Fix a Troubled Mac

I don't often do book reviews (or indeed actual reviews at all), since I can hardly find the time to read anything these days except wads and wads of technical documentation (this is likely to reverse itself in a couple of months when things settle for Summer and I enter my usual reading spree, devouring 200-odd pages a day well into Autumn).

So it took me a long while to find the time (and the relative quiet) needed to read dirtymouse's Fix a troubled Mac, a 196-page PDF e-book that I had the good fortune to be presented with (it is US$15 from Kagi, and you can get a free sample at the main site).

The book is squarely aimed at people who need to maintain or troubleshoot Macs frequently, and covers both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. I skipped most of the OS 9 bits - none of my Macs run it anymore, and let me start right away with saying this is good stuff.

The ebook layout is very polished indeed, with extensive hyperlinking, clear and to-the-point insets and notes, nice illustrations (as well as the odd photo), and it is a natural fit inside Mac OS X's Preview: the PDF index is clear and, unlike many ebooks, using Preview's search actually yields meaningful results. The book isn't just readable, it's usable (something a lot of ebook editors throw out the window by not taking the least advantage of the format's potential).

The overall philosophy of the book is to keep things simple, which understandably rang a chord with me. It walks through many common troubleshooting tasks and their underlying concepts in a very clear, easy-to-understand way, and the initial section ("Running a Mac Studio") sets the overall tone by explaining how to set up networking, backups, remote access - and even DNS, with a very nice visual outline of a zone file.

But there's more than nice layout - there's useful and easily accessible content, too. As a quick usability test, I searched for SMB (the Windows filesharing protocol). The first hit was a page with server suggestions (there are several such "guidelines" pages dotted throughout the book), the second was an overview of the System Preferences "Services" pane (complete with good healthy advice like "If you are not using any services, turn them OFF" and links to security resources), and the third was an overview of SharePoints.

This great balance between effective indoctrination (guidelines pages are short and to the point) and useful resources (there are plenty of links to extra utilities and sites with background information) is the sort of thing that makes the Fix a troubled Mac more than just something to read - it's a useful reference that you'll be going back to.

Having used Mac OS X for quite a while now, I was pleased with finding a nice (short and to the point) outline of the Library folder layout (which is a big help to restore your preferences after a clean install). Beginners are more likely to appreciate more commonplace (but still well explained) things like the nice UNIX permissions overview (and plenty other useful command-line incantations dotted throughout the OS X section), a whole chapter devoted to transferring data (a critical part of most troubleshooting efforts, when you absolutely must backup your stuff) and a very comprehensive networking section with links to online resources.

But whatever your level of expertise, this is a must-have if you have to support a number of Macs. And if you do it as a living, the book subscription (which entitles you to a year's worth of upgrades for US$52) is well worth it, for enhancements on the way (according to the release notes) are more network diagrams, anti-spam configurations, more hard disk troubleshooting details and hardware troubleshooting flow diagrams - to name a few.

Ironically, the only thing I had trouble with while reading the book (besides having to do it piecemeal over a couple of weeks) was Preview itself: it doesn't show PDFs in "facing pages" mode, which makes books that much more readable on a wide screen.

So, If you find this as much of a pain as I do, please take the time to suggest it to Apple. After you check out the free book chapters available at the site, of course. :)

See Also: