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.]