Fast Forward

Fast Forward's Help File

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, December 7, 2008

QMy Mac's Accounts preferences window has gone blank. I can still log into my account on the computer and use my files, but when I open System Preferences and click on the Accounts icon, nothing shows up there.

AThis bizarre malfunction cropped up on an in-law's iBook several months ago. It didn't seem to hurt the machine, but it didn't seem like the kind of thing to ignore either. Unfortunately, the few reports of this problem online didn't list any quick and easy solutions.

But a slow and easy solution did work: Mac OS X's "Archive and Install" feature, which reloads a clean copy of the operating system while leaving a user's files, settings and almost all applications intact. (See for more details.) After backing up the iBook's two user accounts, I inserted the installer disc that came with the computer, restarted off that CD and followed the installer's prompts.

Sometimes, you'll have to choose an archive-and-install reload (click the first "Options . . . " button in the OS X installer), but this time the setup software recognized the existing accounts and preselected this option. The installation proceeded successfully and kept both accounts intact, after which the Mac had to download several rounds of software updates and I had to reinstall one QuickTime multimedia add-on.

If only Windows had a troubleshooting tool like this . . .

I need a basic image editor for Windows. The little Paint program that comes with Windows has been acting weird lately.

You've got an easy choice here, the free Paint.Net ( It runs in Windows XP and Vista, has seen frequent updates and is more than a basic tool -- you can undertake some serious photo editing in this program.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or Turn to Thursday's Business section or visit anytime for his Fast Forward column.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company