Mac OS X annoyances, part 2: The startup chime

Among Windows users, those who haven’t changed the default “tam-tam-tam-tam-taaaaa” start-up sound are often ridiculed by those who consider it an unnecessary disturbance from the computer. And while playing the default sound in your own home is one thing, disturbing others with it is generally frowned upon – like having an overly annoying cell phone ring tone.

Of course, it is possible to turn off this start-up sound, or change it to whatever you like. Personally, I turned it off. Now, I am a Mac user, and OS X is generally more sophisticated and more elegant than Windows. (Some even say “more stable”, which is a statement I cannot entirely support after using OS X Tiger for a month’s time – more on this in a later post.)

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Mac startup chime cannot be turned off. You switch on your Mac, and it will say “daaaaa!”. If you mute the volume in OS X before you shut down, the “daaaaaa!” will be muted also, but that’s hardly a consolation. You have to remember to mute the sound before shutting down your computer, and if the startup sound is the only sound you want to mute, you’re out of luck.

Obviously, there should be a setting for turning off the chime. For some reason, there isn’t any. You can, however, get third-party programs that do this – but it’s pretty ridiculous to depend on third-party software for something this basic.

I would’ve liked to know why this feature is missing. Mac fans on the net would say what they nearly always do when confronted with an obvious lacking of the Mac platform (like no right-click button on trackpads) – “Oh, but Mac is different; you just have to get used to it. It’s actually better this way.”

No, it isn’t. There is no good reason why I shouldn’t be able to disable this chime without any further ado. Unfortunately, it appears that the chime has been present in Macs since 1989. Considering the still-missing right button on trackpads, that is not grounds for optimism.

Here’s hoping that the next version of OS X is advertised like this: “The new feature Super Shush enables you to turn on your computer – without a noise!” The fanfare with which the allmighty Wireless Mighty Mouse was launched can still make me laugh (“Now Apple Engineers have made the Mighty Mouse wireless – and that’s without losing a button along the way!”).

If you are still on a PowerPC Mac, it might be worth checking out StartupSound.prefPane:
It should be possible to mute the sound on shutdown and unmute on boot using a shell script. I haven’t tried this, but you could check out and give it a go.
Psst is an application that uses the shell script approach to quiet the chime. It works, but must be running in the background when you shut down.

PS: I know that it’s supposedly possible to mute the chime during boot by pressing F3 or Apple+F3 when the computer is turned on. However, it did not work for me, and it is not a viable solution in any case.


21 Responses to “Mac OS X annoyances, part 2: The startup chime”

  1. Behrooz Molavi Says:

    Sir, Please find a good answer on the following web site, and download the StartupSound.prefPane 1.0 (v1.0.4) which I tried it and found impressive.
    B.Molavi M.D.

  2. Alexis Says:

    A friend asked me that question years ago (early PPC powerbooks G3 Walstreet models or so) in order to not attract unhealthy attention when booting in some offices (what’s the world gone to, hey?) and I agreed with him but couldn’t help. Today for some reason I Googled on the problem and found this page.
    1) “but it’s pretty ridiculous to depend on third-party software for something this basic” : still I don’t know a PC could even think about it short of physically taking out the BEEP piezo on the motherboard ;)
    2) “ridiculous / annoying” : maybe strong wording or is it the world again … afterall, PCs will freeze/BlueScreen (and likely loose data) on you while on MOSX a user tends to get “annoyed” by the chime ;)
    Just an observation from someone fiddling with PC/Mac/*NIX boxes for about 20 years ;)
    I think the word should be “astonishing” that amongst so many options (think about the defaults command in Terminal) they overlooked (or choose not to implement) this user pref.


  3. Are Wold Says:

    Thanks for commenting!

    None of my friends have laptops which make beeps when turned on. I have had desktops doing this, but it seems laptop designers are sensible enough to leave them out. My old AOpen laptop would probably have beeped on boot if something in the POST was wrong – but that never happened, so it never disturbed anyone.

