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What's on Your Bookshelf?

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Reviews

What's on Your Bookshelf?

Ten for X

by Vicki Brown

Building a Library

Macintosh users have, traditionally, prided themselves on the fact that they don't need to read manuals. While users of "those other operating systems" can't get by without "cracking the books", Mac users smile and flaunt the fact that the booklet that came in the box is still in its original shrink wrap. That's our traditional, public face.

In private, however, many Mac OS users actually do collect, read, write, and refer to books. We want to understand this operating system that we use daily. We want to know more about its intricacies and idiosyncrasies. We want to learn new tips and tricks that we can use to impress our friends. On the down side, Apple doesn't really supply a manual with Mac OS X. On the plus side, there are several publishers (and quite a few excellent writers) producing plenty of books on the subject.

Getting Started

In 2002, the first edition of Mac OS X: The Missing Manual was the number one bestselling computer book. Created by David Pogue, computer columnist for The New York Times and bestselling Macintosh author, the "Missing Manual" series lays claim to providing the books "that should have been in the box" and lives up to its claim.

At 712 pages, Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is a sturdy tome, covering the Desktop, Finder, applications, components, the Unix underpinnings, and much more. Even Mac OS X power users should consider owning a copy of this book. At the very least, you'll want to recommend it to all of your friends and relatives who are still using Mac OS 9, as a gentle introduction to the wonders of Mac OS X.

A more advanced book, Mac OS X Unleashed (John Ray and William C. Ray), is aimed directly at power users and administrators. This book also starts by covering the basics, such as the Finder and applications; then it moves into the deeper administration arcana of networking, adding users, using the Terminal application, and the Unix command line. In fact, much of the book concentrates on capabilities that can be reached from the command line, rather than the Finder, and there are more textual examples than pictures throughout the book.

If you're a power user or administrator (or seek to become one), you'll want a copy of this book. My only gripe with it is that, at 1520 pages, it's more than a little awkward to handle!

If you're already at an advanced stage, but want a handy reference book, try Mac OS X in a Nutshell (Jason McIntosh, et. al.) Part of the O'Reilly Nutshell series, this book provides a more terse reference than the two mentioned above; Nutshell books "give you what you need to know in as few words as possible". This is the book you'll want to consult when you already understand the basics of what you need to do, but cannot quite recall the specifics. It also provides a handy way to review what you know, to make sure you haven't missed anything major. And, lest you worry that "terse" equates to less information - do not fear. At 800 pages, this book has plenty of "thud factor".

*nix Under the Covers

Much has been made of the fact that Mac OS X is built on top of Darwin, a version of Unix based on BSD and the Mach microkernel. Although it is possible to use Mac OS X without ever making the acquaintance of the Darwin layer, power users, administrators, and developers (as well as Unix-users switching to Mac OS X!) will want to know more about Darwin. There are several books that provide assistance in this regard.

Two books from O'Reilly, Learning Unix for Mac OS X (Dave Taylor and Brian Jepson), and Mac OS X for Unix Geeks (Brian Jepson and Ernest E. Rothman), should certainly be on your shelf. Both are recommended by the Apple Developer Connection (ADC). Learning Unix for Mac OS X is aimed at Mac OS users who are interested in learning about Unix; Mac OS X for Unix Geeks is aimed at long-time Unix users who are "switching" to Mac OS X. Whichever group you see yourself in, I'd recommend adding both books to your shelf - if one doesn't address your questions, the other probably will.

If you want more depth than these two books provide, take another look at Mac OS X Unleashed. I was surprised at the amount of content this book provided on using the NetInfo Manager, using and basic Unix commands, and more. There are chapters on advanced shell concepts and commands, shell scripting, server and network administration, and much more. Consider this a heavy duty (in more ways than one :-) book for advanced Mac OS X use.

Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

Admit it; one of the coolest things about being a Mac OS X power user is the ability to amaze your friends and relatives with all kinds of nifty tips, shortcuts, and "how did you know that?!" tricks. If you agree, you'll be happy to know that at least three books were written especially for you.

Mac OS X Killer Tips (Scott Kelby), deserves a place on your coffee table, if only for its look and feel. Every page is in full color, with screen shots. You'll find yourself flipping through this book simply because it's fun to do so and you'll learn new tricks at the same time.

