Mac OS X Services in Snow Leopard
Mac OS X Services let one application supply its powers to another; for example, a Grab service helps TextEdit paste a screenshot into a document. Most users either don't know that Services exist, because they're in an obscure hierarchical menu (ApplicationName > Services), or they mostly don't use them because there are so many of them.
Snow Leopard makes it easier for the uninitiated to utilize this feature; only services appropriate to the current context appear. And in addition to the hierarchical menu, services are discoverable as custom contextual menu items - Control-click in a TextEdit document to access the Grab service, for instance.
In addition, the revamped Keyboard preference pane lets you manage services for the first time ever. You can enable and disable them, and even change their keyboard shortcuts.
Remember when information was in books, not on the Web? Well, people still read books!
Article 1 of 5 in series
In 1990, I bought my first Macintosh, a PowerBook 100 that included a whopping 2 MB of RAM, a 20 MB hard disk, and System 7. As a new computer user, I was amazed at how easy it was to use, and, especially, how simple and clear it was to manage the system software. Those days have changedShow full article
In 1990, I bought my first Macintosh, a PowerBook 100 that included a whopping 2 MB of RAM, a 20 MB hard disk, and System 7. As a new computer user, I was amazed at how easy it was to use, and, especially, how simple and clear it was to manage the system software.
Those days have changed. My latest Mac, an iMac DV SE, came with 128 MB of memory, a 13 GB hard disk, and (here's the big difference) Mac OS 9. Although I no longer have the old PowerBook for comparison, I remember the System Folder taking up only a few megabytes of hard disk space. On my iMac, the default System Folder (without any third party additions) takes up 175 MB for 2,179 items. Needless to say, the Mac OS does a lot more than before, but it has become far more complex and confusing.
For a guide to the new operating system, I turned to the much-hyped Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual, by David Pogue (Pogue Press/O'Reilly, 2000, $19.95). (David also worked with TidBITS publisher Adam Engst on Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook; see "Macintosh-Windows Translation Dictionary" in TidBITS-509.)
Not in the Box -- There is a trend in the software industry that started a few years ago, and is becoming the norm: many programs no longer ship with printed manuals. TidBITS commented on this back in mid-1998 in "The Death of Documentation" in TidBITS-428. In the best of cases, you get a well-formatted PDF file of the manual; sometimes the manual is composed of HTML files (such as the help system included with Mac OS 9); and, in the worst case, you get some kind of Internet-based help that is neither practical nor easy to use. For complex applications or system software, these help systems are seldom sufficient. Also, accessing electronic help often obscures the program about which you're seeking (leaving you frequently switching between overlapping windows) or changes the state of your computer, further confusing matters. One of the great advantages of a printed manual is that it can sit on a desk or your lap for easy reference without altering what appears on screen or changing what the computer is doing.
I consider myself a Mac power user, and have never felt the need for a third-party book telling me how my Macintosh works. I have always managed to find enough information from user groups, magazines, and electronic publications like TidBITS, but Mac OS 9 seemed far more daunting than previous versions.
I don't know exactly what I expected to find, but I must say I was surprised. There are many new functions in Mac OS 9 that I knew little about, some functions in other recent operating system versions that I never really explored, and some simple tricks that I never considered.
I actually read the book from cover to cover, so I could see exactly what I was missing (but I am one of those people who likes reading computer manuals). After having discovered many new details of Mac OS 9, I've dipped back into this book often for more. For instance, the presentations of new features, such as Multiple Users and the encryption options, gave me an awareness of how these features work. The chapter on managing memory, while not totally new information to me, is well designed and gives a crash course in understanding both how the Mac OS uses memory and how to tweak it for maximum performance.
The book's organization reflects the way a new user might approach a Macintosh: first the Mac desktop, followed by help using applications, then the components of the system itself, details of getting online, and finally networking. The presentation of the Mac OS 9 desktop is a fine and detailed introduction to the operating system's basic interface features. You learn how to tweak and configure the desktop, windows, and folders to fit your needs.
