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ATPM 9.07
July 2003


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Review: Two Books for Switchers

by Kirk McElhearn,

Mac OS X for Windows Users: A Switcher’s Guide

Author: David Coursey, published by Peachpit Press

Price: $20

Trial: None

Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual

Author: David Pogue, published by O’Reilly/Pogue Press

Price: $25

Trial: Sample chapter

If you’re reading these words, you’re probably already a Mac User. Unless you’re a recent convert to the Mac, you won’t need these books for yourself. But if, like me, you often get questions about the Mac from envious Windows users (You mean there really are no viruses? It doesn’t crash? How do you live without a Registry?), you may want to recommend these books to your friends, relations, and colleagues who are thinking of changing platforms.

We Mac users have long known the advantages of using the Mac: better stability, easier installation and uninstallation, a dearth of viruses, a more intuitive interface, and just plain cooler hardware. (We don’t deny that there are some disadvantages as well.) Many Windows users may scoff at the Mac, saying that if only a few percent of people use it there must be something wrong, but that logic doesn’t hold water: after all, I drive a Swedish car, and fewer than 2% of the world buys the same car; no one says that I’m a fool for that.

But let’s get beyond the zealotry and look at the reason for these two books. In 2002, Apple launched a successful advertising campaign to entice Windows users to switch to the Mac. With large numbers of people doing so, it seemed logical that publishers follow the trend and release books specifically written for these new Mac users. These are two very different books, which take different tacks and look at the Mac in different ways. After all, one was written by a long-time Mac user and author, and the other by a Windows user who switched and told the tech world about it.

David Coursey is a well-known columnist for ZDNet’s AnchorDesk, and a “veteran Windows user.” In early 2002, he got a flat-panel iMac, and much to his surprise he got hooked. (Well, to be fair, he wasn’t actually a switcher; he had used Macs before but had strayed from the flock.) He loved the ease-of-use, the fact that the Mac is “more likely to be working flawlessly than [his] Windows machine,” and the way it “just gets out of the way,” letting him spend more time being creative.

His book is clearly written by a Windows user, and belies his lack of familiarity with Mac OS X. He says nothing incorrect about the operating system, but he doesn’t say very much. The book is more of an overview than a real tutorial; it touches on different aspects of Mac OS X here and there, but never goes beyond the basics. He briefly talks about working with the Finder and the iApps, but doesn’t go into any detail.

As for David Pogue, most Mac users know him. Author of the successful (and excellent) Missing Manual for Mac OS X, as well as many other Mac books, Pogue gives Windows users the real tools to start using a new Mac. From how to get their files over to their Mac (to be fair, Coursey covers this as well) to a detailed look at the differences between Windows XP and Mac OS X, Pogue’s book is far more comprehensive. (At 434 dense pages, it has twice as much information as Coursey’s 292 pages.) In a way, this book is pared-down version of the Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, combined with a section “translating” Windows concepts and showing how things work on the Mac.

David Pogue has written about Windows, and is also a Windows user, and this comes through clearly in his book. His familiarity with both operating systems is patent; he is thorough and precise in presenting the differences, and his coverage of Mac OS X is more than sufficient for any switcher who needs to get a handle on the Mac.

These two books can be seen as complementary: Coursey’s book is a good introduction, and may work better as a book to read before someone buys a new Mac, but it pales in comparison with Pogue’s book for depth and usefulness. Coursey doesn’t go deep enough, and Windows users may find themselves lost after following his instructions when they try to do more. Pogue gives the user a thorough explanation of the basics, and then goes further, telling switchers more than they’ll probably need at first, but providing a reference for the questions they’ll have after they’ve been working on Macs for a while.

My advice is simple: if you’re recommending or buying a book for someone who hasn’t yet switched, and wants to know more about the Mac before taking the plunge, then David Coursey’s book is the best bet: it answers many of the questions prospective switchers will have. But if you want a book for someone who has already bought a Mac, don’t hesitate: get David Pogue’s book. It not only helps users become familiar with new concepts by comparing them with familiar Windows counterparts, but has enough information about using the Mac that they won’t be calling you every day asking how to do something.

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