (circle with a slash) or a kernel panic, you should read this article. Lots of good stuff all in one place.

Unfortunately, none of it worked for me, even though "stuck at a login window" was specifically mentioned in a later step.

On to Google, which eventually led me to the venerable MacFixIt forums, where I discovered the following at the end of a thread discussing this problem:

"...I looked at the system log and saw that loginwindow kept dying, then checked /Library/Logs/CrashReporter/loginwindow.crash.log. It was complaining about a missing dependency (/System/Library/Frameworks/Appletalk.framework/...) And effectively, this Appletalk.framkework folder was empty. Copied it from another machine, and now everything works fine."

Well, thanks to tormod (who didn't have an email address in his/her MacFixIt profile), everything is running again. What these instructions effectively said to do was

  1. Connect two Macs (mine and my wife's) together using FireWire Disk Mode. Hers was the boot machine; mine was the FW Target (use T to boot with a FireWire cable connecting the Macs.)
  2. Do a find on "loginwindow" on the wife's machine, find the application, and copy it on top of the application on my machine in the same directory.
  3. Same thing with "Appletalk.framework".
  4. Unmount my machine from my wife's directory and reboot. It worked!

So thanks, MacFixIt, for once again saving my bacon three days before grades were due.

Lesson learned: Don't run Software Update until after grades are turned in!

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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