From there the book goes on to discuss applications: how they work, how to manage memory, and an introduction to AppleScript. This last section was, indeed, no more than an introduction, and provides little information on programming with the AppleScript, which is a bit of a shame. AppleScript is one of the key unappreciated features of the Mac OS, and a better presentation could show just how useful it can be.
Part three examines the components of Mac OS 9 and is probably the most useful section to me. I've often wondered exactly what all those extensions and control panels do, and I finally found out about many of them that I could disable to save memory. For example, it's useful to know that if you are not running a network, you can safely disable both the AppleTalk and File Sharing control panels. If you're not planning on having multiple users work on your Mac, you can turn off Multiple Users. Tips like these free up memory for other uses, and can be a boon if your computer contains a relatively small amount of RAM, such as the 32 MB in the early iMac or iBook configurations. (You can also find detailed information about the contents of your System Folder using the shareware InformINIT or Extensions Overload; Casady & Greene's Conflict Catcher also includes an extensive reference library.)
Two short chapters give an overview of using the Mac with the Internet, and the next section talks about setting up a network with your Macs. Then the book examines a few disparate subjects, such as printing, sound and video, speech recognition, and ends up with three appendices on the different menu commands, installing the Mac OS, and troubleshooting.
Encyclopedia Macintosh -- There are few negatives in this book. The main one that stands out is the author's claim that the book "is designed to accommodate readers at every technical level," but real beginners should stay away from this book. If you are just starting out with the Macintosh, you would be better off looking for a book written expressly for beginners. The problem here is that the book is written more like an encyclopedia or other reference book. It is not a tutorial, even though, as I said above, the order of chapters does reflect the way one might approach a Mac. But once you get to know your Mac, this book would be an ideal reference manual, thanks also in part to an excellent index.
The book carries David Pogue's distinctively light-handed writing style, and the layout makes it one of the most visually satisfying computer books I have ever read; kudos to designer Phil Simpson and the rest of the book's production team. The typeface is easy to read, sidebars and figures are prominent and informative, and section titles are reversed in a black box at the page edges, making it easy to thumb through the book to find what you are looking for. Also, like other O'Reilly titles, the book has a lie-flat binding that helps prevent pages from flipping on their own when the book sits on your desk.
While this book lacks the detailed tutorial quality that would make it ideal for beginners, it will be very helpful to any Mac users who are beyond the beginner stage, want to know more, or who desire a reference manual to everything in Mac OS 9.
[Kirk McElhearn is a freelance translator and technical writer living in a village in the French Alps.]
Article 2 of 5 in series
The speed of technology engenders not only growth in computer performance, but also in the number of words we use to talk about it. Computer terminology may not approach the doubling in chip performance that occurs every 18 months according to Moore's Law, but it can feel like that at timesShow full article
The speed of technology engenders not only growth in computer performance, but also in the number of words we use to talk about it. Computer terminology may not approach the doubling in chip performance that occurs every 18 months according to Moore's Law, but it can feel like that at times. Recent years have seen such new terms as streaming video, DSL, XML, portal, WAP, FireWire, and USB. Many TidBITS readers may know these words and their meanings, but what about terms like beepilepsy, stovepiping, or IEEE 1394? If you need to know what these terms mean, you could find out by doing a Web search, but if you want them all in one place, an up-to-date dictionary is essential. Most users may get by with knowing the basic words that are unavoidable, like hard disk, RAM, and CD-ROM, but for those who work in the computer business and care about using language correctly, a good dictionary of technical terms is essential.
Newton's Telecom Dictionary, by Harry Newton (Telecom Books, $32.95) is the mother of all computer dictionaries. This perpetually soon-to-be-obsolete book tracks all the latest terms in computing, networking, and telecommunications. Don't let the title throw you off - it may have initially been about telecommunications, but over the years, the book has morphed into a computer dictionary as well. Now in its 16th edition, with over 1,000 pages, you would be hard pressed to find a computer term that it doesn't define... at least for a few months.
