Mac: Fixing the Command-Control-D Dictionary Lookup

As I posted earlier, I figured I'd try calling on Apple Support to see if I could get a resolution to my shortcut key problem for the Dictionary Lookup. I had tried numerous things to resolve the problem, finally culminating in calling Apple's support team, to no avail. 

Yesterday afternoon (2 days after I initially contacted Apple) I got a call from John at Apple's Austin Texas support group. Super nice guy, saw my support case and he wanted to see if he could solve it. He mentioned to me that he had tried it on 20+ machines in their labs and found it to be a problem on 5 of them, though there was no consistency that indicated it was a specific build of hardware.

His suspicion was that my OS X installation had been corrupted in some way. The first question he asked was whether I used Time Machine or not. When I answered yes he said "Great!" then he asked me to run an Archive and Install using my original OS X 10.5 disks.

I ran through the process which I'll admit I was a little concerned with because he said that some of my applications may need to be reinstalled in order to work properly - mainly those that place files in the system folders. Since I had a long stream of backups in Time Machine though I had the confidence to try this technique. I told you Time Machine was cool!

It took me just under 1.5 hours to run the entire process, which includes cycling through both of the install disks that came with my MacBook. The progress screen gives a very pessimistic assessment of how long it will take - mine indicated 2.5 hours.

Once the process completed I was the proud owner of a Mac downgraded to 10.5 (from 10.5.2) and the Dictionary Look Up Shortcut now worked! It is a cool feature.

I immediately went about running the Software Update, which I had to run twice because there were further updates that depended on what I was doing; that added another 30 or so minutes.

After all of this I had to re-add my printers and reload my Logitech mouse software, then reconfigure my mouse. I haven't been through all of my applications yet but the few that I tested seemed fine.

So how did Apple's Support do?
I'm really pleased with the level of support I received from Apple. This was a particularly thorny problem, one that I could not find an answer to by Googling it up. It was pretty darn minor since it was only one keyboard combination that was not working - everything else worked fine, yet John seem to take this on as a personal challenge. It was really refreshing to get that level of support.

I give them a 9 out of 10 on this one. It would have been 10 out of 10 had the first person I spoke to (Kim) not dropped off the call and had someone else take over.

Do you have this problem on your Mac?
For those of you that have also had this particular problem you want to make sure you try all the usual trouble shooting (check preferences to ensure the feature is on and mapped to the right keys, make sure the Dictionary application is in the Application folder, not a sub folder, etc) before you try an Archive and Install. Make sure you have a good backup of your entire system before you try this too.

Once it's done you will have a new folder on the root of your boot drive called Previous Systems and under that a folder with the date you ran the update. Mine contains 2.06GB of my older system files, which I'm going to leave until Time Machine does a full pass again.

If you run Time Machine it will be very busy after an Archive and Install; mine ended up backing up about 21GBs.

Oh yeah, and that feature? Hitting Command-Control-D and just moving the mouse over words and getting a pop-up dictionary immediately? Very, very cool!


Paul said...

Oh dear! As I commented in your previous post I'm having the same problem but I haven't got round to buying an external drive for Time Machine :-(

How long do you get basic Apple support for - if you haven't taken out the apple care package?

David Alison said...

@Paul: I can't stress enough the importance of Time Machine (or any decent backup solution). External USB drives are so inexpensive now you should really just look at getting one.

I believe you get 90 days of support included with your Mac, unless you get Apple Care. Apple Care adds 2 years to your 1 year warranty and extends technical support for that entire time. If you didn't purchase Apple Care and are outside the 90 day window but still under one year you can add Apple Care in.

I've heard lots of good arguments from people on whether Apple Care is a good choice, both for and against. It's really a personal choice.

sd said...

I am not so pleased by the answer you got from support.
I think that reinstalling from scratch is not a smart solution. It is the easy way out for the hotline, not for the user!
And we still do not know the cause of the problem. What if Cmd-Ctrl-D do not work again? You won't loose 2 hours each time it happens.
There is a bug or something wrong somewhere (a corrupted pref file, wrong ACL,...). I think a good support should have found it.

David Alison said...

@SD: Actually I also gave them some capture information that they requested from my machine. The support person said they are sending it to engineering to try and identify what is causing it.

Ed Bortoni said...

People... please... no need to do all this. Make sure that the is in your applications folder and NOT in Utilities or somewhere else.

I had the problem, moved it back.... and now it works fine.

David Alison said...

@Ed: That wasn't the case for me, though it may be for others. Thanks Ed, I added that people should check that in the post.

VesperDEM said...

