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O’Reilly books on Mac OS X

Reviews by Eric Lindsay, who bought a Mac in March 2004 after years of using Unix, Windows, and earlier operating systems, and wanted more information than the Mac’s online help provides

Mac OS X Panther Edition The Missing Manual by David Pogue

Pogue Press, O’Reilly, Dec 2003, 763pp, ISBN 0596006152.

The Missing Manual series promote themselves as the book that should have been in the box. I can hardly deny that these days new users more than ever need something more than onscreen help. Written by the weekly computer columnist for the New York Times, this title makes a fast paced and easy reading entry when no manual is there to help. This is by no means the first such Missing Manual that David Pogue has written. Not only did he found the series, he also wrote ten of the books, plus six in the well known “For Dummies” series. This wide experience shows. I’ll also admit that I’m prejudiced in favour of any author who makes an “ironclad promise never to use an apostrophe in the possessive word its”.

OK, accept that the book is well written. Does it tell you what you need to know? As a reader with no recent Macintosh experience, but a five to fifteen year old favourable exposure to Unix, plus lots of Windows, I thought it was great. Sure there were lots of subjects in which more depth would have been welcome, however both the fundamentals and the essentials seemed to be there on most of the topics I’d been wondering about. Details can wait, when what you need is a good solid overview so you can get started on a new system. I gather some of the earlier Missing Manual series looked at OS X more from the viewpoint of an experienced Mac user changing to the new system. While there were touches of this, it wasn’t enough to be distracting for those of us with no Mac experience.

The three chapters of Part One covers the Mac OS X desktop: folders, windows, views, logging out, organising folders, the dock, and the toolbar.

The next four chapters, in Part Two, cover applications in general: launching, types of programs, installing, using old Mac OS 9 programs, moving data between computers of various kinds, plus a chapter on automating actions via Applescript.

Part Three is called the Components. The first of its chapters covers setting system preferences for what seems pretty much everything. Next is a chapter including mini manuals on the many free programs included. The last chapter in this section concentrates on CDs, DVD, and iTunes.

The seven chapters of Part Four cover technologies. Security and accounts, something few desktop users have had to attend to until fairly recently. Networking, including connecting to Windows PCs, gets its own chapter. Printing, fonts and graphics gets covered, including the underrated ColorSync facility. Sound, movies, speech and (unexpected to me) handwriting are covered next. Unix next gets a brief introduction, in the chapter on using Terminal. This is followed by Fun with Unix (I doubt traditional Mac users would agree, but it all looked pretty straighforward to me). The last chapter in this section was Hacking OS X, by which is meant customising using TinkerToy and other tools.

Part Five, on Going Online, contains the last four chapters of the book. There is a good coverage of internet setup, a bit on the firewall, and .Mac services. Mail and the address book are covered in their own chapter. The Panther internet suite gets its own chapter, with coverage of Sherlock (a search tool probably of more use to USA users than an international audience), iChatAV (AOL instant messenger compatible), iCal (vCal compatible calendar), iSync (SyncML compatible tool), and the Safari web browser. The final chapter introduces ssh, ftp, web sharing using Apache, and briefly looks at virtual private networks for corporate access.

There are comprehensive appendices on various methods of installing Mac OS X, on troubleshooting, plus “where did it go” sections for both Mac OS 9 and Windows users, and a final two on where to get more information, plus all the Mac keystroke meanings.

The Missing Manual web site contains pretty much all the tools and utilities mentioned in the book.

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Mac OS X Hacks by Rael Dornfest and Kevin Hemenway

O’Reilly, March 2003, 406pp, ISBN 0596004605.

100 Industrial-strength Tips and Tools. Like similar O’Reilly Hacks books, basically a list of tips and tricks, some of them pretty extensive and detailed. It is a lot like reading a long collection of computer magazine articles. Understandably enough if most Mac users are coming from a Mac Classic background, many of the tips seem to relate to using Unix. However given there are many Mac specific variations in the way Unix applies on a Mac, this is perhaps no disadvantage even to experienced Unix users.

The chapters cover Files, Startup, Multimedia and iApps, the User interface, Unix and the Terminal application, Networking, Email, the Web, and a final few hints on SQL databases.

If what you need to do happens to be covered by one of the 100 tips, you could cover the cost of the book in time saved on that alone. What is more likely to happen is that you will find better, faster ways to do many things. You should also find yourself extending your use of the system into areas that you didn’t at first think about.

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Running Mac OS X Panther by James Duncan Davidson

O’Reilly, Dec 2003, 306pp, ISBN 0596005008.

Inside Mac OS X’s core. This is a curious book. Obviously written in a rush, and it does show at times, such as in a few apparent errors in the examples of crontab contents. At times the rush to the next topic seems to leap over history, as in where the Mac project is attributed to Steve Jobs (Jef Raskin would probably like some revision here—the rest of you can look it up on the web). The contents vary between what seems blindingly obvious to the most obscure byways. It certainly isn’t the place for beginners to start, but would be good for someone wanting to get further under the pretty skin of the Mac interface.

The book is divided into three parts: Getting Started, Essentials, and Advanced Topics.

Getting Started has chapters on Mac history, the filesystem and library, the terminal and Unix shell.

Essentials covers system startup and login in depth, users and groups, files and permissions, system activity monitoring, scheduling tasks (I didn’t realise that at and batch had been removed by Apple), preferences and defaults plus property lists, and finally disks and filesystems, including Raid 0 and 1.

Advanced topics provides considerable material on open directory and how it relates to LDAP and Microsoft’s Active Directory services. Chapters also cover printing facilities, and printing from the command line. Networking includes material on IP addresses, DNS, routing, use of the Locations facility when you change your network location repeatedly. Network Services covers file sharing, web sharing, remote login, ftp, sharing printers and using SMTP mail serving.

The appendices cover installing from scratch, a list of the (many) boot command key combinations, and a list of other sources of information.

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Last updated 16 April 2004