Avoiding obsolescence is the main problem computer dictionaries face. As technology moves ever onward, it is hard for the authors of a dictionary to keep up. Harry Newton updates the book every six months (there is a new numbered edition each year and an interim update every six months, under the same edition number), and he claims to add 100 new terms per week. So, you can be sure that whenever you buy it, it will be more or less up to date, until the next edition.
Despite the title, Newton's Telecom Dictionary is more than just a dictionary. Many of its definitions are sufficiently detailed - some as long as four pages - to justify calling it an encyclopedia. They're well-written, and even exhibit a sense of humor at times. Take, for example, the definition for leg iron: "1. [...] What [telephone] personnel wear to climb wooden poles. 2. Worn by prisoners to prevent them running away. Many customers want their telephone technicians to wear them until their system is up-and-running 100%." Harry Newton clearly aimed this book at a non-technical audience, which makes it useful for students of computing, as well as for executives who need to understand what their engineers are talking about.
The book also contains thousands of abbreviations and acronyms from A to ZZF, covering the most common abbreviations used in computing. Harry Newton, however, doesn't try to provide an exhaustive list of abbreviations, given the vast number that aren't in common use.
Although Newton's Telecom Dictionary is an invaluable reference tool for anyone working with computers and language, it could be better. The paper version works well for browsing, but I'd find a CD-ROM or online version useful for quickly looking up definitions and searching for words within definitions. As an example of how helpful this is, visit Denis Howe's less-extensive FOLDOC, the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, which can also transfer searches to the Google search engine and the OneLook meta-dictionary search site. Another useful source for looking up abbreviation expansions online is the long-standing WorldWideWeb Acronym and Abbreviation Server.
I'd also like to see some sort of an upgrade path for current users. The economics of the publishing world (and of shipping 1,000-page books) probably ensure there's no way the publisher could provide physical upgrades. But what about serving existing readers online? I probably won't buy a new copy every year, but I'd be happier if I could consult a password-protected Web site for updates.
Quibbles aside, Newton's Telecom Dictionary remains the essential reference for those of us who not only need to use the right terms when writing about technology, but also need to know precisely what they mean. With this book weighing down your bookshelf, you can be sure of finding and understanding the words behind the bits and bytes.
[Kirk McElhearn is a freelance translator and technical writer living in a village in the French Alps.]
Article 3 of 5 in series
Computer books can be big, because computers - as well as the applications and operating systems they use - are far more complex than their makers would often like to admitShow full article
Computer books can be big, because computers - as well as the applications and operating systems they use - are far more complex than their makers would often like to admit. Although size isn't always important, it is true that a huge tome often contains information left out of other books.
The Mac OS 9 Bible, by Lon Poole and Todd Stauffer (Hungry Minds, $40) is one such book. It does not offer an introduction to the Mac OS 9 or a tutorial approach to using it, but tries to present the whole shebang - and at over 900 pages, there is little missing. You might ask why it would be worth buying a Mac OS 9 book at the dawn of Apple's release of Mac OS X, but, aside from the fact that not all Macs are able to run Mac OS X, I strongly suspect that many Macintosh users are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Mac OS X. And if you're planning to stick with Mac OS 9 for another year, or, if you're planning to run older applications in the Classic environment (which uses Mac OS 9.1), there's no reason not to make the most of it in that time.
You get a sense of the depth of this book in the first few pages - the table of contents alone is 22 pages long. Poole and Stauffer have compiled seemingly as much information as possible on the Mac OS, and they present it in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.
However, the Mac OS 9 Bible is not a book for Macintosh beginners, as the authors specify in the introduction. It won't tell you how to point and click or how to select menu items. Instead, it's for those who want to know how everything works, or who want a reference book at their side when a question arises.
The first 100 pages or so deal with the basics of using the desktop and the Finder, as well as what's new and cool in Mac OS 9. (Note that it does not cover the recent Mac OS 9.1 update; I doubt there will be a new edition taking new features such as the Finder's new Window menu into account, but Mac OS 9.1's visible changes are mostly minimal.) This material is geared toward inexperienced users, but the sheer quantity of information presented will probably turn off such users. In short, don't give the Mac OS 9 Bible to someone to get them up and running with a new iMac (TidBITS will publish a comparative review of some iMac-oriented books in the near future).
