Reviews of books about Macintosh OS X, and hardware hacking topics that may be of use to Macintosh computer owners.
- OReilly book Mac news. The first place I look for computer books is from O'Reilly. They may not always be best in class, but they are usually close.
Mac OS X Panther Edition The Missing Manual by David Pogue
Pogue Press O'Reilly, Dec 2003, 763pp, US$29.95 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 apostrophy in the possesive 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, organsing 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). 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.
Mac OS X Hacks by Rael Dornfest and Kevin Hemenway
O'Reilly, March 2003, 406pp, US$24.95 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.
Running Mac OS X Panther by James Duncan Davidson
O'Reilly, Dec 2003, 306pp, US$39.95 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 intreface.
The book, like Gaul, 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.
Upgrading and Troubleshooting your Mac by Gene Steinberg
Osborne, 2001, 612pp, ISBN 007219359X
Mac OS X edition, for 10.1. Upgrading various Mac models, software and hardware. A bit dated, but handy enough about older OS X hardware. Might be more suited to users of older equipment.
Mac OS X Panther Pocket Guide by Chuck Toporek
OReilly, Nov 2003, 158pp, US$9.95 A$19.95 ISBN 0596006160
Fundamentals and tips.
Mac OS X Web Server Handbook by David L Hart
Prentice Hall PTR, 2001, 395pp, ISBN 0130327158
Using a Mac as a server, earlier version of the operating system. Also covers user side of the internet services provided. A bit dated now.
Mac OS X Bible by Samuel A Litt
Wiley, 2004, 892pp, US$29.95 A$46.95 ISBN 0764543997
Comprehensive and up to date manual for OS X 10.3. Excellent coverage of network setup. Also briefly covers some of the applications included with the system.
Mac OS X Panther for Unix Geeks by Brian Jepson and Ernest E Rothman
OReilly, Feb 2004 (2nd ed), 363pp, US$24.95 ISBN 0596006071
Differences between the Mac and other Unix systems. Covers CUPS, perl, MySQL, server operation, porting unix programs, using GCC 3, Open Directory, NetInfo. Looks like a great starting point for the user coming from another Unix system.
Hardware Hacking Projects for Geeks by Scott Fullam
O'Reilly, Jan 2004, 329pp, US$29.95 ISBN 0596003145
This is a big, floppy paperback full of projects many geeks or would be geeks already know about. After all, the internet leaks this sort of information all over. However despite some of the projects being a little underwhelming for the geek about town, the fifteen projects would probably be the perfect introduction to hardware hacking for a youngster keen to get into electronics and computers.
Now that there are very few electronic hobbyist magazines around, it is hard to know how any except the most takented youngsters will get started on hacking gadgets, except via books like this. Having a talented toy designer write the book is a great ploy, as many of the best gadgets are derived from subverting toys and general consumer appliances.
Some of the introductory projects are a little wimpy. The author doesn't really make it sufficiently clear that an external battery pack for a notebook computer is unlikely to extend your working time much (alkaline batteries are ill suited to most high current drain computers). However there is an undeniable need for a very simple introduction to the tools and materials you need to use. This is one of six tasks teaching tools and materials. The last couple are hacking Furbys, and making a video periscope for a car.
The advanced section includes digital video recorders, building lighting control, a remote GPS object tracker (just like James Bond). There is a very nice one chapter introduction to making wearable computers.
The book would make a perfect gift for the potential hardware geek.
Hardware Hacking: Have Fun While Voiding Your Warranty edited by Joe Grand
Syngress, February 2004, 537pp, US$39.95 ISBN 1932266836
Replace an iPod battery, modify a standard Apple USB mouse, build a Firewire terabyte raid hard drive and custom case.