Apple and The Blue Screen of Death, the Truth

by Hadley Stern May 29, 2003

image It still amazes me these days when a Mac loses it. I’m not talking about just a freeze which, thanks to OS X, is now much rarer than it used to be? I’m talking about the blue screen of death. Or the gray one. It doesn’t really matter what color it is, your Mac is still dead. Now before you start hoping that I am going to recommend that one utility (Norton maybe?) or trick (make sure you turn off your Mac when the moon is full, Unix runs some unbinding rebinding thingy process that is very necessary) I’m not. I don’t have the answer.  I have a demand. It has to stop. An example? A co-worker recently switched. He is the proud owner of a 6 month-old iMac when suddenly it won’t start up. It gets stuck on the gray screen. He uses this machine for surfing the web, iTunes and writing in Word, not exactly pushing the computer to the limit. Why, he asks me, should he have to schlep his machine into the Apple store six months after buying it and why should he have to wipe the disk (it would start up in OS 9 but we won’t go there) because the Mac Genius says, “weird, donno what’s wrong with it.”? After all the branding efforts Apple has gone through to switch he experiences what the ad campaigns told him we wouldn’t, the (in this case, gray) screen of death.  I wish this were an isolated case but it isn’t. My work machine, which I admittedly hammer away at with multiple complicated applications, experienced the blue screen of death. The gray Apple showed up and then moved to the blue screen and stayed. Funnily enough (given Apple’s poking fun of the blue screen of death in its ad campaign) Apple does have a knowledge document on what do when your Mac has only a blue screen. What could I do? Nothing. The machine had to be reformatted and OS X installed from scratch. None of Apple’s myriad Windows-like steps worked.  I know I’m not the only one to experience issues and while computers are admittedly complicated beasts Apple needs to make a choice. Either stop branding itself as the “it just works” computer company and be honest with its customers and prospective customers or fix the problem. Apple is close. Very close. It has OS X which is many times more stable than OS 9, which is a great start. Now seal the deal, Apple. Now that crash/restart cycle has gone now focus on making sure machines don’t go dead, Make OS X better at self-repairing itself. The OS needs to proactively deal with problems before they occur. I do not pretend to know the technical issues involved. I just know that people desperately want crash less, bug less computing. Maybe its na�ve. Maybe its pie-in-the-sky. But this is what Apple is selling. Now it needs to deliver.


  • your experiences aren’t mine.  i have a dual 1Ghz G4 quicksilver (2002 model) and a 12” G4 powerbook.  on the dual G4 i’ve had two kernel panics in the past year and i’ve haven’t had one on the powerbook yet.  i’ve never had a start-up problem.  before my 12” powerbook i had a 600mhz icebook and it was rock-solid too. i would look a other causes than OS X - do you have enough RAM?  do you have good RAM?

    bonkers had this to say on May 29, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I am a mac support engineer in the UK. In my experience most issues can be dealt with by booting onto a firewire backup of your system (probably created with Carbon Copy Cloner).  Then running The Disk Utility to repair permissions and something like Drive Ten to optimize the volume.  If you have trouble booting to another volume try starting holding the alt+option key and selecting the disk from the boot screen. I run around 15 macs, 50/50 desktops/laptops all OSX none experiencing problems. 

    blueworld3 had this to say on May 29, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I used to have an occassional kernal panic before 10.2.3. After upgrading to 10.2.3 on my Titanium 1 gig, they stopped. I skipped upgrading to 10.2.4 and 10.2.5 and then upgraded to 10.2.6.

    I use a lot of different applications every day and never have a kernal panic.

    Roger Lier had this to say on May 29, 2003 Posts: 2
  • I had a blue screen boot up problem with one of our xserves that I had rebooted from the terminal with the reboot command (not doing that again). Several minutes of panic followed, then on a whim I tried holding down the option key to get the openfirmware boot selector. After that, it worked fine. Maybe your problem was similar?

    jdawson had this to say on May 29, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I’m a Support Analyst for about 100 Macs running Os 9 and X.2 I have seen one dead machine in the last 6 months that I attributed to OS failure. The other two I have seen were both hardware issues; in one case faulty RAM and the other a bad HD. The OS failure was 9.2.2.

    As Blueworld stated, I booted from a different disk (I keep a 4 GB HD ready for this) and fixed the problem.

    Dan Ebeck had this to say on May 30, 2003 Posts: 23
  • I experienced the orginal ‘blue screen of death’ twice (once each on two different computers) and the AppleCare Technicians were able to solve the problem.  No more experiences since that time (summer of ‘01 and winter of ‘02). 

    I have been using microcomputers since ‘84: Mac OS 1-7 & 10, Windows ‘95, ‘98, and XP (in my lab).  I think OSX is the nicest interface, overall.  However, there is still room for improvement.

    PLI had this to say on May 30, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I just had the grey screen of death on Monday on my PBG4. I was eventually able to recover using Disk Warrior, but it wasted an entire day. The worst part was looking bad in front of the PC weenies

    Ben Brophy had this to say on May 30, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Ben,

    What version of the OS were you using on your PBG4 that got the grey screen of death?


    Roger Lier had this to say on May 30, 2003 Posts: 2
  • I’ve seen a similar problem on my iBook 500, Dual USB.  I created the problem by deleting a user that I shouldn’t have.  I solved it by booting in single user mode (to the prompt) and running a perl script to fix permissions (which seem to be causing a lot of OS X problems).

    The perl script was provided by a friend I discovered in Apple’s Discussion areas, and I THINK I transfered it to my machine from a roommate’s Linux box, though I forget how.  I keep the script on my hard drive now, just in case the problem ever occurs again.

    If anyone’s interested, drop me an e-mail and I can send you the script.  If you have it on your computer, fixing is as follows:

    1) Reboot with command-s held down to go into to single user mode.

    2) Assuming you put the script in the Applications/Utilities folder, type “cd /Applications/Utilities” at the command prompt and press return.

    3) Type the command “perl chkUGM” and press return.

    4) Reboot when the script is finished running by typing the command “reboot” at the prompt and press return.

    Not the easiest, but not unachievable, hold-your-tongue-the-right-way and pray either.

    Kyle Adams had this to say on May 30, 2003 Posts: 1
  • The permission deal IS a big problem with OS X and this even gets talk in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Business section of all places. “My Mac isn’t working right?” (the dumb downed question) “Fix the permissions.” (the gist of the frighteningly efficient answer)

    This shouldn’t be!!!

    Waa had this to say on Jul 29, 2003 Posts: 110
  • Hi everybody, I got the same problem on a MacOS X.3.4 Server (on a blue G3). It appears after the “combo update 10.3.4” launched with “Admin server”, the server had never finished to restart, it’s stucked on the “blue screen of death” before the login popup. The only thing i can do, moving the cursor mouse on the damned blue (and blank) screen, all remote access are disable (ssh, admin server, remote desktop, etc…). However, all others services appears to be OK (or open), this server is a firewall, all the network traffic pass trough it but we got no problem exept this one. No more control of server… Damn!...

    Being a PC/Mac-User, it’s funny to deal again with “blue screen” wink

    Yot had this to say on Aug 04, 2004 Posts: 1
  • mine is a gray screen i hear the chime thing when it starts up. I restarted my computer and then it went to that screen. What can I do i have the mac os 9 disk. Any Suggestions?
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) I appreciate all the help I can get.

    T had this to say on Aug 16, 2004 Posts: 1
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