The Mac OS 9 Bible was not written to be read cover-to-cover, but it includes everything, in well thought-out chapters, and contains excellent explanations of some of the key aspects of the Mac OS. Just a few examples: the section on fonts gives an overview of the different types of fonts and how they work; the two comprehensive chapters on printing tell more than you will ever need to know about the subject; and the chapter titled "Adjust Controls and Preferences" tells you how to tweak every tweakable part of your system.
The Mac OS 9 Bible also includes a good chapter on Apple's system-level scripting technology, AppleScript - something that many Mac OS books mention merely in passing. Power users have long appreciated the automation possibilities presented by AppleScript, such as mounting network volumes, changing file attributes, integrating applications, or applying folder actions (scripts that watch over folders and act when files are added or removed). It can be hard to get started with AppleScript, but with a good introduction like this, even novices can start writing scripts that work wonders.
For those interested in setting up a network (home or home-office networks are becoming increasingly common), three chapters tell all about networking and file sharing. I did notice one significant omission, though: Apple's AirPort wireless networking technology warrants only a brief mention that covers less than one page. AirPort deserves significantly more attention, since being able to set up a network without running cables through your home is quite empowering. (See "Going to the AirPort" in TidBITS-567 for more on setting up and using AirPort networks.)
I was pleased to see a chapter on shareware - there are many excellent applications available for the Mac that are not sold through traditional channels, and, in more than 20 pages, the Mac OS 9 Bible presents dozens of the best shareware programs, along with the URLs to find their latest versions. Many people are unaware of these gems, and some of the best enhancements to the Mac OS come from shareware sources.
Another hefty chapter on tips and secrets goes beyond the basics, but I was a bit disappointed by the troubleshooting chapter. The Mac OS may be powerful and generally easier to use than Windows, but Mac users have their share of problems as well. Though the pages on preventive measures are excellent, I would have preferred to see a more thorough explanation of some of the most common problems and their solutions. If you're looking for Macintosh troubleshooting information, pick up a copy of the 4th edition of Ted Landau's long-standing Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters (Peachpit Press, $35).
Compared to David Pogue's Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual, which I reviewed recently, the Mac OS 9 Bible offers roughly twice the number of pages, and presents information differently. Where Pogue takes a didactic approach aimed at teaching you how to use Mac OS 9, Poole and Stauffer are more exhaustive, digging into every nook and cranny of the Mac OS. The former is a great book for general users who want to get a handle on their Macs, but the Mac OS 9 Bible fills in all the missing details that are inevitably lost when trying to present a coherent lesson.
All in all, the Mac OS 9 Bible is excellent, even though I found it lacking in a few areas. I consider myself a power user, yet I've referred to it many times and, in most cases, found the answers to my questions (an first-class index and glossary of key terms also help find the answers inside). It's a bit pricey at $40, but when you think of the time the Mac OS 9 Bible can save you, it is definitely worth the cost. Well-written, clear, and with an excellent layout, this is one of the best and most complete books on Mac OS 9.
[Kirk McElhearn is a freelance translator and technical writer living in a village in the French Alps.]
Article 4 of 5 in series
Last week, Apple announced that it had sold its five millionth iMac, making the translucent machine Apple's best-selling Macintosh model of all time. Its unique design attracted many who had never before purchased computers, and its ubiquitous shape and colors have made it almost standard fare in mainstream magazine photo spreads, television shows, and movies - when you need to show a computer, you might as well present one that looks good. Many TidBITS readers undoubtedly own iMacs, as I do, and many of you may also have family members who own oneShow full article
Last week, Apple announced that it had sold its five millionth iMac, making the translucent machine Apple's best-selling Macintosh model of all time. Its unique design attracted many who had never before purchased computers, and its ubiquitous shape and colors have made it almost standard fare in mainstream magazine photo spreads, television shows, and movies - when you need to show a computer, you might as well present one that looks good.
