Apple acknowledges iMac graphics glitch; my suggested workarounds

Lynn Fox, Apple's Director of Mac PR, rang yesterday to deliver the company's statement regarding a bug that is affecting some iMac users. According to Apple, a small number of iMac users have reported GUI lock-ups--the system keeps running, but the screen stops updating--that require rebooting the system. Apple isn't saying anything more about the cause than that it is related to graphics, and at present, it appears that rebooting is the only way to restore the iMac to a usable state. Apple apologizes to its customers for the inconvenience, and it will issue a fix as soon as possible, hopefully before the end of the month (this is meant to be reassuring? --TY). In the meantime, Apple is inviting customers that are affected by the bug to contact AppleCare for the latest status on workarounds and fixes.

That concludes what Ms. Fox shared with me, and it's all that Apple has to say on the matter until they issue another official statement. What follows are my personal thoughts on the subject.

If you're personally affected by the iMac bug, I empathize completely. "As soon as possible," much less "by the end of the month," is an eternity when you're waiting for a critical fix, but keep your perspective. This isn't the first time you've had to wait for something to get fixed. I have some suggestions to tide you over while you're waiting for Apple's definitive patch.

There are several techniques that I use to restart, or even operate headless Macs (Macs without monitors). These also work to do a clean shutdown when the MacBook Pro display fails to wake from sleep, so they should work if your iMac GUI freezes.

  • An ultra-clean reboot sequence, meaning one that doesn't lose any unsaved files, can usually be activated by tapping Power, then R, then Enter repeatedly, with a second or so between presses of Enter. This should cycle through open projects and documents and save them, giving them default names like "Untitled1" if they haven't already been saved at least once. You can usually locate files saved with default names by using File, Open Recent within the app.
  • Always leave Universal Access turned on (System Preferences, Universal Access). Command+F5 activates Voice Over, which guides you around applications. It's pretty amazing. With very little practice, you can literally drive the entire Mac interface with your eyes closed. Don't forget to turn your sound on.
  • Enable Remote Desktop (System Preferences, Sharing, check the "Apple Remote Desktop" box) on your iMac. You may be able to connect to your Mac GUI from another computer using Remote Desktop, Apple's commercial remote management tool, or a VNC client (like Chicken of the VNC on the Mac; there are many choices for Windows, UNIX and Linux). When you first check Apple Remote Desktop, you'll need to click the Access Privileges button, check the "VNC viewers may control screen with password" box, and enter a password. This one password will connect to your Mac no matter which user is logged in, or even when no user is logged in. Make sure you assign a password that's easy for you to remember but impossible for others to guess.

Universal Access and Remote Desktop need to be set up in advance. It's important to practice flying blind before you're actually forced to do it.