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Mac OS X crashes: Radeon not guilty

It was the fonts what done it...

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Learning to live with Mac OS X Fellow Mac OS X adopters who have bought - or are thinking of buying - ATI's retail Radeon graphics card can rest assured: Radeon Mac Edition is supported by Mac OS X - despite all my curmudgeonly complaints that it wasn't.

I haven't received protestations from ATI - or Apple, for that matter - pointing out my error. No, I found this one out for myself, quite by chance, experimenting with the way Mac OS X handles fonts.

Last time round, I mentioned how my OS X installation always died whenever I ran some pretty essential applications, and how the problem was solved by swapping out my shiny new Radeon for the old Rage 128 board that shipped with my otherwise perfect blue'n'white Power Mac G3.

I'd already reinstalled OS X half a dozen times - and upgraded to 10.0.2 and, later, 10.0.3 in the most cases - each time without improving system stability, so it never occurred to me that this, not the graphics card, might be the solution.

<Spock mode on> Logic dictates, Captain, that when one process (reinstalling the OS) fails to solve a problem and a second process appears to do so, it's the second one that provides the fix. <Spock mode off>

If only...

The thing is, installing OS X isn't the straightforward process you might think it is. You've got rather a lot of decisions to make even before you even slide the CD into the drive. For example, do you reformat the hard drive first? Then, do you format it into a single volume or two, one for Mac OS 9, the other for OS X? If you've already formatted the drive into two parts, do you reinstall OS 9 as well as OS X when the latter alone fails?

Here's what I did. Way back when the Mac OS X Public Beta shipped, I backed up my hard drive, formatted it into two volumes, installed OS 9 on one and the PB on the other. No problemo - both operating systems worked a treat.

Come Mac OS X 10.0.0, and I - following Apple's warnings - erased the PB volume and installed the new version instead. Suddenly, half the bundled apps stopped working properly and worse, dragged the system down with them. To save having to back up the OS 9 volume again, reinstalling the operating system and putting back all my apps and documents, I just reinstalled OS X on the appropriate partition.

When I decided to swap out the Radeon card, I'd also decided to start from scratch by reformatting the drive - this time into a single partition; I'd heard it might work better that way - and reinstalling both OS 9 and OS X. I did, and... well, you know the rest.

Move forward in time a couple of weeks to this past Friday. I'm thinking that I'd like to take a look at all the fonts that come bundled with OS X. I run TextEdit and have a look at some. Then I remember that I never got round to reinstalling my third-party OS 9 fonts. I naturally wondered whether I should put them in the Fonts folder in OS 9's System Folder, in the equivalent folder in OS X's main Library folder or even in /Users/smitty/Library/fonts. See what I mean, all the decisions OS X foists on you?

I chose the latter (for no clear reason) and dragged a whole bunch of fonts off the Zip disk I'd backed them up. I ran TextEdit, chose Font Panel from the appropriate menu and... boom, the whole system bombed, just like before.

It looked to me that maybe the problem had been a font issue all along. Come to think of it, many - though not all, which is why it wasn't so obvious before - of the apps that crashed did work with fonts. So this time, I removed all the fonts I'd added and - wanting to be scientific about it - started putting them back a few at a time. Eventually, I narrowed it down to a single Star Trek symbol font, one of a pack I'd reviewed years ago and just left on my system. It works just fine under OS 9, but OS X doesn't like it one little bit.

This discovery let the Radeon off the hook, and putting it back in proved its innocence. It works a treat, and doesn't crash anything.

There are two morals to this tale. The first is that whenever you try a solution to a problem, cut out as many variables as you can to make it as easy as possible to identify the solution.

The second is that it's essential to bear in mind that OS X is more closely tied to OS 9 than you might think from running Classic. The operating system reads in the contents of 9's own fonts folder, and other apps may also access other contents of the System Folder, to maintain consistency of your preferences, for example. This is definitely worth bearing in mind if you too are suffering regular application crashes. ®

To Be Continued...

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