Many TidBITS readers undoubtedly own iMacs, as I do, and many of you may also have family members who own one. Although it is easy for an experienced Mac user to get an iMac up and running, many new users find the task more difficult, not so much because it's inherently hard, but because nearly half of iMac purchasers are first-time Macintosh users.
Unfortunately, the iMac has fallen prey to the industry trend of eliminating documentation, in part to reduce development, production, and distribution costs, but also undoubtedly in part to support Apple's claim that it's so easy you won't need much documentation. [For more on this topic, see our seminal article, "The Death of Documentation" in TidBITS-428 and the many TidBITS Talk discussions it has spawned. -Adam] The iMac has a couple slim manuals to get you started, but, other than online documentation, there is nothing to which novice computer users can refer, or even use as an introduction. I think this is a shame, not only because the Mac OS is complex, but also because the applications bundled with the iMac, such as AppleWorks, are powerful and have a wide array of features a new user is unlikely to discover or use fully without assistance.
Many publishers have released books on the iMac, an unusual move given that single computer model is seldom sufficiently popular to warrant an entire book. Their levels differ greatly - some are designed for beginning users, others for those more familiar with computers. They all have one thing in common, though: they present the basic features of the iMac, its operating system, and its applications.
Yet, none of these books are all that specific to the iMac. Although they all present the computer, show how to set it up and connect it, they then continue with a more general presentation of the Mac OS and the different applications bundled with the iMac. Any of these books could be used as a general book on the Mac OS, with the exception of a few pages that deal with the iMac.
Perhaps this makes sense. Would a beginning computer user be more attracted by a book talking about the Mac OS (many iMac users might not even know their iMac is running the Mac OS, in spite of the splash screen displayed at startup), or by a book presenting the iMac, their computer? One of the successes of the iMac is that its "personality" sets it apart from other computers, making it a more attractive device for many novice users. iMac users don't own computers; they own iMacs.
In this article I look at three different iMac books. Each adopts a different strategy and tone to give iMac users the knowledge they need.
A Tried and True Formula -- A long time ago, in a world far, far away, computers came with manuals: huge tomes that were big enough to be used as doorstops. Some of you may remember that time. Since then, manuals have all but disappeared.
Sometime between then and now, IDG Books (now known, oddly enough, as Hungry Minds) came up with a way to attract all those computer users who didn't understand how these machines worked, didn't understand those bulky manuals, and were almost too ashamed to ask. The popular Dummies series has seen both wildly successful titles and total flops, both on computers and other diverse subjects (business, cooking, gardening, sex, etc.). Through a mixture of humor and lightheartedness, the Dummies books have the merit of demystifying computers. The Dummies series also has an online complement, where you can subscribe to daily tips by email. This can be a good way for new users to start receiving email messages.
David Pogue's The iMac for Dummies (Hungry Minds, $20) uses the irreverent tone, humor and cartoons that are the hallmark of this series to lead users from setup to competence. Written in a friendly style that's light years away from the stereotypical computer manual that many new users fear, this book provides a complete overview of what you can do with your iMac. From the absolute basics (pointing and clicking, moving files around, handling folders) to chapters on the Internet, applications, an overview of the System Folder, and even a well-presented chapter on troubleshooting, this book is a thorough collection of what new users need to know to get the most common tasks done.
Relatively little of the content is specific to the iMac, which leads me to believe that The iMac for Dummies is probably extremely similar to Pogue's Macs for Dummies (I don't have a copy for comparison). But it is certainly sufficiently copious (at over 400 pages) for the demanding iMac user, while maintaining the right tone to make it all sound easy.
Taking Your Time -- One of the biggest worries of new computer users is the amount of time needed to learn about their machine before getting anything out of it. It can't hurt to reassure iMac owners, showing them that they can learn the basics in a short amount of time.
Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours (Second Edition), by Gene Steinberg (Sams, $20) takes this approach, giving 24 one-hour chapters, or lessons, presenting the main features of the iMac. Like The iMac for Dummies, this 400-page book actually is more about the Mac OS in general - Steinberg even mentions this in the introduction, saying that this book "is not just for iMac users," but also for iBook, PowerBook or Power Mac users as well. Only the first few pages of the book are specific to the physical setup of the iMac.
But Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours presents the Mac OS in a much different way than Pogue's Dummies book. It starts at a higher level - while The iMac for Dummies is for real beginners who have never held a mouse, Steinberg instead assumes that readers are more or less familiar with the basics of using a computer. He then presents step-by-step lessons, each of which deals with a specific aspect of using a Mac.
Does this approach work? Each chapter is about the same as a chapter in any other computer book, so the lesson concept doesn't come through all that well. Perhaps there is a psychological advantage to seeing the learning process as a series of separate units. In any case, the book is well-written, and many users may feel more comfortable with its serious tone over the flippancy of The iMac for Dummies.
iMac in a Jiffy -- These first two books are relatively large, which may be daunting for some users. Other, smaller books manage to give a sufficient overview to users who don't want as much detail.
Martin C. Brown's iMac FYI (Muska & Lipman, $15) is a small, almost pocket-sized book that approaches the iMac in question-and-answer format. Its seven chapters present a total of 99 questions, each of which explains one aspect of using an iMac in a few pages. Again, there is little here that is specific to the iMac itself. But the tone of this book is that of answering the reader's questions, rather than telling the reader what to do.
iMac FYI is a much smaller book than the previous two, both in size and number of pages (277 pages), and it lacks the depth of the others. But it provides a simple introduction to the Mac OS in a relaxed, yet efficient tone. Its structure and size also make iMac FYI a good candidate for a quick-reference book, for when you don't want to read through narrative to get an answer (no matter how entertaining the narrative may be). This might be the ideal book for someone who has just gotten an iMac, but who still has someone they can call for the big questions. Think of your parents or grandparents, for whom you just bought an iMac, and who will undoubtedly be calling you no matter what. iMac FYI might give them the background to keep their phone bill down a bit and protect you from too many questions.
Nevertheless, iMac FYI isn't for total beginners. Take question 6, for example, "How do I open a file or application?" The answer begins, "Just double-click!" Well, the author does not explain what a double-click is, nor does he go into the basics, such as selecting menu items or moving the cursor. Although The iMac for Dummies may seem patronizing to some, it has the merit of explaining everything.
Looking It Up -- All three books contain one essential feature: a complete and detailed index. I consider the index one of the most important parts of a computer book, since, while a reader may read such a book from cover to cover once, it is mostly used as a reference.
iMac FYI's index is shorter, because the book itself covers less, and has the drawback of being in very small type (think of those elderly iMac users!). The other two books each have indexes of around 40 pages, with enough detail to cover most queries. Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours comes out ahead in the index user-friendliness comparison test, and its layout makes it the most readable. Its indexers carefully considered what beginning readers will look up.
Take, for example, the Command key on the keyboard. Beginning users may call it the Apple key, because of the small apple on it, but Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours provides index entries for both "Apple key" and "Command key." iMac FYI's index calls it the "Apple logo key," which might be confusing. The iMac for Dummies lacks any entry for the Command key, but it does have entries for terms such as pointing, double-clicking, etc.
Conclusion -- Each of these three books is written for a specific type of person. The iMac for Dummies is for those who don't want to get too involved with their computers, and its relaxed tone is ideal for people who are a bit anxious about using them. It has the merits of being a book for true beginners - Pogue takes the time to explain everything you need to do, from pointing and clicking to using menus and moving icons.
These basic techniques are missing from Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours, which, nevertheless, provides a solid grounding in using an iMac with a more serious tone. Those coming to the iMac with Windows experience might appreciate the way Teach Yourself the iMac in 24 Hours goes right to the nitty-gritty.
iMac FYI, while covering less ground, is less of a textbook and more of a conversation with the reader. It's not designed for total beginners, but its question-and-answer format might be perfect for those who don't want to read a whole book.