David, it's great to see that you got that problem solved. I had a similar problem with the Command-Option-D "Automatically had and show the Dock" shortcut. It would hide the Dock, then immediately unhide it again. This was back in Tiger. When I upgraded/installed Leopard on my Mac's the problem went away.

You know, I wonder if another program was trying to steal the Command-Ctrl-D function for itself instead of letting OS X do what it is supposed to do. Especially since it wasn't even coming close to working. My Command-Option-D shortcut would work try to work, but would undo itself right after setting it.

It's also great to see a die-hard Windows person taking to the Mac so enthusiastically! I was a Windows user from way back in the days of Windows 3.1. I had used Macs off and on, but always hated the OS (I used OS 7 and OS 9 and the early early days of OS X; Beta, 10.0).

When Vista was in Beta 2 and RC1 and 2, I downloaded the OS to give it a try. It didn't take me too long to decide I was never going to switch to it if I could help it. From what I could see, it's just a version of XP with newer graphics and GUI except Microsoft once again moved everything around so trying to maintain it for my parents would be a complete nightmare.

This is when I took another look at Mac and OS X and fell in love with it. I got a MacBook to start with in May of 2006, then in Aug. of 2006, I got a Mac Pro as my new desktop computer. I have been loving it ever since.

By the way, I also had a great experience with Apple Support when I was getting Kernel panics. Turned out I had a bad version of Cisco's VPN client. They figured it out pretty quickly and I was back up and running cleanly again in less than an hour. It's the only time I have had to call them in almost 2 years.

Krista said...

David, I've been reading your blog for a couple weeks now and I'm loving it! I actually work for Apple and I'm learning a ton. I just showed some people at work the Dictionary trick and one person bought a computer on that fact alone, haha.

I just wanted to respond to the Apple Care comments. One year part and 90 days of phone support come standard. During that 90 you actually get only one call, after that, $50 a pop. So, upgrading to the Apple Care Protection Plan is something that is worthwhile, in my opinion.

Also, I was wondering, do you have any other Apple products? If so, what and how is your experience with them?


David Alison said...

@Vesperdem: I am seriously looking at picking up a Mac Pro in the near future. I place it in the Apple shopping cart, then I take it out. I'm still bouncing back and forth over getting new or refurb. I got clearance from the tower (ie. my wife is fine with it) so I'm not hesitating for any particular reason except spending the money.

@Krista: Glad you're enjoying the blog! I've been enjoying writing it. Other than my MacBook we are a heavy iPod family - each of us has a Nano, though my youngest got an iPod Touch for Christmas and she's extremely happy with it. My oldest daughter also has a MacBook, which is a big part of the reason I ended up getting a Mac myself.

Overall we're very happy with the Apple products we have. Both of the kids still at home and my wife use Windows XP based machines that I'll be replacing with Macs when the time is right.

Tom said...

I have to agree that this seems to be a pretty extreme solution, but it did give you a way of seeing a new install in action. Archive and install under the hood moves your old install to an archive folder, then does a complete new install. It's a handy way to do a quick clean install without having to save all your data off the drive, and many people use it for going between OS versions (10.4 to 10.5 for example). Generally though, straight upgrade installs are pretty safe too, as the installer will always put down files that are on the install media, and this may have fixed your issue as well without requiring reinstall of all other apps. Since OS X does not have some sort of monolithic database like Windows does with the registry, things should just work if the files are all in the proper place and have the proper contents.

My guess on your problem is that the factory image that was used on your machine wasn't quite right, leading to the dictionary problem. It may not be anything more then an extra space or a bit flipped somewhere in one of the system config files for that feature. Since the install fixed it, clearly the discs you have are good. And the handy thing is that Apple never ships system images with computers, they ship install media that installs OS X just like the retail package. Usually the only major difference is additional packages to install machine specific drivers not rolled into OSX and such, or iLife, products sold independently in the retail channel.

In the future for major system updates (10.5.3, etc), I'd recommend downloading the combo installer from Apple, instead of using the delta installer sent down via software update. The combo installers contain everything needed to patch any version of OS X 10.5 to the patch level (10.5.3), so they refresh anything that also might have been broken by a previous delta installer. It's a little bit more effort to avoid needing to do a full system reinstall to fix issues like this.

David Alison said...

@Tom: That's a great tip - thanks man. I will do that moving forward.

Anonymous said...

Hi David. I'm a recent switcher also. I switched so I could have the best of both worlds. I think the solution was a bit extreme. I know a lot of people would be dogging Microsoft if they came up with that solution for a Windows issue. It would be interesting to see an install though on the Mac side. I haven't had the money to upgrade to Leopard yet. I will be running an archive and install when I do that. Keep up the good blog. I've learned a few things from it.


David Alison said...

