The purpose of this post is to create a quick summary of problems others and myself have encountered when starting to use the Catalina version of the MacOS operating system for Apple laptops and desktops. The purpose of an idiot chart is to ask a quick list of items and the reader can determine which items describe their situation. For the selected items, the page will then list documents or procedures that will aid in further identification and resolution of the problem.
This document is a work in progress. Please contact me if you have any suggestions.
Some Common Problems
There are a few entries on the internet containing lists of fixes for Catalina.
There are a number of issues that are common to many of the complaints.
- 32 bit applications are no longer supported. If a 32 bit application is specified as the default application for opening a file, the file won’t be able to be opened.
- It may be necessary to change the default applications for opening some files.
- There are some additional security restrictions on access to files by applications. Some of the directories that have had problems are network attached filesystems, Desktop, Documents, and Downloads. Some applications need to be updated to work correctly with these restrictions. You can also move the files used by these applications to another directory until an updated version is available.
- Some 64 bit applications will require updates before they work correctly.
- Resetting the System Management Controller (SMC) and/or Non-Volatile Random Access Memory (NVRAM) will resolve some problems.
- In some cases, deleting plist files will resolve the problem with the system creating a new starter file. Be sure to back up the files before doing anything to them.
- The Activity Monitor application can be used to find processes that hang or use unreasonable amounts of CPU time.
Some Things Are Normal
Some people have been complaining about things they have seen after they have moved to Catalina, but a number of these are normal.
- If you open the Disk Utility application, you will see two volumes for the disk containing the operating system. In my case, they are Macintosh HD and Macintosh HD – Data. The one without the Data suffix is a read-only volume that contains unchanging portions of the operating system. The volume without the Data suffix is everything else on the disk. There are also apparently some volumes on the boot disk that don’t show up in Disk Utility. I suspect that these are for updates and recovery, and you shouldn’t worry about them.
- If you select About This Mac under the Apple icon in the menu bar, you will see a window appear with information about your installation. Selecting the Storage tab will cause a summary of the contents of your disks to appear. Don’t worry about the big amount of disk space marked as Other on the boot drive. This is actually the read/write portion of the operating system. (95 gigabytes on my system) This is normal. There is no directory or file named Other. These are not files that can be deleted without damaging the system.
Unable to Start Installation
Not all Apple computers can be loaded with the Catalina version of the operating system. Apple has provided a document “macOS Catalina is compatible with these computers” and you should go through the list of supported hardware and minimum amount of RAM and available disk space. If Apple says that your system can’t load Catalina, don’t try to install it even if you have people telling you that they know how to work around the limitations.
A number of people, including myself, have had the system hang when running the Catalina installer. The system may hang with the message “Calculating remaining time” or “Twenty minutes remaining” or “Less than one minute remaining“. If this condition lasts for more than twelve hours, do a hard shutdown of the computer, wait thirty seconds, and then start it up again. You may have to do this two or three times. If you have to force a shutdown, do a normal restart using the Apple menu once everything seems to be working properly.
Application Won’t Load
One of the major changes in Catalina is that 32 bit applications will no longer work. If you look at the linked articles, you will see suggestions that will identify the vast bulk of the 32 bit applications on your system. If you can’t live without those applications, do not load the Catalina version.
Attempting to run a 32 bit application will result in a pop-up menu reading “The developer of this app needs to update it to work with this version of macOS. Contact the developer for more information”.
In addition, some applications will require updates before they will work with Catalina. Check with the vendor for the applications having problems. The vendor forums will normally have a lot of discussions concerning these problems.
Note: A number of people have complained that Microsoft Office for MacOS no longer works. The contents of this package were 32 bit applications.
Incorrect Default Application for Opening Files
In this case, attempting to open a data file will produce an unexpected response. It may indicate that the application is unable to handle the format used by the data or it may do nothing at all.
Each data file has a default application for opening it. The default application can be determined using Finder by right-clicking on the file and selecting Get Info. The window opened by Get Info allows you to view and change attributes of the file. Because of changes to the applications (32 bit applications being no longer supported and the supported formats being changed in some cases), it may be that the default application is no longer capable of opening the file. You can use the drop-down menu under “Open with” to change the default application. If you click on “Change All…“, all data files of the same type will have the default application changed.
Unable to use Desktop, Downloads, and Documents Folders
Apple has placed additional access restrictions on the Desktop, Downloads, and Documents folders. Applications using the normal Xcode work flows will set flags so that the system will ask the user if he wants to give access to the application for those folders. Signaling yes will give the application access. However, some applications, especially ports of UNIX/Linux software, use non-standard work flows that do not set the flags. This was true with the MacOS version of GIMP and a number of other packages. In this case, the application is unable to work with the directories and there is no way to add the access privileges. Other directories may show the same problem, especially shared directories.
Although the problem has been resolved with the latest version of GIMP, there are probably still applications where the problem has not been resolved. In this case, the simplest solution is to create a new subdirectory in the user folder (The one that contains the Documents, Desktop, and Downloads directories.) and move all of your work to this new folder.
