Q&A: No manuals, and a worrying optical drive

Q Although I love my iMac, it has two major flaws: because there is no printed manual, you can only read its Help documents if you can start it up; second, if an optical disk gets stuck in its drive, there is no manual mechanism for removing it, requiring a trip to an Apple engineer. Or am I missing simple solutions?

A Once your Mac is set up and running sweetly, prepare contingency plans, including means of starting it up in the event of problems with its normal drive. Before Lion, you had to keep your Install DVD to hand, with a simple aide memoire; an alternative might be a bootable external hard disk, of course.

Now you can start it up in Recovery mode (Command-R held during startup), provided that it has an Internet connection, and work from that. If you don’t wish to rely on online recovery, you can create yourself a recovery USB memory stick, as described here.

Many users also have at least one other device with which they can browse the Internet, so if their main Mac is down, they can read online instructions on their iPhone or iPad. As with Apple’s Help pages, these are very extensive, readily searched, and kept up to date with the latest software and hardware – something that is impossible with a printed manual.

Removing a stuck optical disk from any slot drive is more of a problem, but you should hardly ever have to do this. If you run risks inserting disks with sticky labels on them, or those which are non-standard in size or shape, then you may be visiting the engineer more often. A standard-sized disk without sticky labels is exceedingly unlikely to become stuck, and can almost invariably be ejected by holding the mouse button down when starting up.

If you have to run risks, buy a natty little external drive, such as that for the MacBook Air. At least you can then post it to the engineer!

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 28 issue 01, 2012.