    As for freezing and crashing, I have had my share of problems – but on both WinXP and OS X. Sure, a crash looks nicer on a Mac, but it’s still a crash, and the crash ratio has been about the same. I may be a demanding user, but I do run mostly the same applications on OS X and WinXP. My current theory is that a larger portion of the OS X apps I use are beta (VLC, Azureus) or just special cases (NTFS drivers). I hope I’ll come slightly better out on average with the Mac eventually.

    I guess OS X is streamlined for Joe Consumer, and that can be annoying for advanced users (and for Joe, when he sallies out of the mainstream).

  4. Jeremy Says:

    Macs DO have right-clicking mice. Do your research. It’s called the Mighty Mouse. While there isn’t a physical button you push like typical mice, the mouse recognizes both left and right click on its clean, touch-sensitive shell. Plus, there is also a scroll wheel in the middle that scrolls 360-degrees, among other features.

  5. Are Wold Says:

    Sorry mate, but I was talking about *trackpads*, not mice.

    I guess it is not entirely out of order to counter your “Do your research” with a “Please read before posting”. ;)

  6. Staffan Says:

    A very useful tip is to enable a “virtual” right trackpad button, used by having two fingers on the trackpad when clicking. (Found in the mouse/keyboard system settings, at least on MacBooks).

    It might sound messy, but it is very easy to get used to and I now find it more comfortable than having two buttons. This function also goes well wih the scrolling done by two fingers.

    Holiday greetings from Sweden!

  7. John Says:

    Actually, the startup sound does serve a small purpose and probably one of the reasons Apple doesn’t make it easy to turn off. When you power up the machine, there’s several quick diagnostic checks. If something is very wrong with a peice of your hardware, you’ll hear a broken glass sound instead of the startup chime. Of course, if there’s something severely wrong with your hardware, you’ll probably notice that it’s just not working, but when you hear the sound, at least you know everything’s a-ok or something’s busted right away.

  8. Boban Says:

    The trackpads also have right clicking. You put two fingers on the trackpad, and click. Presto, a right click.

    If it’s turned off, you can turn it on in Mouse preferences. This, along with the associated two finger scrolling feature, give the Apple trackpads plenty of features and still remain very elegant looking.

    They even have horizontal scrolling.

  9. john Says:

    Yah startup chime is so annoying!!! In fact it is single worst thing I hate about Apple. Imagine- every time I restart computer to switch back and forward between OSX and XP I have to listen to this crap!

    Track pad with single button is a relic. I believe at some point mac will get 2 buttons. Why relic? Do you remember how stubborn Apple was about their power pc processors? Now we see intel inside!!! Yah imagine playing games with 2 fingers on trackpad + using keyboard…

    Word about OSx stability. Well after using it for 4 months I can say something. Macs do freeze. Macs do crash. Macs do require restart after installing some programs/updates. Media playback suck on mac.
    Before you will try to swear at me about the last sentence lets clarify. By default mac flagship player comes without full screen and without repeat one/ all functions!!! How mediocre is that? Then add inability to play windows media files out of the box… And even Flip for Mac suck too. Consider doing opposite- playing quick time media on windows- works better doesn’t?
    Of course there are some full screen work arounds- scrips (tried, but don’t like it), playing stuff in itunes, VLC (so far the best player on mac), money- buy pro version. However to cripple this function on freeware version is a sin.

    Then there is biggest Apple scam on earth- SURPRISE! – your external DVD burners became readers only!!! Out of the box. For free. Thanks god there is a third party work around which works good. But how about blue ray what ever ? Well lets see untill this technology will kick in.

    When mac freezes it is somehow better than on windows. On windows it will take forever to kill faulty program because task manager doesn’t work 99%. Plus all these nag screens-do YOU WANT to close this program? NO, I am just playing…:). On mac you can kill program easily, besides it seems other things mostly work. Couple times I had to restart because dvd player freezed Mac (scratched DVD of course).

    In 4 months I saw only one crash ( with dialog box), on windows that happened much more, but I was constant windows user… We will see.

