Mac OS X Disaster Relief
Book Review

Mac OS X Disaster Relief
Troubleshooting techniques to help fix it yourself

Ted Landau with Dan Frakes
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-321-16847-X
684 pages
US 34.99 CA $54.99

I usually have a tall stack of books in the review pipeline, and new additions are added to the bottom of the pile. Sometimes it takes titles a while to surface, but when Ted Landau’s Mac OS X Disaster Relief arrived, it went promptly to the head of the pile.

When I began reading the actual troubleshooting sections, I began to worry.

“Did I make a mistake upgrading to Mac OS X?”

When I was half finished with the troubleshooting sections, I worried some more.

“Maybe I made a mistake owning a Macintosh.”

By the time I finished the book, I was really worried.

“Maybe I should just get rid of all my computers!”

After reading page after page of gruesome OS X problems, I felt spooked. But after a cup of warm milk, I remembered that I’d never seen many of these gremlins, and probably never will. My OS X installation runs well most of the time. But I have had troubles that took quite a while to eradicate. I wish I had Mac OS X Disaster Relief close at hand before my last experience with a disk I could not unmount.

Mac OS X Disaster Relief is not the kind of book you buy to get a warm and fuzzy feeling about OS X’s incredible stability, and how its bulletproof Unix foundation never crashes. You won’t find any of the marketing happy-talk that spews from the depths of Apple’s PR machine.

What you will find is page after page of specific and detailed fixes to both common and uncommon OS X problems. Ted Landau knows his stuff; he is probably best known for the creation of the MacFixit web site, and for his Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters. Sad Macs dealt with OS 9 troubles, and Mac OS X Disaster Relief is a more-than-worthy successor.

There’s no fluff in this meaty book. My brain was working overtime on many pages, thinking about the variety of different problems and solutions. Landau devotes comparatively little space to OS X overview, except in places where a fundamental understanding of OS architecture is needed. While there is the usual discussion of Aqua, and OpenGL, the bulk of Chapter 4, Understanding Mac OS X, is spent on a thorough exposition of the contents of /Library and /Users/”Home”/Library. Each folder, beginning with Application Support, and ending with StartupItems, is covered in detail. While this information could be found by consulting MacFixit, Macintouch, Apple’s KnowledgeBase, Mac OS X Hints, and, your Mac would be obsolete before you found it all. Mac OS X Disaster Relief is the best compendium of “what part does what job” I have ever seen for OS X.

Before reading Mac OS X Disaster Relief, I thought I knew a bit about OS X. I should, after plowing through over a dozen OS X books, each one saying it is the best in the field. But Landau is the first to say OS X has at least 7 ways of crashing at startup. (Apple does like to give the user flexibility…) Chapter 5, Crash Prevention and Recovery presents the startup sequence in slow-motion detail, and you learn exactly what happens (and what can go wrong) at each step in the process.

Crash problems are mercifully left behind when you arrive at Chapter 6, Problems with Files: Open, Copy, Delete, and Beyond. One of the first “gotchas” that drives an OS X newbie to run screaming from the room in frustration is the inability to empty the Trash, or to even put files into the Trash. Fixing Trash headaches is kid’s play for Landau, and you’ll learn several ways to solve this problem.

The best part of Chapter 6 is the lucid discussion of aliases, symbolic links, and hard links. Not being a Unix geek, I never understood the differences between these three “pointers to files” and how they differed from Mac OS 9 aliases. Landau set me straight in less than a page.

I could easily recite how useful the Troubleshooting Printing, and Troubleshooting Networking, File Sharing and Internet sections are, but that would be redundant. Every section is good, with golden nuggets of knowledge throughout.

Obviously, I love this book; its the best OS X book I’ve read since I reviewed David Pogue’s OS X The Missing Manual. My copy of this masterful work is already dog-eared, and I’ve had it only three weeks. Mac OS X Disaster Relief is a MUST addition to any OS X user’s library. You can read it straight through, from start to finish, as I did, or you can use it as a reference for when you encounter trouble. Either way, it will be worth far more than what you paid for it, as Landau will certainly save you time, probably save you money, and maybe save you some hair loss.

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

David Weeks

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