You won't go wrong with any of these books, so your best approach would be to look at each and read a couple of pages. Especially given the overlap in material between these three books and their focus on different types of users, choosing the book with the right the tone and presentation may make the difference between a tool for learning and just another book on the shelf.
Article 5 of 5 in series
When I started using Mac OS X, back in the days of the public beta, I was both confused and disappointed. The habits and familiarity I had developed over more than a decade working with Macs had been tossed by the waysideShow full article
When I started using Mac OS X, back in the days of the public beta, I was both confused and disappointed. The habits and familiarity I had developed over more than a decade working with Macs had been tossed by the wayside. Mac OS X offered a totally new user experience, and one that threw me for a loop. I didn't do much more than fiddle with that beta version; while I am an early adopter, I didn't want to adopt something that was so sketchy.
Then came the first official release. It was better, but many things were still missing. I began using it more, especially to update a manual I wrote for a popular utility. But my usage of Mac OS X remained, at the time, very limited. I ran Mac OS X on my iBook, but I kept my main computer running Mac OS 9 so I could get "real" work done. When the 10.1 release came out, life began to improve. Not only had Apple refined Mac OS X's interface, but I started to use it more and became more comfortable with the changes - if only because my work, writing manuals and books, required me to do so. The turning point came when I started co-writing my first book, Microsoft Office v. X Inside Out, and I looked more closely at just what was behind Mac OS X's attractive interface.
Quite a few books on Mac OS X have hit the stores, some written during the public beta, others before the 10.1 update came out. But the many improvements that appeared in 10.1 made these early books obsolete almost instantly. That left us with another flurry of books that followed the 10.1 update (which will certainly be somewhat out of date soon, when 10.2 comes out, but that's the way this business works). From this last set, I've examined more than a dozen Mac OS X books, and have chosen two that, to me, seem to offer the most useful information for intermediate or advanced users. Beginning users have a variety of other books that will help them get started (and I hope to look at a few in upcoming articles), but if you, like me, have been working with Mac OS X since the beginning, these two books will probably be the most valuable for your library.
One of the most interesting (and frightening) things about Mac OS X for us long-time Mac users is its Unix foundation. Chris Pepper covered much of this in several TidBITS articles already, but suffice it to say that we Mac users now have at our fingertips some intensely powerful - if not user-friendly - tools. Although many Mac users don't want to fiddle with command-line programs (and I am one of them), I've discovered that they can be real lifesavers at times. There's nothing wrong with long-time Mac users refusing to use command-line tools - Apple certainly doesn't require it - but there's equally little wrong with dropping into the Terminal every so often to do something that's much easier from the command-line.
Everything about OS X -- Several years ago, David Pogue and O'Reilly & Associates created the Missing Manual series, a now-successful imprint. His Missing Manual series has raised the bar in computer books - these books are generally well-written, complete, and full of tips and tricks. One of the most successful books in the series was his Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual, which gave many users the detailed information they needed to go beyond the basics. I reviewed it for TidBITS two years ago, and it remains one of my favorite books for those needing to learn more about Mac OS 9.
Now Pogue is back with the followup: Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. Like the Mac OS 9 book, the Mac OS X Missing Manual follows a logical sequence. If you read it sequentially, it starts with the Desktop (folders and windows, organization, the Dock, and the toolbar), then moves on to examine applications. The sections that follow deal with a more heterogeneous group of subjects: the Components of Mac OS X section covers preferences, the programs that come bundled with Mac OS X, and CDs and DVDs; and the Technologies of Mac OS X section deals with users, networking, graphics, sound, and the Terminal. The final section explains using Mac OS X to go online, and several appendices offer menu by menu explanations, talk about installing and troubleshooting, and provide some Web sites and additional books to consult for more information.