@Sleepy: Glad you're finding some useful stuff in here. Yes, that was a bit on the extreme side (Archive & Install) but John was really trying to see where the problem was - the fact that it worked and with the Capture data I sent hopefully the engineering team can figure out what the problem actually is and ensure it either doesn't happen or there is an easier fix.

I've had some pretty odd incidents with Windows over the years that have required complete rebuilds of the OS. It's gotten better but even in Windows XP (don't know about Vista) the best way to clear up some issues is to rebuild from scratch. The Registry can get hopelessly complex and while there are aftermarket Registry cleaners out there that have reportedly helped I've found it most efficient to simply rebuild from scratch.

Ed Bortoni said...

I would NOT hesitate to buy your Pro as a refurb. I bought my iMac that way and I was unable to tell the difference from a new machine... awesome.

Mine actually had a "silent upgrade." It came with 500Gb drive rather than 320... Thanks Apple!

Charles said...

I'm interested that so many comments here think that an archive and install is an extreme solution.... I agree that the notion of reinstalling your OS can be 'a big thing' but in practise i feel pretty strongly that the MAC OS is the best platform out there for being able to do this easily...

i would be very surprised if reinstalling windows would have been as easy.... - the key area of ease is really not having to worry about your data... just re install the os, and leave all your files on the drive.... whereas if you had been using windows, you would have had to have a backup, re-install the os, and then spend a ton of time copying things back across manually.... The Mac has several ways to re-import everything (inc prefs, files etc) if required...

Also, in regards to it being poor support... I think this was the easiest and fastest fix available. Sure, apple support could have kept David on the phone for 6-8 hours, asking him to dig into inane system files, and 'lets try this, and ooo... lets try that' but 1. David would have been annoyed at the time taken, 2. Apple would need to employe thousands of new tech staff to be able to solve everyone's issues (driving up costs) 3. The same result would have been reached.

In all honesty the fix provided was the fastest easiet way of resolving what was really a very small issue....

David i'm assuming you went down the path of using apple support for interest sake, as much as wanting a fix to the issue ?

VesperDEM said...

David: Yep, the Mac Pro is pretty pricy, but how can any one resist 8 XEON cores! I mean talk about a super computer!

I would have seriously considered a 24" iMac but I already had 2 LCD monitors so I really didn't need a 3rd. :)

Plus, it's nice to have the ability to add more RAM as I need and HDD space without having to use USB/FireWire.

For me, it took a little convincing from the ground before my "tower" was cool with it. I have to say that there really is something to be said for marrying someone who is into computers as much as I am. ;)

David Alison said...

@Charles: David i'm assuming you went down the path of using apple support for interest sake, as much as wanting a fix to the issue ?

Yep, pretty much. With my first blog post I wrote "So what I want to do on this blog is give you a play by play of a hard core Windows guy experiencing a Macintosh for the first time." I figured I'd give out what it's like to call on Apple support since it likely figures into the decision to switch for some folks.

I agree with everything you write in your comment Charles - what they provided was a quick fix, granted one that took a couple of hours to go through - but a fix none the less. I had seen comments on several forums where no one had an answer so I figured it would be a good little problem to solve. It was more important for me to get it resolved rather than really understand the root of the problem. Hopefully the Apple engineers will be able to determine what caused it (and a simpler fix for it) and provide that for folks.

@Vesperdem: Well, I ordered a refurb tower very late Friday night. I'll put up a post on it shortly. I can't wait to get 8 cores of Mac OS X goodness going!


Hey David,

Glad to read that you were able to finally find what you needed from the Refurb Section. I'm anxious to read your impressions.

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, don't be surprised when you receive the system and find that it comes in a generic carton. It's the only downside to a Refurb that I've encountered so far.

Also, just as a point of interest, Apple apparently changes the Serial Numbers on all systems that go through the Refurb process.

I would imagine they do this to disassociate the system from any previous AppleCare assignments.

By the way, which 8-Core did you finally select?



Jeff Koffel
Takena Technical Services

David Alison said...

@Raster: I got the latest model 2.8GHz dual processor (8 core) system. It comes with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB HD. I also ordered 2 1TB Seagate Barracuda drives from Newegg and 8GB of RAM (2Gx4) from OWC. It all arrives by the end of the week.

It's going to disrupt my productivity somewhat but my wife is going off with her friends for the weekend so I'll be blowing the weekend playing with the new toy. Thanks for the previous advice Jeff - the comments from you and a couple others made me confident that this is a good way to go.

Tyler said...

Though seemingly unrelated, this fixed the problem for me:

Anonymous said...

"Command control d' is a bit of a handful... use the keyboard control panel to change it to 'alt z'