Troubleshooting Mac OS X
Book Review

Troubleshooting Mac OS X
Everything you wanted to know about fixing Mac OS X
Author: Gregory E. Swain

Price: $15.00

Gregory Swain’s new publication, Troubleshooting Mac OS X, is 300 pages thick with useful information about what to do when your Mac OS X installation is misbehaving.

Except that it’s not 300 pages thick. It’s not really 300 pages at all, unless you print it. But why would you have to print a book that you’ve already bought?

Troubleshooting Mac OS X is an E-book; a book that you buy, own, and read (primarily) on your Macintosh. When you electronically slap down 15 big ones on the counter, via the Kagi payment services, you can download the 5.5 MB Acrobat Reader file. Once you’ve downloaded it, you can print it, or read it on any computer that has Acrobat Reader. I predict that most buyers of Troubleshooting Mac OS X (TMOSX for short) will read it on-screen.

E-books are a fascinating development; we’ll spend more time chatting with author Swain later on. First let’s review TMOSX, and see if it really is “everything you wanted to know about fixing Mac OS X.”

Right off, I can’t complain about TMOSX being a boat anchor: my term for an excessively large and heavy volume. After all, how much does 5,518,773 bytes weigh? Not much. Nor does TMOSX take up any shelf space. If you’ve got 5.5 MB’s to spare, you’ve room enough on your electronic bookshelf.

Opening the TMOSX file brings you right to the title page. It looks just like a physical book’s title page. The title page is followed by a a page of copyright legalese (more on this later) and then a very detailed table of contents. Why describe what all books have at the beginning? My point is to show that when you buy TMOSX, you are buying a real book, with normal book production values, that the author has chosen to deliver electronically.

But E-books can provide a more complete knowledge experience than paper books. Computer author and visionary Ted Nelson saw a bit of the future when he described his Xanadu electronic media concept. While Adobe’s implementation of hyperlinking in Acrobat is far from Nelson’s Xanadu concept, it provides tremendous power when reading hyperlinked Acrobat files, especially when on-line.

Beginning with the table of contents, Swain fully exploits hyperlinks in TMOSX. My copy of TMOSX opened with the table of contents displayed as a list of bookmarks in a pane at the left side of the window. The chapter titles displayed vertically, with the earliest chapters at the top. Each chapter title has a disclosure triangle, that displays topics within each chapter when clicked. The astute e-book reader will leave the index open, so you can instantly jump from one chapter to another as your curiosity leads you. Paper books don’t allow such easy navigation from topic to topic; you always have to page back the the table. Given that Swain wants to provide the “normal” book experience as well, he also provides a standard table of contents. But even those regular table of contents entries are hyperlinked!

You can be deep within a particular topic, and decide that you wish to jump back from whence you came. Click the back button, and you’re there. You’ve got the ease of Web browser navigation in a book!

Some users may choose to read through Troubleshooting Mac OS X from start to finish. Others may use it as a reference when gremlins possess your Macintosh. I read through the entire book from “cover to cover.”

In writing TMOSX, Swain has drawn on a small mountain of knowledge that he’s acquired over a year of participation in the Apple Discussion forums, where he goes by the moniker of Dr. Smoke. As he learned the most useful tidbits, he filed them away in a FileMaker Pro database, with many entries containing links to the source of the information. Some links point to Apple Knowledge Base articles, others may point to hardware or software company sites.

Swain presents his acquired knowledge, and the links that support it, in a logical fashion. The book opens with a good discussion of how to best move to OS X, including discussions about whether or not to format and partition your hard drive before installing OS X. While I personally disagree, Swain makes a solid case for formatting and partitioning one’s drive. Given that this subject has the ability to deteriorate in to flame war, I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not to partition!

This first chapter is a perfect example of Troubleshooting Mac OS X’s use of hyperlinks. This section is not a replacement for, say, David Pogue’s Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. It has Swain’s thoughts on how best to install and set up OS X, but Chapter 1 is also full of hyperlinks to Apple firmware updates, backup software vendors, Apple Knowledge Base articles about repairing permissions, and many, many more. It’s almost a MUST to have an Internet connection when reading TMOSX; as more than half the value is in the links themselves.

Swain has many, many great tips of his own, but his supplying links to what researchers would call “primary sources” is the extra value that hyperlinks and a ‘Net connection provide.

The bulk of the book is devoted to troubleshooting.

If you read a just a few pages of TMOSX, I’d insist that you read AND UNDERSTAND “Prevention and Preparation”, and “An Ounce of Prevention”. You’ll know what many have to learn by bitter experience; strategies for care and feeding of your computer so you probably WON’T have disasters, and what kind of toolkit you’ll want to have close at hand if Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) sends disaster hurtling your way when you’re far from home. Many Mac users pay consultants lots more than the price of this book to fix problems that could have been easily avoided, or easily fixed without a consultant.

Swain provides a good mix of tips for the aspiring geek (how to use the Console application to read crash and kernel panic logs) as well as useful tips for the average user with an average problem (a file that can’t be trashed). As always, he backs up his pronouncements with links to authoritative sources. Want to learn more about hard-to-delete files? Click on the link to transport you, via your Web browser, to the Knowledge Base article to see Apple’s official fixes.

The list of topics that Swain covers is extensive, so I’ll just list a few of my favorites; Floppy disk drive issues (mostly overlooked nowadays), hard drive sleep, problems from insufficient RAM, repairing permissions, and dealing with the Spinning Beach Ball of Death.

Unless you print TMOSX’s 300 pages, you won’t be able to read this without a computer. I know, some hardy soul is going to prove me wrong by reading it on a Palm Pilot. I don’t want to know how tired his eyes are going to be after finishing it…

But the ability to work with the hyperlinks with an Internet browser takes this work way beyond the utility of a normal computer troubleshooting book. You’ve got links to help files and software right under your mouse.

A 300 page physical book would cost at least $25.00 with today’s publishing economics. Swain’s $15.00 price seems to me to be a bargain, and it provides him with a fair profit. That’s a good trade, in my book.

While other OS X troubleshooting books may have more detailed information about more detailed topics, Swain covers many very useful topics. Plus, the utility of the hyperlinks more than makes up for any lack of depth in the material Swain himself presents.

Troubleshooting Mac OS X

MyMac Rating: 5 out of 5

David Weeks

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