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A few months ago I decided it was finally time to ditch Microsoft, and I purchased a MacBook Pro. It’s excellent, and I can’t say that I’ve regretted it in any way.

Except…

There is one application which has caused me some problems, and that is Second Life. What a surprise.

For the benefit of anyone else who is using a MacBook Pro, here are a few notes of things that I have learnt that are of use when running Second Life (these notes apply to Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) – I don’t intend to update to Leopard until the various issues with it have been fixed. Never buy the first release of anything!).

Nvidia Graphics Card Driver

Recent MacBook Pros use an Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics card. On the Mac, the driver for this graphics card is bugged. Seriously, seriously bugged. Using it will bring your Mac grinding to a halt within minutes, to the extent that only a forced reset (see Emergency Shutdown below) will get you out.

The problem appears to lie with Apple, although there are some question-marks over this. For example, although World Of Warcraft users have reported similar problems, it does not seem to be universal (personally, WOW runs impeccably on my own machine).

There are two possible work-arounds. One is to use a virtual machine with Windows (via BootCamp seems the best option). I have no personal experience with this, but I understand that it works well. I am tempted to try it at some point.

The other work-around is not straight-forward, but it is what I am doing at the moment. The key lies in using an alternative driver, actually for another video card (this seems a somewhat scary option, but I have been doing it for several months without problems).

Being able to specify an alternative driver, however, is not something that comes with the standard Mac OS X install, and is not straight-forward to set up. If you want to go down this route, the following link will take you to instructions on how to do this (it will also give some more inforation about the problem):

MacBook Pro Graphics Freeze Work-around

The downside to this is that some graphic options which should be available will be disabled, because they are not available for this particular driver.

The other downside is that this work-around does not really work under the Windlight version. If Windlight goes live without this graphics problem being fixed, it might meant the end of Second Life for MacBook Pro users.

Keyboard shortcuts

For the MacBook Pro, assuming that you are using the laptop’s own keyboard, here are the key translations you need:

Right-click: Click + Command (Apple) key
Fly up: e or FN + UP
Fly down: c or FN + DOWN
Delete
: FN + Backspace
Debug menus: CTRL+Option+D

Note that even if you have a mouse with a right-click available, this doesn’t seem to work in Second Life on the Mac.

Emergency Shutdown

I’ve never seen this documented by Apple (maybe they don’t like to admit that it would ever be necessary), but my experience with PCs prompted me to try it out, and it does indeed work.

If you ever get into the situation where the Mac completely hangs — the cursor stops moving, there is no response to any key-presses — there is a way to force the Mac to shutdown (being a laptop, of course, just pulling the plug out won’t help — it will switch to battery instead).

Hold down the power button. If the ‘shut-down’ dialog appears, you can breathe a sigh of relief, and shut down normally. If not, keep the button held down. After about 4 seconds the Mac should shut down (with a rather disturbing ‘clink’ on my machine!). You may well find that when you boot up again it takes longer than usual — I suspect that this is because it has noticed the forcible shutdown, and is performing various hardware checks (especially hard-drive checks) to make sure everything is still functioning correctly.

This is not something you want to make a habit of.

Second Life is the only application I have come across which has ever forced me into this situation. No comment!