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ATPM 8.03
March 2002




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Review: Mac OS X: The Missing Manual (book)

by Johann Campbell,


Developer: David Pogue, published by Pogue Press/O’Reilly & Assoc.

Price: $24.95

Trial: Sample chapter.

A lot of changes happened in the world of Macintosh in the years that followed iMac’s introduction back in the latter half of 1998. Internal floppy drives were slowly jettisoned from all future Mac models, as well as serial and SCSI ports in favour of the then emerging, now prevalent USB and FireWire. Even the venerable Cathode Ray Tube monitors that used to come with every Macintosh system (even iMac) have now been usurped by flat-panel Liquid Crystal Displays.

One less-noticed but slightly more worrying aspect of the “Think Different” campaign that Apple has otherwise so successfully executed, however, is the fact that Apple-supplied hardware and software manuals have been shrunk to the size of your average pamphlet. While this is progress in the sense that it takes a whole lot less effort on the user’s part to set up their brand new iMac, it creates more headaches when it actually comes to finding out how to use the system software and other pre-installed software.

While Mac Help (and formerly Apple Guide) does a good job in helping you solve problems, there is still a lot to be said for the printed manual. You know, a big book which you can read from cover to cover while curled up in the comfort of your living room sofa, or dip into from time to time when you want to find out something specific about your new product. So when Apple unleashes a brand new, ground-up, brave new world operating system on the masses and expects the masses to be proficient in using this OS from reading a thirty-page pamphlet, it’s expecting a lot.

Maybe dumbing down manuals was a good move on Apple’s part, as it’s certainly created a void, which book publishers have quickly and gratefully filled. The latest in the Missing Manual series, covering Mac OS X, will come as a godsend therefore to many Mac users baffled, curious, or even scared about this Unix-based OS and what it means to the Macintosh community. You couldn’t be in better hands, either; author David Pogue has written a slew of Mac-oriented titles in the past, notably all six editions (to date) of the brilliant thousand-plus page Macintosh Secrets (in collaboration with Joseph Schorr), and at least two other titles in the Missing Manual series. Not to mention of course the countless articles that have appeared in Macworld magazine, amongst others.

I’m surprised this guy has any free time at all. Not even a permanent wrist ailment could stop Pogue from using dictation software to write this latest book, and remain good-humored all of the time. From reading this book, I distinctly get the impression that Pogue actually wants to be my friend, take my hand, and show me around the complex beast that is OS X. I’ll come back to that point later, though.

So, what does this book cover? Being a manual, it covers pretty much everything about Mac OS X. The introduction takes you through some of the history behind OS X, briefly compares it with its predecessor, OS 9 (as it will continue to do throughout the book), and explains just what you, as a Mac user, need to be able to do (use the mouse) and recognize (menus, icons, and the like). The first two chapters cover the basic stuff: working with folders and windows, and organizing your data, most of which will be common knowledge among existing Mac users.

From then on the book focuses in greater detail on various aspects of the supplied applications, such as iTunes, Mail, and Sherlock; and even a small crash-course in using the underlying Unix layer of the OS. Mac users upgrading to OS X from OS 9 or earlier will find two appendices worth reading: one dealing with the installation process, and another containing an A-to-Z of OS 9 features missing, moved, or otherwise different in OS X.

What this book does not do is teach you the ins and outs of Unix. If you want to really get to know and use the command line buried within OS X, the book helpfully points you to the bunch of man files (electronic documentation for Unix) available to you, but it stops short of teaching you how to become proficient in using the command line. For that, you’d need another 600-page book if the man files just don’t cut it. The book doesn’t touch on iMovie, because that is fully covered by iMovie 2: The Missing Manual, also by Pogue; and Apache—arguably the best Web server out there, and included as part of OS X—is an entirely different beast, also covered in greater detail in another publication.

Don’t expect this book to teach you exactly what to do with everything on your grey Developer Tools CD, either. Its focus remains on the installed operating system, although it does from time to time mention certain fun applications on the CD such as Bomb and Pixie. Nevertheless, don’t let that hold you back from buying this book, as it still contains a lot of information that you’ll want to digest.

