computers and online answers
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
April 29-May 5, 2008; issue 966
High Tech Office column
If you’re cursing your
computer, you may find this hard to believe, but having worked with
personal computers for a couple of decades now, believe me when I say
that they’re much easier to set up and use than they used to be. That
doesn’t mean they’re anywhere close to problem-free, however, as I
suspect most readers can attest from personal experience.
of the problems stem from interactions between different pieces of
software or are caused by poorly written drivers for the many pieces of
hardware that we plug into our computers. Apple’s Macintosh computers
are less prone to both types of problems. Mac software developers seem
to pay more attention to Apple’s design guidelines. That creates
programs that are generally more consistent and work better together
than corresponding Windows programs.
And because Apple builds
both the hardware and the operating system for its Macs, it’s less
plagued with device driver problems than Windows. That doesn’t mean,
however, that odd problems don’t sometimes happen to Mac owners, too.
colleague recently asked me to take a look at her iMac – a relatively
new G5 model manufactured just before Apple switched to using PC-style
Intel processors. It had an adequate amount of RAM and an updated
The problem: while it played sounds and music
in most contexts, if the owner went online to websites like YouTube,
the video clips played fine, but without any sound.
that the problem was as she described it. That meant that there wasn’t
a hardware problem. The computer’s sound circuitry and speakers worked
just fine. I also confirmed that the computer could play music files
saved on the hard drive and could use its QuickTime plug-in to play
many sorts of audio and video files over the Internet. (Along the way,
I downloaded and installed the free QuickTime plug-in from perian.org,
a must-have for any Mac owner.)
All the video files on YouTube,
however, are in Adobe Flash format; maybe there was a problem with the
Flash installation on her computer. I downloaded and installed the
latest Flash plug-in, without improvement. Standard Mac troubleshooting
tactic: look in the /library/preferences folder for any files related
to the problem software and delete them. The program should create new,
default preferences next time it runs. That didn’t solve the problem.
maybe the problem was with Apple’s Safari web browser. I downloaded the
Mac version of the Firefox browser. No luck; it too played YouTube
Flash video clips silently.
For any software-based problem on
any computer, there’s always the last resort apocalyptic solution:
erase the hard drive and reinstall the operating system and
applications. (Hopefully backing up the user’s data first!) It’s
traumatic and time consuming and so should be avoided if at all
possible, but it does almost always work. But before nuking someone’s
hard drive, it’s worthwhile checking online. For Mac users, Apple hosts
user discussions on technical support issues: discussions.apple.com.
the Apple discussions page for “YouTube no sound” showed me that a lot
of people have had this problem on their Macs. And the first discussion
of the problem offered a suggestion: open Apple’s Garage Band audio
application and play anything; apparently this resets system-wide sound
settings, along the way fixing the YouTube problem.
solution worked for the person posting the problem online, and – a
moment or two after reading the tip, it worked for me. Who would have
The moral: computers are complicated systems and all
are prone to problems. Most can be fixed, however, and most of the
time, someone has had the same problem as you and posted the solution
online. Often, as in this case, the solution may be quick and easy, but
non-intuitive. Before giving up, check online. Remember, Google is your