Mac OS X Hacks
Book Review

Mac OS X Hacks
100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tricks
Rael Dornfest & Kevin Hemenway

ISBN 0-596-00460-5
406 pages
US $24.95 CA $38.95

The tide of Mac OS X “hacks” books is rising with the O’Reilly’s publication of Mac OS X Hacks 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tricks. This trade paperback-sized volume is stuffed full of very useful suggestions to improve your OS X skills. While hard-core Unix converts to OS X may scoff at the some of the beginner-level “hacks,” there are plenty of fun tricks for novices to intermediates, and challenging techniques for intermediates to experts. The varying range of hack sophistication and difficulty is one of the best aspects of this book: you can start with the easy tips, move on to the moderate tricks, and hope someday you’ll be geeky enough to work the magic of the most exotic Unix-based feats of skill and daring.

The tips and tricks are sorted by subject; Files, Startup, Multimedia, User Interface, Unix and the Terminal, Networking, Email, the Web, and Databases. To help the reader decide which hacks to try, each one is rated Beginner, Moderate, or Expert, and is illustrated by a small thermometer. The higher the mercury, the more expertise (usually Unix) is called for. Be sure to check the temperature, as you may find an expert hack right next to a beginner hack.

Now, don’t get scared off by the “U-word.” Dornfest and Hemenway do a creditable job walking readers through the exact Unix steps needed (if any) to do a hack or trick. But, caveat lector; if you jump into deep water, you might be in over your head. Mistype some Unix commands in an Ÿber-geek hack, you’ll sorely regret the fact you don’t have enough Unix knowledge to truly understand the cookbook-style instructions. While ten pages of Hacks are devoted to an overview of commonly used Unix commands, after reading it I felt I knew just enough to get into serious trouble. So, exercise caution when typing. You’ll soon find out that Unix has no “undo.” But, good backups provide the courage to try new things!

Still too scared to try Unix? Morally/spiritually/philosophically opposed to command lines? Be at ease! Dornfest and Hemenway give plenty of fun mouse-based suggestions to learn how to do great slideshows, run an Internet radio station, modify the standard Desktop look and feel, and more. Just experimenting with the beginner-level hacks and the recommended shareware/free applications will be fun for many readers, so don’t pass by Mac OS X Hacks just because you are allergic to Unix!

Warnings aside, the power of Unix combined with the Mac OS is a thing to behold. Executing just a few simple Unix commands can add tremendous capabilities to your computer; email servers, sophisticated Web server functionality, neat user interface tricks, and many more.

Über-geek wannabes like myself will be tantalized by all the neat things that require only a modicum of Unix; SSH remote logins to another OS X Mac, running AppleScripts from the command line, running FTP servers, even setting up a Web DAV server (like an iDisk).

Later, when I get my nerve up, I’ll dive into the hacks to run the built-in Apache web server, as well as the Sendmail mail server, and experiment with setting up cron jobs to run tasks on a regular basis.

Mac OS X Hacks is a book you can live with for a long time, as few readers will be jumping into the expert hacks right away. You can come back to Mac OS X Hacks time after time, and find some new tip or trick to play with.

Production values are typically O’Reilly: outstanding. The trade paperback size makes this book quite easy to hold, unlike many of the boat anchors I’ve recently had to manhandle. Screenshots and type are both crisp and clear.

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

David Weeks

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