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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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Aug 21, 2006 | 01:06:55
When Apples go Bad
By marcwan

Last night, after a nice weekend of varying activities (yoga, studying, yoga, sleeping), the plan was to lie in bed and read some Apple Developer Connection documentation for a while and generally learn more about some stuff I’ve been working on lately.

So, it was with some dismay that I sat down with Samantha’s PowerBook G4, clicked on Safari and got … nothing. The icon bounced twice and then stopped. System logs showed nothing, and the application appeared to be all fine in its folder in /Applications.

Uuuuuh. Now what? Oh yes, the System Console, in /Application/Utilities. It gave me the following very helpful message:

2006-08-20 22:32:29.825 Safari[249] Unable to load nib file: MainMenu, exiting

For those not familiar with Mac OS X (or NeXTStep) development, NIB files are files that contain the structure and connections used by the various user Interface elements used by OS X Cocoa applications. These are usually only modified by the Interface Builder application used to develop applications.

So what was wrong with mine? Some searching around the Intarwebs suggested that it might be a permissions thing. So I fired up the Disk Utility and that said that a bunch of permissions were all wrong (how did that happen?) and fixed them.

It really works...

Still no dice with Safari. There was another button on the Disk Utility to “Verify Disk”. That did not go well. Lots of red text and scary messages, and finally “exiting”.

So, in the end, I had to actually boot the PowerBook into single user mode (when the machine is booting up, hold down CMD/Apple + S), and run

/sbin/fsck -fy

to get everything working again. It took running this program twice to get everything fixed, and even then, one of the sub-nib files in the MainMenu.nib/ directory for was still corrupted, and had to be copied from somewhere else. Luckily, we’ve got another PowerBook G4 here in Beijing, or I would have had to harrass somebody overseas for the file.

None of this is particularly new, shocking, or difficult to figure out, especially for those who have run various flavours of Unix for some time. I’ve just grown so used to my PowerBook being extremely reliable (in three years of owning a Dell Laptop running XP, I never once had half the average uptime I get on my PowerBoook) that it’s so shocking when there is a problem, I’m taken off guard.

There is an interesting point to be made here though, and that is that there no way Samantha would have been able to figure out and do this by herself. She still would have had to go to an Apple Geek Lab (or whatever they’re called) – of which there are none here in Beijing – and get somebody to look at it for her, or beg a friend (who might not have known what s/he was doing and suggested “wiping and reinstalling everything”). As nice as it can be to use, personal computing software still has a long way to go.

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