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Mac OS X Unleashed, 2nd Edition
Title:Mac OS X Unleashed, 2nd Edition
Author(s):John Ray & William Ray
ISBN:0-672-32465-2
Publisher:Sams
Reviewer:Simon Wright

Just over 2 years ago I met a guy, who was introduced to me as 'working with Macs'. We laughed alot. I became quite good friends with this guy, and still laughed alot at his advocation and dedication to these machines.

One day about a year ago, while out for a few drinks with a few mates, he started again. But this time his words were backed up, when he produced from his bag a very small, thin, sleek silver laptop that was about 12 inches across.

He proceded to open it and show us how it ran Apache. He pulled open a shell prompt and cd'd and ls'd around a bit, showing us his website, which was written in php. He cat'd a couple of conf files, showed us how it was firewalled - all while a DVD was playing.

All of us at the table were quite speechless and captivated. The Sun guy shut up talking about Solaris, the windows guy stopped talking about XP and me, the Linux guy, stopped talking about GNOME. All we talked about for the rest of the night, or more correctly asked questions about, was OSX!

Weeks later (shortly after pay day) we all owned various ibooks and powerbooks.

I was the proud owner of a 12 inch powerbook, even though it's spent more time in the talons of my girlfriend, I do still use it a fair bit. Now I don't know much about Mac's and up until a few weeks ago I knew even less. I found the Mac, and in particular OSX, pretty easy to get to grips with, but I did want to learn more to get the most out of it. I'd been searching for a book on OS X for a while, finding it quite difficult, as alot of them were quite basic or didn't have enough in them. Most seemed oriented towards existing 'Mac' users and not for people migrating from Windows, or in my case Linux. So I was quite keen to get into this book after I read the index pages.

The book has been divided in to five main sections:

  1. Introduction - basically the look and feel of OSX, how the dock works how to use the finder, how to generally get around the GUI side of the OS.
  2. Inside Mac OS X - how to use all the basic applications that come with OS X and how to install and use 3rd party applications
  3. User Level OS X Configuration - Covering network configuration, setting up printers, creating user accounts and using NetInfo Manager
  4. The BSD Subsystem - covers basic shell usage, how to use man pages and basic unix commands, such as cp, ls up to grep and tar.
  5. Advanced Command Line Concepts - which includes process control, redirection, vi, compiling source code, a chapter on X Windows, scripting with perl and applescript, MySQL, FTP, NFS, Sendmail, Apache and system maintanence along with a few other things.

Appendices include Installing OS X and a tips and tweaks section.

The sections I actually got the most from (having a linux/networking background) were the first 3 chapters. As the only Apple I had used before my shiny powerbook was an Apple II in primary school running Logo. I had a bit of catching up to do with regards Aqua (the OS X user interface). The book explained all the components and their workings very well. The first few chapter explaining the history of OS X and all the components of the OS from the mach kernel all the way up were extremely interesting to say the least.

The chapters explaining the various standard applications that come with OS X were also well written and informative. The chapters I found particularly helpful, were chapters not only for apps which I regularly use, but other chapters which got me to use apps I've never used before. The chapter covering Sherlock is a great example of this - the applecare channel now my first port of call for troubleshooting OS X. Pretty much everything is covered here under these chapters, from Utilities such as Disk Copy straight through to burning DVDs with iDVD.

The chapter on how to install software was extremely useful, as I had no idea what a .dmg file was! Also explained was StuffIt. This section is a great example of the little gems that appear in the Tip Boxes in the book - "I recommend adding StuffIt to the finder windows toolbar for access from any other folder"

The user configuration section was also very well written, though I have no idea of what any of this appletalk nonsense is, a Mac thing I guess. TCP/IP was explained resonablely well and the printers section was good, going into CUPS, explaining thoroughly how the front end GUI was just an interface for it. Also included was a section on fonts and how to manage and install them.

Part 4 and 5 were basically the BSD side of things and chapters on Sendmail and Apache and other such things. This was the areas of OS X I found the most familiar (coming from Linux). All these sections were very well written and informative. Of particular interest was the section on Sendmail. Why anyone would use sendmail is beyond me, but I had to learn it for an LPI exam I was studying for. I found the chapter very thorough and well written to a standard that served me for my LPI exam. Other chapters such as the MySQL and the Web programming would serve equally as well for anyone just generally wanting to learn about these technologies whatever the platform.

Generally I found the technical level of the book about right. Certainly there's a very broad spectrum of areas covered and there's something here for everybody. I would say this book is suited towards the more technical savvy computer user, either coming from an Apple background or as someone new to the OS coming from a different platform. I'd been searching for an all encompassing (large) tome on OS X for a while and this book has met all my expectations. It has suited me from two perspectives, both to sit down and read the first few chapters page by page and as a reference to look something up in the index and jump to page and read just the bits I want. Alot of the sections have also served me well outside of the Apple arena and the book now sits on my desk at work as a general reference where I can see it being quite well used by many people.

There is not much I can criticise this book on, as I have found it provided me pretty much with what I was looking for. Other people that have borrowed it from me have also concurred with my findings above. If I had to mark this book out of ten, I'd give it 9.5 - nothings ever perfect! But I think I'd be hard pressed to find anything that suited me any better.

Simon Wright, 2004-05-17