Background Tasks Using Excessive CPU
If you use the Activity Monitor app to look at the five or six processes using the most CPU time, you may see a large portion of the system being utilized. This can result in the following.
- System responds slowly.
- System is hot to the touch.
- Fans run continuously or for long periods of time.
The first thing to realize is that there may be legitimate reasons for this. Some applications, such as Spotlight, may reindex large portions of the disk space after an update. In iMovie, the application seemed to redo the conversions to MPEG, which took a few hours. There may also be other reasons for this behavior.
The following process can be used to examine questionable processes.
- Open the Activity Monitor application and select the CPU tab. Click the “% CPU” column header until the processes are sorted by CPU consumption with the largest users at the top. (A downward pointing caret will appear in the column.)
- Pick one of the processes and double click on the name. This will cause a window to pop up containing more information about the process, including the parent process. If neither the names of the process or the parent process are helpful, click on the name of the parent process, and it will show you the parent of the parent process.
In my case, I found that the offending programs were part of Parallels Toolbox, so I uninstalled it. (This is a separate product from Parallels Desktop.) Other people apparently have found that various security and antivirus packages have caused the problem, with specific mentions of Kaspersky and Norton. I am currently using Avira, and haven’t been having any problems.
A major problem has been with login and startup items. Startup items are launched by launchd when the system boots, and can be identified by the fact that proceeding up through the chain of processes will have launchd and kernel at the top. Login items can be identified by going to the Users and Groups panel of System Preferences.
Bluetooth Audio Problems
There have been complaints about connecting Bluetooth audio devices when using Catalina. People are suggesting resetting SMC and NVRAM as discussed below.
The site CatalinaOSX (https://www.catalinaosx.com) suggests removing the troublesome Bluetooth devices from the list of known devices as well as the plist file containing the options for Bluetooth (/Library/Preferences/com.apple.Bluetooth.plist). The command entry
$ plutil -convert xml1 -o – /Library/Preferences/com.apple.Bluetooth.plist
can be used to convert this file into a human readable form.
Unable to Access WiFi Routers
People have expressed difficulties in using WiFi access points when running Catalina. This is especially true when dealing with access points that display pages asking the user to accept the rules for usage when they first connect to the site.
You can go into the Network menu of System Preferences and try the following.
- Try creating a new location using “Edit Locations…” in the pull-down list of locations. Select the newly created location and see if you can attach to the access point.
- Click on “Advanced” in the Network pane. This will show a list of access points that the system is aware of. Note that Catalina only shows options for “Auto-Join” while previous versions had options for “Auto-Join” and “Auto-Login”. If the access point you are attempting to join is already in the list, try deleting it and then turn off WiFi. Turn WiFi back on and then try to attach to the access point.
- There have been suggestions that the user should try rebooting in “safe mode” and then try to connect to the access point.
It appears that information on WiFi connections is contained in /Library/Preferences/com.apple.airport.preferences.plist which can displayed in human readable form using the following command. (There is also a plist-orig file that apparently contains the original version.)
- $ plutil -convert xml1 -o \ /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.airport.preferences.plist
Network Attached Storage
There has been some discussion of problems with Network Attached Storage (NAS) with Catalina, especially when waking from sleep mode. There are a number of different protocols for NAS.
- Apple Filing Protocol (AFP — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Filing_Protocol) was based on AppleTalk, but has since apparently been deprecated. https://appleinsider.com/articles/13/06/11/apple-shifts-from-afp-file-sharing-to-smb2-in-os-x-109-mavericks
- Service Message Block (SMB – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Server_Message_Block) was originally developed by Microsoft for Windows. SMB was replaced by SMB2, and CIFS (Common Internet File System) is an open source version of SMB2. Samba is the name for an open source library that supports the SMB protocol. Catalina apparently dropped some older versions of the SMB protocol. It may therefore be necessary to update your SMB/Samba/CIFS server.
- Network File System (NFS) This was another remote file system that was introduced by Sun Microsystems. There have been a few reports of problems with NFS volumes, but I don’t think many people are still using this protocol.
Some people have indicated that resetting the System Management Controller (SMC) has resolved some problems. The linked document will describe the procedure for carrying out this action. The System Management Controller handles a number of hardware related actions such as startup, shutdown, sleep, wake, keyboard and display backlights, indicator lights, battery charging, fan speed. It can also result in the computer running slowly. See the article for more information.
Another action that some people have indicated as helping is resetting the Non-Volatile Random Access Memory. The linked document will describe the procedure for carrying out this action. NVRAM stores some parameters such as display resolution, audio output volume, startup disk selection, time zone, and information about conditions when the computer was last shut down. See the article for more information.
- Apple Diagnostics – An Apple utility for obtaining information about your MacOS system.
- EtreCheck – EtreCheck is a diagnostic tool that is available on the Apple MacOS App Store. It has been mentioned on a number of posts in the Apple Community Forums