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How to Stop or Force Quit an Unresponsive Program on Your Mac

by Robert Seth on July 21, 2011

(Click here to read the Windows version of this article)

No matter how sophisticated our computers get, the problem of programs becoming unresponsive is still with us.

In mild cases, a program will just “hang” for a while.  If given enough time, it may become responsive again. 

In more serious cases, the program just stops working and you get a perpetual spinning color wheel.  In the more serious cases, the entire computer locks up and must be restarted. 

While this is usually more of a problem with Windows based computers, MAC programs do occasionally become unresponsive.  And while it takes much more to do it to a MAC than a Windows computer, a MAC will occasionally lock up and have to be restarted too.

What does not seem to be common knowledge among Windows or MAC users however, is that the computer does not necessarily have to be restarted if a program becomes unresponsive.  I’ve lost count of the number of time I’ve been told by a client that they just hit the power button when a program stopped working.  Restarting your computer by simply powering it off during normal operation is NOT recommended. 

The computer should never be shut down with the power button when programs are still open.  This can cause files on your computer to become stuck in an open state.  Normally when a program is shut down, all files are closed and updated in an orderly manner.  When not allowed to shut down in an orderly fashion, they can become corrupted and eventually not run at all.  Always try to shut your computer down by clicking on the Apple menu and then on Shut Down.

If a program become unresponsive or locks up, there are basically two ways to force it to close without shutting down the computer.  This assumes that only the program is unresponsive and not the whole computer.  If the whole computer will not respond, your only alternative is a complete shutdown.

The first way, which is the easiest, is to simply right click (two fingers on the track pad) the program in the Dock and select quit.  This is really the same as selecting quit inside the program.  However, since it’s outside the program, it sometimes works if the program has become unresponsive. 

If that doesn’t work, then you can use the Force Quit feature.  This can be accessed in two ways.  The first is to click on the Apple menu in the corner of your screen and select Force Quit.  This will bring up a list of programs that are running on your computer.

Select the one you want to force to quit by clicking on it and then on the Force Quit button at the bottom of the window.  In my experience this almost always works and a complete shutdown is usually not necessary. 

The other way to access the Force Quit option is by pressing the Command, Option, and Escape keys at the same time.  This will bring up the same menu as previously mentioned and you can proceed the same way. 

If none of these ways work, your only alternative may be to just power down your computer.  As I mentioned earlier this is not recommended.  But sometimes it’s the only way. 

If this happens more than once with a particular program you may want to investigate a solution before running the program again.  Programs that continually lock up can cause corruption in other parts of your system.  This is especially true if they cause you to have to power down the computer to restart. 

Hopefully this article will keep you from having to restart your computer quite so often.  It you have enjoyed it and it’s been helpful, please leave a comment. If you like the site, please click the “Like” button in the “Find us on Facebook” box in the left sidebar. 

Thanks for visiting!

About Robert Seth

Robert Seth is a CPA in the Clark County, Washington area who has been serving individual and small business clients for the last 25 years. His business includes a growing number of remotely serviced customers throughout the United States. He’s also a writer and technology expert. He has a passion for improving the lives of others by helping them simplify the complicated stuff in their lives.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Ted B October 4, 2016 at 7:11 am

I tried your advice. However when the coloured ball is turning there is no curser so you can not activate the apple sign at the top corner of the screen As to those other
Command, option, escape I have never found this to work. My only way is to reboot the computer.


deborah May 8, 2013 at 8:13 am

I will be back to you again and again for future reference! Highly recommended! THANKS ROBERT!


Robert Seth May 8, 2013 at 11:26 am

You’re very welcome Deborah…thanks for visiting!


Dan March 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Thanks, this was very useful! I appreciate the detailed explanations.


Karen Knight July 27, 2011 at 4:00 am

Thanks for the tips Robert. My previous ‘solution’ to a frozen screen was to disconnect from power & remove battery, No wonder my Mac didn’t like me sometimes 🙁 “Force Quit” is my new best friend – and no doubt, my Mac will cheer up a little 🙂


Bill Fleischhauer July 22, 2011 at 3:16 am

Great Info Robert…We just became ‘Mac’ users recently and your Blog articles are very Timely and Well Done***


Pat July 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I can’t wait for your good advice for Windows. I often have these issues as you stated they are more common in a PC


Olga Hermans July 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

Robert, is this only for mac’s? Thanks!!


Robert Seth July 21, 2011 at 10:12 am

Yes Olga, this is only for Macs. I will be writing one soon for Windows so stay tuned! Thanks for your comment!


Matthew Hillis July 21, 2011 at 9:49 am

You can also right-click on the unresponsive program in the dock to select force quit.


Robert Seth July 21, 2011 at 10:11 am

Matthew, force quite does not appear as an option when right clicking on programs in the doc. Only quit appears there. There is a difference between quit and force quit. Quit is the program shutting down in it’s normal fashion. Force quit is the system forcing the program to be shut down when the program itself will not do so on its own. I know you are now running Mac OS Lion. I have not installed this yet so perhaps they have added a force quit there. I will check after install and update this comment if necessary. Thanks for your comment Matthew!


Randy January 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm

He meant on non responsive programs. It does give the force quit option if OS X determines it is unresponsive. Sadly it is not an option all the time.


Paul Crowson July 21, 2011 at 9:04 am

Wow Robert..I didn’t know about that shortcut…I just did it…had a problem yesterday with an online service….they told me it was the browser stuck…anyway this helped me a lot…thanks!!!


Robert Seth July 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

Glad to help Paul!


Tami Gomez July 21, 2011 at 8:50 am

Passing this on to my MAC friends. Thanks for all the great info you provide to us “non-geeks”! You definitely make things simple!!


Robert Seth July 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

That’s what I like to hear Tami…thanks for commenting!


Lori July 21, 2011 at 6:53 am

Great information Robert!


Robert Seth July 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

Thanks Lori!


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