Imagine this: you’re working happily on your Mac when the dreaded beach ball of death appears. A program stops responding or worse, the OS X itself refuses to do anything but stare at you, blankly. You have a frozen Mac app or an OS X freeze. This nuisance can lead to lost productivity or even lost work. Here’s what to do when your Mac freezes or when an OS X app stops responding, as well as some tips for preventative maintenance. Let’s unfreeze your Mac!
What to do if an app freezes on your Mac
It doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible for a Mac app to freeze. Several factors can cause this to happen, and we’ll discuss them later. A frozen app becomes unresponsive and brings your work to a halt. In the worst case scenario, it can lead to lost work or a corrupted file. Fortunately, there are several options to try, and most are quite simple. Here’s what you can do when a program freezes on your Mac.
How to quit a frozen or unresponsive program
Quitting and then re-starting an app is a good way for OS X to handle a crash. You can do this from the OS X Dock or from the Force Quit window. To force-quit an app from the OS X Dock, follow these simple steps:
- Click anywhere outside of the program
- Right-click (or Control-click) on the frozen app’s icon in the Dock. A menu appears.
- Hold down the Option key on your keyboard so that Quit in that menu changes to Force Quit.
- Select Force Quit.
That’s it. The app is instantly closed. Re-launch it and try again. If you prefer to work with the Dock hidden — or if the Dock itself is unresponsive — you can simply bring up the Force Quit dialog box to perform the same task. Here’s how:
- On your Mac’s keyboard, hit the Option, Command and Escape keys simultaneously (alt + ⌘ + esc).
- The Force Quit dialog box appears with a list of running programs.
- Select the frozen app and then click Force Quit.
- The software will stop running and you’re free to re-launch it at this point.
If you’re using a maintenance utility like CleanMyMac 3, it has freezes covered. When CleanMyMac spots an unresponsive app, a notification window with a Quit button pops up, so you could force-quit the app without rummaging around in its menu.
CleanMyMac 3 keeps an eye on other performance issues, too, so if you'd like to get alerts like this one when anything goes wrong, download CleanMyMac 3 for free and give it a try.
How to fix a frozen Mac? What to do if Mac OS X freezes
Occasionally the problem isn’t with the Mac app, but with the OS X itself. If you cannot force-quit a program, or if the OS X is completely unresponsive, it’s time for a reboot. Here’s what to do when Mac OS X freezes.
As of Mac OS X Mavericks, you can bring up the Restart/Sleep/Shutdown dialog box instantly by hitting Control plus the Power button.
Option four, Shut Down, is selected by default. Alternatively, you can press and hold the Power button for 1.5-2 seconds to bring up the same dialog box. If things aren’t hopelessly messed up, you’ll get a chance to save your work before your Mac shuts down. If that still doesn’t work, a more drastic option is available.
Press Command, Control and Power (on earlier MacBook models, use the Media Eject key instead of the Power button) to restart your Mac immediately. Note that you won’t have the option of saving anything in this scenario, but it will definitely reboot your icy Mac.
Once your Mac has restarted, you might find that the hard restart has corrupted the file you were working on. Salvage what you can from it and create a new file.
Fixing a frozen Mac: the cause of the problem
As I said, freezes like this should happen infrequently. If you’re experiencing this problem regularly, it’s time to ask why your Mac keeps freezing. There are several possible reasons, so let’s start with the simplest potential solution.
First, the file you were working with at the time of the freeze may be the issue. To help determine if this is true, try opening a different file with that app and work with it for a while. If it behaves normally, quit and then go back to the file you were working with at the time of the crash. If the errant behavior persists, you may have found your problem. Salvage what you can into a new file.
Make sure that your software and OS X are up-to-date. This is easy to do with software purchased from the Mac App Store. The same goes for OS X. Launch the Mac App Store on your Mac, and you’ll see the list of pending updates, including any for the OS X itself. For third-party software purchased outside of the App Store, visit the manufacturer’s website.
Additionally, ensure that your Mac has enough free hard drive space for the OS X, and enough free RAM to do what you want. CleanMyMac 3 can help you here, too. It removes all the useless files that take up space on your hard drive: app leftovers, mail attachments, cache files, and so on. That way, you can free up additional disk space for the OS X without deleting any of your own files. Plus, CleanMyMac 3 keeps tabs on how much RAM you’re using and lets you free some up with a tap.
Lastly, preventative maintenance can help keep your Mac healthy and reduce the odds of that spinning rainbow wheel showing up again. CleanMyMac’s alerts like Heavy Memory Use and overall SSD and battery health notify you about potential hardware health issues, so you could address them early.
With day-to-day maintenance, your Mac can offer years of reliable work. On the rare occasion of a frozen program or even frozen OS X, these tips will help get you working and productive again. And software like CleanMyMac 3 can do some of the monitoring and maintenance for you, so you can focus on what needs to be done.