Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 9.03
March 2003




Download ATPM 9.03

Choose a format:

Review: Unix Power Tools, 3rd Edition (book)

by Kirk McElhearn,

Author: Powers, Peek, O’Reilly, Loukides; published by O’Reilly

Price: $69.95

Trial: Sample Chapter

As we all know, Mac OS X is built atop a version of Unix. While the Aqua interface hides this so well that most Mac users will never need to look under the hood, those of us who do will find a whole new world of computing. Sure, many Mac users have Unix or Linux experience, but the majority for the first time are looking at an operating system very different from Mac OS 9.

Unix is made up of a kernel which handles the essentials, onto which are grafted hundreds, even thousands of tools. Unix users tend to prefer the term tool, because these simple programs are usually only designed to do one thing, but to do it well. While some of these tools are complex and powerful (sed, awk, grep, the different shells), others are simple and, with just a couple of commands, can do some extraordinary things.

According to the book’s back cover, “With the popularity of Linux and the advent of Mac OS X, Unix has metamorphosed into something new and exciting.” This is indeed true. Not only are there several books about Unix for Mac OS X (including my own, due in September 2003), but the number of Unix users moving over to OS X is astonishing. With Mac OS X, we really do have the ease-of-use of an excellent GUI combined with the power and flexibility of Unix.

Quoting the book, “With Unix no longer perceived as a difficult operating system, more and more users are discovering its advantages for the first time.” In fact, I think there’s no surprise that O’Reilly chose to update this classic book now, just as OS X is gaining a foothold in the market.

This book is not an introduction to Unix. It’s not a tutorial about using Unix. It is more like a Unix encyclopedia; the ultimate bathroom book about Unix. With its many hundreds of tips, this is the book to buy once you are comfortable with the basics. You’ll learn about shell shortcuts, using grep and find, editing files, working with processes, shell scripting, and managing your system. While not everything is applicable to Mac OS X, the vast majority of what this book contains is still relevant.

While some of the articles in the book are explanatory, walking readers through the basics of a given command or concept, the majority are short and sweet—the kind of tips that are useful and helpful. In more than 1,100 pages, this book covers such a vast range of material that we Mac users may find it daunting were it not for the indexer, Ellen Troutman-Zaig, who deserves kudos for her excellent job of providing a “user’s manual” to this book. Without her extremely detailed 80-page index the book would be nothing more than a compendium; by using it, readers can find what they need in a flash.

If you’re the type of user who uses a Mac to surf the Web and send e-mail, this book is obviously not for you. But if you’re the type who used to use ResEdit under previous versions of Mac OS, this is the toolkit that will give you a wealth of useful tips and explanations. It’s a bit expensive, but if you want to use the Unix underpinnings of Mac OS X, the time you save will more than pay for this excellent book.

Reader Comments (2)

anonymous · March 7, 2003 - 20:20 EST #1
This is only a partial review. The previous edition came with a CD with all the contents of the book, plus a Java-based search engine. This book is only half as useful without the CD search capability, but the old version's search gadget did not run on Mac OS. Does the new CD work properly?
Kirk McElhearn · March 8, 2003 - 02:57 EST #2
This is not a partial review. It is a review of the book as it exists today. There is no CD with the book.

O'Reilly does, however, sell a Unix Bookshelf CD which includes this book and 5 others. A new edition was just released and I'll be reviewing it as soon as I get a copy from them.


Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article