    Restart is required after installation of some programs or OSx updates. Its is needed less than on windows.

    What else I hate on mac? Generally OSX works better than windows xp. But I still need windows to play games or use some programs which are unavailable for mac… Mac games are more expensive than windows plus less available. You can find decent freeware for windows, but less for mac. You are most lucky with open source programs. Freeware stuff are in general made for either mac or windows. Paidware is somehow more expensive for mac than smilar programs for windows. It doesn’t apply when the same company makes stuff for both oses.


  10. Ben Says:

    I myself am an avid windows user, however I use mac a ton as well. (my MBP is bootcamped and I use the windows side the most) I have found Windows to be the most stable and easiest to work with. (Odd, I know) OSX crashes on me all the time, usually when I run programs that have been ported from windows though.

    ANYWAYS with that out of the way, I find it retarded as heck to not have an option to change the startup sound, or change it’s volume. Relying on third party things for this is ridiculous. And don’t get me started on the people saying “mighty mouse has right click!, or “Do the two finger click, that works”, or “not having a right click button makes the trackpad look pretty” … on that last one, give me something that looks like shit if it works how it should. Aesthetics should never win over functionality. (though I must say the MBP looks quite sexy, but I would gladly give it a right click) and I have never like the mighty mouse’s “right click” I never could get it to recognize that I was pressing on the right side. (tried a few different ones too) I always had to click and hold for a long time for the right click menu to show up. I plugged in my mouse made for windows, and It works right away, with a true right click. So osx has right click… but their products do not. oh… and no true delete on the MBP? Macs are not the perfect machine people want to say they are. (nor is windows) and in different ways, in my opinion, they both equal out. But for me, someone who likes options, customization, freeware, …full screen videos out of the box, real right click and real delete… I do choose windows. Whenever I want cleanliness and an all around streamlined work environment, I choose osx.

    my take. I have used both for a long time, and I like both… so I like to think I am unbiased.

  11. Are Wold Says:

    You have many good points. In my experience, OS X 10.4.9 isn’t any more stable than Win XP SP2 when you leave viruses/spyware out of the equation. Which is really sad, because stability was one of the arguments that made me go for a Mac.

    For Joe Average I would say the no virus/spyware thing is really important, but I managed to avoid that stuff on my Windows laptop too, so although it’s nice, it’s not that much of a big deal to me. I’m still hoping most crashes I suffer are caused by the transition to Intel, and that I’ll become more stable as time moves on.

    Apple has a lot of things to learn from Windows. Like you mention- full-screen video out of the box (thank god for VLC!), right mouse button, file system navigation (after a year of trying hard, I think I am still faster with Windows Explorer than Finder…), startup sound control. Sadly, better WMV compatability is also an issue. These small annoyances all add up.

    With that said, I have tried Vista, I have it on my desktop machine (only used for gaming), and it stinks, flat out. I run XP through Parallels on the Mac. Overall, I prefer OS X. I would be a lot happier, though, if it really was rock solid, had consistent keyboard layouts (for instance, take the keyboard shortcut for skipping to the next word – ctrl+arrow, alt+arrow or apple+arrow?), keyboard shortcuts for everything and in general gave the user more control.

    For the record, I’m doing fine with Fn+Backspace for delete. ;) And having access to a real shell is a treat. I do wish it had a status indicator for disk activity sometimes. Particularly when it has crashed, and it is hard to know whether it is working or not.

