Review: Mac OS X 10.3 Panther Little Black Book
Price: $30 (list); $20 (Amazon)
If you think you know your way around Mac OS X pretty well but wouldn’t mind a reference guide for when you need to know every system preference imaginable or a jumpstart introduction to backup software, consider Paraglyph Press’ third OS X Little Black Book.
If, on the other hand, you want a guide to using Mac OS X more generally—the other half of this book’s audience—this is not the right way to spend $20-$30. Go buy a round of lattes for your local Mac guru instead.
Gene Steinberg’s Mac OS X 10.3 Panther Little Black Book—a misnomer of Carolingian proportion given its girth—is an excellent resource to the seemingly endless variety of actions one may perform in OS X 10.3. Want to know what to do with Classic apps to make them launch faster? How about how to set up a restricted account for your younger sibling? Nixon’s little helper has the answer, and it does a good job of making that clear.
However, Paraglyph seems to have been unsure as to the proper approach to the book. They describe it as being for “[a]ny Mac user preparing to upgrade to Mac OS X Version 10.3 (Panther)” and for “[a]ll Mac OS X power users.” That’s a pretty tall order, and the book occasionally falls short because of that mismatch.
Each chapter begins with a narrative as to how to use the feature generally; it is followed by a collection of tips, both general and specific. Although this may make it useful as a resource, it is not comprehensive enough to be a useful manual, and its tips are comparatively basic. Its twin goals of presenting OS X to power users and to users upgrading sometimes seems forced. As a result, while the road-warrior section might alone be worth the cost of the book, one of the Safari tips explains how to access a command in the Safari menu.
One of the book’s real strengths is its design and organization. Visually speaking, it is a triumph as far as clean, accessible design is concerned; the content is largely reinforced by the layout as well. Moreover, the organization around topics or tasks is more helpful and better executed than most tech books are.
Even seeking to cover all the bases, the latter half of the book is thoroughly impressive in terms of its usefulness. Chapter 12, about taking a laptop with Panther on the road, and chapters 16 and 17, about backups and security, are well organized and helpful even to this road warrior who thought he’d figured it all out. However, the first 11 chapters, about Panther and installing it, often feel torn between the book’s two audiences: Chapter 10, for instance, contains a discussion of how to use Save and Open dialogs, something which seems a little out of place, and the Panther preferences guide (in Chapter 3) is a little too hefty and comprehensive for the average Mac user.
On the whole I found the “Little Black Book” to be a useful guide, but certainly a little too broad in terms of its audience. It seems to be trying too hard to be a book for both the average Mac user looking to use Panther and for the Panther power user, and occasionally gets caught in the quandary of either being too simplistic or too complex and detailed. The segments that allow the power user to shine through are excellent, however, and will probably help any experienced OS X user get his PowerBook on the road or get regular backups set up.