To Pogue's credit, he fills the book with useful information, from the basics of setting up user accounts and using windows, to how to set up a network. Everything is here - a brief section entitled The Very Basics even explains clicking and double-clicking. But, like Pogue's Mac OS 9 volume, this is not a book for beginners, who would soon be lost in the sheer quantity of information.
I learned many things I hadn't previously known - keyboard shortcuts for quick navigation in the different Finder views; how to create and manage user accounts; and some neat hacks, such as redefining keystrokes, something that used to be a breeze with ResEdit, and which now must be done from the command line.
One especially useful section is the first appendix, The "Where'd It Go" Dictionary, which lists the many things that Apple replaced from Mac OS 9 when creating Mac OS X. It's a boon for new users looking for familiar landmarks. I do have to disagree with one snide remark Pogue makes, however: under the heading Button View, he says it's "gone - to the great disappointment of the six people who ever used it." Not only do I miss button view - it's a great way to roll your own launcher using pop-up folders - but I personally know more than six people who use it.
When I was reviewing Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual, I commented, "The problem here is that the book is written more like an encyclopedia or other reference book." You can level the same criticism at this book - it's an encyclopedia, and many of its chapters read like a series of tips, keyboard shortcuts, and workarounds. This is both positive and negative - while the breadth of Mac OS X calls for a thorough approach, the almost list-like nature of the book can be overwhelming.
Mac OS X: The Missing Manual has 450 pages and lists for $25; it's currently available for 30 percent off from Amazon, and it's extremely likely that your favorite bookstore will have it as well.
For Power Users Only -- Mac OS X Unleashed, by John Ray and William C. Ray, is one of the biggest books on Mac OS X, and the one that currently gives the best coverage of its Unix underpinnings. With nearly 1,500 pages, this huge tome covers an incredible amount of information, but is relatively weak on the basics. It's not a book for beginners, nor for those who don't want to learn about the command line, given that the heart of the book, about 300 pages, is devoted to using the command line. Plus, a good part of the book deals with using Mac OS X as a server, which isn't essential for many users.
The extensive coverage of Unix begins with the most basic commands to run from the command line: cd, ls, rm, and others. For users with no Unix experience, this section reads like a tutorial. It gives concrete examples you can type into Terminal to see what happens. Follow along with the authors, and you will quickly understand the main Unix commands that you may need to use. I learned more than I thought I wanted to know as I worked my way through these chapters. (And the best way to learn these commands is to use them; following the authors' examples is helpful.) I am now confident when I open the terminal, though I try not to do it often.
Mac OS X Unleashed remains a high-level book, written more for administrators than average users. Sections on FTP serving, mail servers, and Web serving are well beyond what most of us need, but if that's the sort of information about Mac OS X you've been hungering for, this book won't disappoint.
It also features strong chapters on connecting to Windows - much easier under Mac OS X than Mac OS 9 - and other subjects such as Perl scripting, printer and font management, and system maintenance. Unfortunately, covering all these topics in depth can have negative consequences - it is a huge, dense book that may throw off a lot of intermediate users by its size. But if you want to learn more about what lies under Mac OS X's pretty interface, this book is for you. All that paper also doesn't come cheap, with a list price of $50, though the 30 percent discount currently in place at Amazon drops the price to a more reasonable $35.
Which to Choose? Although neither of these books is appropriate for the beginner, they approach the more advanced aspects of Mac OS X in different ways. Mac OS X Unleashed focuses much more on Mac OS X's Unix underpinnings - power users who want the keys to the kingdom should buy this book. In contrast, Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is exactly what it says - a reference manual. It deals with the basics, all the basics, and then everything else. It suffers, at times, from being a compendium, though its index is sufficient to find most everything you need.
The two books actually complement each other well. One provides a window on the visible side of the operating system and the other looks behind the scenes; many intermediate to advanced users of Mac OS X will need a little from each. If you don't even want to run Terminal - and I'm sure many of you don't - the Missing Manual is probably all you need.
In the few months I have had these books, both have gotten a fair amount of use, and, next to all the other Mac OS X books on my shelf, they have turned out to be the ones I look to first when I need to know something.