  12. Jim Says:

    For the disk activity indicator, check out MenuMeters

  13. Are Wold Says:

    Thanks for the tip – that’s a really neat utility. Of course, I expect the disk indicator widget will stop working when everything else freezes too – that’s the disadvantage of not having hardware-based indicators…

  14. Citizen Nate Says:

    I would have to say all modern desktop OSes suck. Macs have the obvious Startup sound, and gaping security holes like single-user mode. Windows has horrible graphics repainting (If you’ve ever seen a closing window slowly disappear down the screen), and makes a habit of editing RFCs. Both Mac OS X and Windows rely on the downloading of third-party applications, which leaves the user open to identity theft and many unwanted Ads (Although I’ve only seen this on the computer of my friend who downloads way to much from limewire). Linux obviously avoids this problem by trusting a single source (the designer of the OS), and downloading all applications from it. The only problem is that Linux is really just Unix with a small graphical layer. I could not imagine trying to set up secure file-sharing from Linux w/o terminal. For Linux to become a truly viable desktop OS, it needs a large renovation. Yell at me all you want, I’ll forget about this post in a few hours.

  15. Gus Says:

    For all of the techs that seem to have read or posted on this, unless I missed it, I’m surprised no one has mentioned that all you have to do is use ctrl + click and that is your right click an has been for as long as I have ever owned a mac. But other then that good points, I’m still an avid mac user, but that is only because i use an Xbox to game, and i don’t need CAD or MLS so no need to go to WinXP or other. i guess I’m just an average joe consumer. -Joe

  16. Marcus Says:

    I know little about Windows today, for I’m not using it since win 3.1
    I switched to a Mac some time ago, and I’m quite happy with the choice, but the startup chime thing really sucks. It may be as useful and as pretty as you want, but I still think the user must have the ultimate control. I mean, why isn’t there a configuration file which you can edit and write, say, “StartupChime=no”? After all, OS *does* have control over the chime, since muting the speakers mutes the chime too, right?
    I own a Linux box too, and though I’m not skilled enough to work with the system files, I know I *could* do the stuff, if I had the skills, or if I read somewhere what to do.
    My motto is “If you messed your box up, next time think twice”. I just don’t like stupid-proof thinks.

  17. deMute Says:

    Well thanks for the link to the mute utility :) Damn I hated that noise! Now I guess I’m lucky enough to have not had a hardware yet but if I do I assume my breakingglass sound will be muted too? Either way I don’t understand the idea that to appreciate the breakingglass sound I must spend my life being tortured by the f’ing annoying noise?! Surely this would have the opposite effect as I would tend towards thinking, “thankfully, something other than that damn noise!”
    Am I the only one that has to deal with the stuttering when I startup with an external drive plugged in?
    ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bong! Argh! Has anyone every done a comparative study of suicide rates between OS X and XP? :|

  18. AKWriter Says:

    What about that awful sproing noise that the finder makes when you drag/drop files? I can’t find anyone else complaining about it, but it just started a few months ago in one of my last OS X updates, and it drives me nuts. Is it just me? Changing sound preferences in the prefs panel does not affect it. Aughhhh!!!!

  19. Horris Says:

    There is a tool around that kills the startup chime. It’s a commercial one called “Startup chime stopper”. Go to VersionTracker for further details.

  20. simon Says:

    I have the opposite issue – am trying to turn on my startup chime on powerbook G4!

    Any advice out there?

  21. Levi Says:

    I am a UI designer, I prefer Mac to Win, but I use both (more mac).

    This is year 2010 and I am angry as hell, because this startup chime is an issue. I have the startupsound.prefpane, but sometimes it does not work. I normally mute before I shut down, but sometimes I forget. I am a human – that is the problem.

    I can understand that there are situations when you need to roger something what is ok, but this is not my computer startup. It should just start silently all the time. I cannot tolerate any other way. Maybe there should be a sound, when something is not ok, but maybe a warning enough. If there is a problem with my display I will recognize soon that I cannot see anything. But this sound is a real punishment for the users and this is against the respect for users.

    Mac good at UI design. Really. But in this question designers or the management or I do not know who, but someone failed. And I should hear that irritating sound every time when I start my laptop (and do not tell me it is not every day, because I know. I never tolerate this sound, even if I just need to hear once in a month. Never. Irritating, unnecessary, useless in the user workflow – I can tell you thousands of reasons why I do not need this sound).

    I wont change to Windows or to Unix, but I will hate apple for this sound every time, when I hear it and I am shamed when anyone else need to hear it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: