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Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger

Volume Number: 22 (2006)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Reviews

Kool Tools

Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger

by Mary Norbury-Glaser

Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger is O'Reilly's fourth revision of this popular volume on Unix basics for Mac OS X users. This edition's author, Dave Taylor, is a well-known and highly respected Unix geek with many diverse publications under his belt: Learning Unix for Mac OS X Panther, Creating Cool HTML 4.0 Web Pages, Solaris 9 for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Growing Your Business With Google, and Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, among others.

Although Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger is intended for Unix newbies, the content is surprisingly extensive and so well organized that this book can easily act as a refresher volume for even power Unix users, especially those new to Mac OS X.

In the first three chapters, Taylor quickly covers a great deal of ground as he introduces Unix, the CLI (command line interface) and Mac OS X Terminal basics, runs through an overview of the Mac filesystem (directory structure, pathnames) and delves into commands and optional switches related to navigating and exploring directories and files (cd, ls, pwd, etc.). The reader quickly becomes familiar with customizing the Terminal interface, entering commands and configuring advanced shell settings. Using the basic commands outlined in these chapters, Taylor also leads the reader through several important directories (Library/Preferences and /var/log for example) and takes some time explaining file permissions. He includes a good illustration of how to look at external volumes like attached iPods and digital cameras using ls.

Chapters 4 and 5 take the reader to file level management with explanations of file and directory name syntax; wildcard usage (*, ?, [], {,}); commands used to look inside files (cat, less, grep); command line editors (usage instructions for vi and brief overviews of nano/pico and emacs); how to organize files with mkdir, cp, mv, and rm; compressing and archiving files using gzip and tar; using grep for pattern matching within files; and finding files using locate, find, mdls, and mdfind.

Redirecting standard input and output is covered in Chapter 6. Taylor clarifies redirection, pipes and filters, the use of associated commands (cat, tr, wc, head, tail, sort, uniq), and piping output to a pager using less. He also discusses sending output to a printer via Unix commands (lpstat to look at configured printers, lp to add print jobs to a queue, pr to format files, enscript to translate plain text to Postscript, and atprint to send jobs via AppleTalk).

Chapter 7 explores monitoring multiple processes and discusses the concept of running commands as a background process using the & character, gathering running process information using ps and top, watching system processes through the system logs using tail -f, terminating processes using kill and killall, and interacting with GUI apps.

The next chapter shows the reader how to access remote systems via ssh and rsh, enabling web and ftp servers, and copying files between systems using scp, rcp, curl, and ftp/sftp. Taylor includes a brief aside on security and indicates other security issues where appropriate.

In Chapters 9 and 10, Taylor introduces X11, the X Window System, and how to find and install various open source applications using Fink, an open source software distribution and installation tool for Mac OS X. The author includes installing, using and customizing X11, and using remote access capabilities of X11. The author gives step-by-step instructions on how to install Fink, how to list and install packages and how to use the GUI front-end to Fink, FinkCommander. Taylor mentions but doesn't illustrate the Fink alternative, DarwinPorts perhaps because although command line junkies seem to prefer DarwinPorts, Fink's GUI interface makes it easier for beginners to maneuver and there are many more packages available through Fink. Other useful apps described: GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), the email client Pine, the text-based Web browser Lynx, and GNU Backgammon. Taylor takes care to give the reader thorough details on downloading, installing and using most of the apps included in the chapter. Even a user completely unfamiliar with X11 or Fink can feel comfortable with the process outlined in these two sections.

In the final chapter, Taylor advises the reader on where to find additional resources through documentation (Help menus, man pages, web sites, and books), how to customize the Unix environment using aliases and functions, and programming options (shell scripts, AppleScript, Perl, Python, Ruby, C, and C++). This is a brief chapter intended to launch the reader into further study.

Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger follows O'Reilly's proven formula of providing superior books written by industry leaders. Font choices for both regular text and command line examples are highly readable with a large number of screenshots illustrating key points. Taylor's examples are representative of practical, familiar situations that even command line junkies will appreciate.

In addition to an excellent introduction to Unix for Tiger users, Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger is one of the best values around; readers can find this exceptional O'Reilly book for well under the listed $19.95 at a variety of book resellers.

Dave Taylor has a comfortable and relaxed style of writing that lends an air of ease to this complex subject. There is never a moment that the reader will feel lost. Each chapter is well thought out and executed and each topic follows the previous one in a reasonable fashion. The chapters are littered with useful examples of commands and optional switches and further illustrations of when they are most practically implemented.

Dave Taylor
280 pages
ISBN: 0596009151
US $19.95

Mary Norbury-Glaser is IT Director at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, an affiliate center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado. She has too-many-years-to-count experience in cross-platform systems implementation and administration in the education sector. You can reach her at


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