How to fix Snow Leopard after T-Mobile mobile broadband has killed it

This article comes with a serious health warning. So lets get it out of the way: If you install T-Mobile mobile broadband on a Mac running Snow Leopard, you will brick your shiny pride of joy!

Shortly after you install the required T-Mobile Mobile Broadband Manager software (which sucks by the way), things will be very obviously wrong. Certain tools and software will start throwing error messages, you won’t be able to successfully power down, and worst of all, your Mac won’t power back up. You’ll have an iBrick!

This happened to me a couple of nights ago and to say I was upset doesn’t really do justice to quite how seething with anger and despair I was.

Fortunately I’m a geek and I found a solution to bring my baby back to life. As I wouldn’t wish the feeling of utter desperation on anyone, I shall share my solution here.

Diagnosing the problem

I won’t take credit for this - David Glover documented the issue back in September. Without David’s post I would probably have committed suicide by now. So, cheers David!

Basically, the T-Mobile installer does a very naughty thing. It overwrites a core library file with it’s own version of that file. This is such shockingly bad practice that I’m absolutely astonished that this really is the problem!

Specifically, the file in question is libcurl.4.dylib which can be found in /usr/lib. This library file is used by… well, just about everything that your Mac does! I suspect (although don’t know for sure) that the version T-Mobile dumps in your system is an old 32bit version which is why your 64bit Snow Leopard has a fit when it tries to do anything with it.

The solution

OK, here we go. First thing you need to do is dig your Snow Leopard CD out of that drawer where you stuff all those CDs. Got it? Right, pop it in your iBrick then.

In fact, you might have difficulty inserting a CD into a Mac that isn’t booted up. What I did was power up holding down Cmd+S to boot up in Single-User Mode. That should enable you to slide in the CD.

Next up, type in reboot (or power off and on) and hold down C to boot up off the Snow Leopard CD. This might take a few minutes, but it should eventually take you to the Snow Leopard installation screen.

What you don’t want to do is reinstall Snow Leopard (although that is an option if you’re desperate). Instead, go to the Utilities menu and power up trusty old Terminal.

From here we have one lovely command to type:

cp /usr/lib/libcurl.4.dylib /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/usr/lib

All that does is basically copy the unbroken libcurl.4.dylib file from the installation CD back over the top of T-Mobile’s filth-ridden troublesome version. Jobs a goodun, Mac fixed. Restart and sigh a huge sigh of relief.

Thinking of buying T-Mobile mobile broadband?

If you haven’t yet bricked your Mac but are considering buying T-Mobile’s mobile broadband, then my honest advice would be to think again.

Using my fix I have got the software working, and the Mobile Broadband experience is fine. It works. But any software that overwrites core library files is simply unforgivable. To make matters worse, Phil Harman reckons T-Mobile aren’t even aware this problem exists… almost two months after Snow Leopard was released.

If you’re insistent, then the way to do it is to open up a Terminal session before you do the installation, and make a copy of the good libcurl file. Then keep that Terminal session open whilst you install the T-Mobile software (if you try to open a Terminal session after the software has wrecked your Mac then you won’t have much luck, but an open session should remain open). Then, after the installation just copy the good file back over the bad one.

Simples, eh? Well, no - not at all, really. Which is why I recommend not going with T-Mobile until they acknowledge how downright Noddy their software is and do something about it!

Update - 10 January 2012

Unbelievably, over two years since publishing this article, people are still emailing me reporting that this issue hasn’t been fixed by T-Mobile. Also, Mickaël reports that if you’re using Lion, the original boot DVD isn’t required. You can boot from the recovery partition that Lion creates by holding down option on startup and selecting “boot from recovery HD”.