Kelby says we're all drawn to the little "sidebar" tips in good books, because that's where the "really amazing, really fun, really useful stuff is found". So he decided to write a book that contained nothing but sidebar tips - 260 pages, 2 tips to a page. If you don't buy this book for the tips, buy it for the graphics; it's simply a fun book.

Mac OS X Hints, Jaguar Edition (Rob Griffiths) provides 560 tips on everything from the Desktop and Finder to Unicode, to popular third party applications. For those interested in the Unix command line, the book devotes two chapters (and 100 pages) to the terminal, shell, and other Unix hints.

A more technical set of tricks can be found in Mac OS X Hacks by Rael Dornfest and Kevin Hemenway. David Pogue, in the book's Foreword, writes:

    This book might occasionally be over the head of many Mac fans. (If you want more general, less technical, everyday operating tips, try Mac OS X Hints, Jaguar Edition.)

But some people get as much a kick out of putting a computer through its paces as they do from everyday issues like productivity. Part of the spirit of hacking is doing things that the product's developer didn't quite imagine, finding the new and creative uses that are only possible to those who are willing to leave the beaten path. For the hackers among us, it's all about the thrill of discovery.

If that describes you, you'll want this book on your shelf.

Uh oh...

Sometimes, despite all your precautions or learning, things go wrong. Ouch. Or, better, you may want to find ways to prevent things from going wrong. For those times, here are two more books you may want to have on hand.

Mac OS X Disaster Relief (Ted Landau) is the book you hope you'll never need. Landau is the founder of the MacFixit Web site (, the "primary first-aid station for Mac users in trouble". In this book, he makes his trouble-shooting knowledge available to Mac OS X users, covering freezes and crashes (both prevention and recovery), third-party troubleshooting utilities, installing (and reinstalling) Mac OS X, printing problems, and more. If you have never had a problem with Mac OS X, consider yourself blessed. However, you might still want a copy of this book on your shelf, as a good luck charm.

Mac OS X Maximum Security (John Ray and William C. Ray) provides "a hacker's guide to protecting your Mac OS X workstation and server". (Note: The media notwithstanding, hackers are the good guys; crackers are the bad guys.)

The original Mac OS (long before Apple called it "Mac OS") didn't need much security. As this book's authors put it, from a security standpoint, the early Macs might as well have been toaster ovens. They couldn't be compromised because, like toaster ovens, there was nothing to compromise. In recent years, however, the Mac OS has matured; the good news is that users have more and better features; the bad news is that security, once a no-brainer, has become an issue to consider.

Security is all about knowledge, risk assessment, and trust. The authors provide an introduction to the concepts and philosophy of computer security, including physical access, use policies, people, and limitations. The first nine chapters will give you a firm grounding in the theory and concepts of security (and how security can be compromised). Chapters 10 through 16 discuss specific Mac OS X resources and how to secure them, providing tips, tricks, and recipes. Chapters 17 through 20 concentrate on prevention, detection and reaction to attacks. If you're a system administrator, or you're hooking your Macintosh to the Internet, you may want to read this book... before you need it.


Learning Unix for Mac OS X, 2e (Taylor & Jepson; O'Reilly; 2003; ISBN 0-596-00470-2)

Mac OS X: Maximum Security (Ray & Ray; Sams; 2003; ISBN 0-672-32381-8)

Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, 2e (Pogue; O'Reilly; 2002; ISBN 0-596-00450-8)

Mac OS X Disaster Relief (Landau; Peachpit; 2002; ISBN 0-201-78869-1)

Mac OS X for Unix Geeks (Jepson & Rothman; O'Reilly; 2002; ISBN 0-596-00356-0)

Mac OS X Hacks (Dornfest & Hemenway; O'Reilly; 2003; ISBN 0-596-00460-5)

Mac OS X Hints: Jaguar Edition (Griffiths & Pogue; O'Reilly; 2003; ISBN 0-596-004510-6)

Mac OS X in a Nutshell (McIntosh, et al; O'Reilly; 2003; ISBN 0-596-00370-6)

Mac OS X Killer Tips (Kelby; New Riders; 2003; ISBN 0-7357-1317-0)

Mac OS X Unleashed, 2e (Ray & Ray; Sams; 2003; ISBN 0-672-32465-2)

Vicki Brown


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