The MDJ vs. MacFixIt

There exists a rather odd Macintosh-related publication named MDJ.

I say odd because, first of all, unlike almost every other publication on the Web, you cannot actually read the publication from a Web browser. You must subscribe to it (at a fee of $30/month) and then receive the publication via email.

Its name is also a bit odd. The MDJ name originally stood for Macintosh Daily Journal. As I understand it, the publishers were at some point legally barred from using the full name, so they shifted to the abbreviation as its official name.

The publication is also odd because, despite the suggestion that it is a daily publication, its actual publication schedule has been anything but daily. I receive a complimentary subscription to the MDJ. Unless I somehow missed receiving issues, there has only been one issue each for September and October. That’s not even close to weekly.

Further, the MDJ’s Web site may leave you wondering whether they still publish at all. For example, this page states: “Offices were closed for much of the second half of October, 2005. Issue production is scheduled to accelerate in November 2005.” That’s nice to know—except that it is now November 2007! Who is in charge of keeping their Web site current?

All of that said, the MDJ is a worthy publication, at least when it manages to publish. It offers a wealth of technical information about the Mac that is rarely duplicated elsewhere. I still look forward to each issue.

But the MDJ, largely through the voice of its publisher Matt Deatherage, can also be quite vicious. When Matt disagrees with something or somebody, he too often expresses his disagreement by resorting to a level of insult that would make Rush Limbaugh blush.

When I read the MDJ, I attempt to sift the valuable information from the vitriolic rhetoric with which it is intermingled. And I move on. But I could not do so today.

There is an article in the current MDJ regarding MacFixIt, a Web site devoted to providing troubleshooting information about Apple products. The article is so unjustifiably vicious, that I could not let it pass without comment. Actually, at least as of today, the article has not yet been published in an MDJ issue. Instead, the article was extracted from a forthcoming MDJ and posted online, available to anyone for free. The MDJ took this unusual step because of what it claims is “the public importance” of the article and “the requests we’d probably get to send it to other people.” I don’t know how many requests they would have gotten, but a search of Google this morning came up with very few links to this article, suggesting that it may not be as important or in demand as they may have thought.

I also found it odd that, out of all the useful and truly important information that the MDJ publishes, the only article in many many months that the MDJ has deemed important enough to make available for free is one that attacks another Web site. I have to wonder whether their motivations here are truly to provide a public service (I leave it to you to decide).

Before I continue, I need to interject a disclaimer. I am the founder of MacFixIt. Thus, you might suspect that I am biased in my reactions to the MDJ article. I am sure I am. There is no denying this. But that doesn’t mean I am wrong. I would also add that I sold the Web site in 2000 and have had nothing to do with the main content of the site ever since. I do write an occasional column or tutorial (which always includes my byline), but I have no hand in any other part of the site—including the content that the MDJ is criticizing. So I am not feeling personally attacked here.

This at last brings us to the specifics of the article. The MDJ is upset with MacFixIt’s recommendations regarding how best to install Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) as well as related advice regarding possibly incompatible software (such as DiskWarrior). The article contends that MacFixIt is overly alarmist in its concerns and thus makes unwarranted recommendations (such as to avoid the standard Upgrade method for installing Leopard).

Truth be told, if I had to take sides, my position would be closer to the MDJ’s view than to MacFixIt’s view. But there remains room for differences of opinion here. Certainly there is reason for caution in how you upgrade to Leopard. Even Apple points out, in a support article, that a not uncommon situation could result in a persistent blue screen at startup after upgrading to Leopard. Doing an “Archive and Install” rather than a standard Upgrade would likely avoid this. Other sites have expressed similar cautions (here is one example). It’s not just MacFixIt.

In any case, you should be able to disagree on such matters without resorting to name calling, as the MDJ does when it calls MacFixIt “stupid” and “despicable.” The very title of the article is: “The despicable MacFixIt.”

But I don’t want to debate here who is ultimately right or wrong on this installation question (or the related DiskWarrior issue). Nor do I want to linger on the matter of name calling. What I found most scurrilous about the MDJ article is its assertion that MacFixIt is engaged in deliberate deception, offering alarmist information that the site knows to be false or misleading, all in an attempt to increase its revenues. This claim is completely false.

What is true is that MacFixIt’s view of the world can become a bit distorted by all the email it receives. Especially when a new OS version is released, the site is inundated with emails about installations that failed for one reason or another. Such problems can even plague veteran Mac users and experts, as noted in a column by Bob LeVitus. The causes here may often turn out to be something other than the Installer itself. Still, at some point, it is hard for the MacFixIt staff not to take a skeptical view of the installation process. If bypassing the standard Upgrade in favor of alternative methods appears to bypass many of the reported problems, it is understandable that they would recommend these alternatives.

It’s not unlike a policeman who, after years on the beat and seeing one crime after another, becomes increasingly cynical and begins to view almost everything as potentially dangerous. He may wind up recommending safety precautions that others deem unnecessary. But he is not doing so in an attempt to deceive.

This, I am certain, is the worst-case scenario rationale for MacFixIt’s position. They may sometimes be overly alarmist. And they may make mistakes. But they are most often correct and continue to provide a valuable service to the Mac community. In any case, their advice is always honest and genuine. The MDJ should be ashamed of itself for suggesting otherwise. If anyone is despicable in all of this, it is not MacFixIt.

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