Frozen: How to Force Quit an OS X App Showing a Spinning Beachball of Death

From time to time, an app may lock up with a spinning beachball of death. That's Apple's colorful cursor that just keeps on spinning, indicating an unresponsive process. Because you have no control of the cursor to activate a Force Quit or launch Activity Monitor, it's necessary to invoke a keyboard command. Here's a handy trick.


One of the more common lock ups I've encountered lately is with Firefox and that spinning beachball of death. First, however, I must digress.

if you can click outside the app and recover an active cursor, there are several common ways to terminate a misbehaving app.

  1. Go to the Apple Menu and select Force Quit...
  2. Right click the app's icon in the Dock and select Quit
  3. Run the Activity, identify the misbehaving app, and terminate it.
  4. With some expertise, open a terminal window and terminate the suspect process. Details on that are outside the scope of this quick tip.

However, occasionally, a spinning beachball takes control and won't allow you to click an item the way you need to in the list above. Then, it's just the keyboard to the rescue. Because the misbehaving app is likely the frontmost app, you can type, all at the same time:

Command key + Option key + Shift key + ESC key

Wait a few seconds for the app to terminate. If that doesn't work, then your only choice is to force a restart of the Mac. See: "Frozen: How to Force the Restart of a Mac."

If you suspect some other app, you can try this to bring up the OS X Force Quit... function.

Command key + Option key + ESC key

Then use the up/down arrows to navigate to the app marked in red as "Not responding." Like this:

Then hit Return instead of clicking the buton.

In this quick tip, I've skipped over a myriad of technical detail here in order to highlight these two helpful keyboard combinations, techniques that should always be tried before you reach for the Mac's power switch.

Are there other related situations you'd like to see covered? Let me know.