The Missing Manual series dispenses with the usual CD-full of software on the inside back cover, offering any pieces of software mentioned in the book for download from its Web site instead. In a development world where new versions of applications such as GraphicConverter seem to be released on an hourly basis, this is an especially good move as the book claims it slashes $5 off the cover price (a figure I don’t quite believe myself), and saves taking the time to produce a CD that effectively becomes obsolete within a matter of weeks.

The Internet comes into its own linking in with this book, as besides software downloads the Web site offers an errata section detailing any reader-submitted corrections, omissions and the like, as well as e-mailing lists you can subscribe to in order to receive information on updates to the book itself (remember the update pamphlets periodically sent to owners of the Macintosh Bible editions?) and new and existing titles in the Missing Manual series.

So, along with its Web site connections, Mac OS X: The Missing Manual remains an indispensable wealth of tips and tutorials interspersed with anecdotes and interesting bits of history. Pogue’s flawless writing style, as noted above, retains the feel-good factor throughout, and will teach every new (and some seasoned) OS X users something they didn’t know before. Definitely a recommended read, this book well deserves an Excellent rating.

Reader Comments (5)

W. Salter · March 10, 2002 - 13:43 EST #1
My guess is that not including a CD with the book saves MORE than $5.00. $5.00 may be the bare cost of burning a CD but the cost of handling (putting each CD in an envelope) and integrating the CD into the book binding almost certainly would add $5.00 per book by itself.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · March 10, 2002 - 13:48 EST #2
Nah - there are machines that can do this automatically. Naturally, bindery shops will still charge for even the automated service, but when you print as many books as we're probably talking about here, it works out to a pretty cheap cost per unit. It probably doesn't cost more than a dollar per CD and only a couple of dollars per insertion.
Michael Parmenter · March 22, 2002 - 16:10 EST #3
In the spirit of harmony that always seems to accompany Fridays, I'd point out that both Mr. Salter and Mr. Bennett are correct.

The actual physical process of producing and including CDs is VERY inexpensive, as Mr. Bennett asserts. I worked for a production subsidiary of a major publisher until a few months ago and, the last time I checked, our internal unit cost was less than 15 cents on the typical run. Even with a healthy margin (depending on whose health we're talking about, of course) the net unit cost was way under $1, even for the smallest customers and minimum-quantity orders. The pricing does vary some in the industry -- but competition has leveled first- and second-tier pricing.

So why is Mr. Salter right too? Because the production cost is only a tiny fraction of what you actually pay at retail. The most expensive high-volume technical hardbacks -- typically textbooks and reference-type publications -- cost around $9-10 per unit to produce and typically retail upwards of $150. Typical volume tech publications (which are usually high-end paperbacks these days) run 30-50% of these costs.

In other words, 35 or 40 cents per unit production cost translates to five bucks by the time consumers buy a book at retail. That's why Mr. Salter is correct, and why the publishing industry is in big trouble. First- and second-tier customers account for more than 90% of all commercial book production worldwide, and there's precious little margin from any of that business. Who makes up the gap?

The small, special-interest sector, of course. The ones responsible for producing the books that real readers crave...the ones that have traditionally been the intellectual lifeblood of our society...the ones that, sadly, are no longer financially viable. I know, this sounds melodramatic, but look around you: See any independent book retailers? If you're saying "yes," count your blessings: You live in a major city, in an area frequented by well-heeled shopppers or fanatically loyal intellectuals. A few of these might survive the wrath of the economic gods and that scourge of the earth, for most, the end is near. The torch is passing to the Internet, and although I mourn the decline of an industry I have loved, there is a fragile pagan beauty to this new information fabric we're weaving. It's a brave new world.

Just keep that torch lit. The ghosts of literature's past deserve that much.
Henry Valo · December 7, 2005 - 20:23 EST #4
I agree. Whayt about comments from someone who has tried to use this manual
Robert Zijl · November 15, 2006 - 03:08 EST #5
It is now november 2006, and still nobady has posted any comment about the contents of this book. Anyone, please?

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