Review: Mac OS X: The Missing Manual (book)
Developer: David Pogue, published by Pogue Press/O’Reilly & Assoc.
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.