Two Mac OS X Titles

Mac OS X: The Complete Reference
by Jesse Feiler

Osborne / McGraw-Hill
ISBN 0-07-212663-9, 763 pages
$39.99 US, £29.99 UK


Mac OS X: Little Black Book
by Gene Steinberg

Coriolis Technology Press
ISBN 1-57610-701-9, 456 pages
$29.99 US, $44.99 CN, £20.99 UK

OS X is going to be a veritable gold mine for Macintosh authors in the upcoming year or two. OS X is both a radical departure from, and a continuation of, the existing Macintosh body of knowledge. How do you explain X both to the new and experienced Mac user? The first author who
gets it right for both target markets will sell lots of copies. lists 37 books dealing with OS X. Twenty-four have not yet been published. Two books that hit the shelves early are Mac OS X: Little Black Book by Gene Steinberg, and Mac OS X: The Complete Reference by Jesse Feiler. Both were been covered briefly by Nemo in Book Bytes earlier this summer.

These two titles are directed at somewhat different audiences from one another. Jesse Feiler is not kidding when he call his tome a complete reference to OS X. The publisher should list the weight of the book instead of the page count! Feiler even has a section on programming in the OS X environment. In contrast, Steinberg is targeting a readership more interested in getting up and running, and doing some mild troubleshooting.

I read the Steinberg book first. When I read it, I had been running OS X for several months, but I did not consider myself an expert (I still don’t). I am very experienced in using OS 9, so I read Mac OS X: Little Black Book from the standpoint of an experienced OS 9 user who wants to understand how best to transition to the brave new world of Aqua.

Steinberg logically lays out his book to assist new OS X users. He covers (but too briefly) the new features in X. Given the amount of time, money, and frustration almost anyone will expend in making the operating system transition, a more detailed discussion of what you get for your investment would be worthwhile. Everyone knows that Aqua looks better and is supposed to crash less, but there’s much more to X than pretty colors and fewer bomb boxes.

The chapters on installing and configuring are well done. Perhaps old heads like myself do not need reminding to back up EVERYTHING before upgrading, but Steinberg cannot be faulted for insisting that backups and up-to-date software are critical. Less experienced readers should heed all the cautions!

His networking section is very well done. The Internet is an integral part of the computing experience, and Steinberg clearly explains how to set up X’s networking settings, how to use the new features like drop boxes, and how easy it is to create a network of Macs across the Internet.

I could continue to recite more brief comments about each section of the Mac OS X: Little Black Book, but that would not provide the best overview. Rest assured that each important aspect of the OS X experience is covered, from application usage to AppleScript, for the average user.

One important point to note is how Steinberg structures chapters with an “In Brief” overview, and concludes them with an “Immediate Solutions” section. He also has “New in OS X” banners in the margins, where appropriate. This feature is extremely useful. Often, I found myself skipping the bulk of the chapter and going right to the Immediate Solutions section, after noting the “New in OS X” items. More experienced users probably do not need the more basic explanations of some of the material, and instead can go right to the problem areas about which they need

The Feiler book, Mac OS X: The Complete Reference, is almost double the size and weight of the Steinberg book. For some readers, that may be good. For others, it may simply mean useless detail they do not need.

Mac OS X: The Complete Reference is targeted at the power user. One trick I used when looking over OS X books is to see the amount of detail provided about NetInfo (a database application that keeps track of various networking and administrative settings). The Steinberg book does not mention NetInfo. In contrast, the Feiler book devotes three pages of useful discussion to it. Some more specialized books on OS X Server covers it in excruciating detail. The coverage that Feiler gives NetInfo is appropriate to a power user who is not going to be actually running a server. Steinberg’s coverage (none) is appropriate for the average user, who does not need to know NetInfo from a hole in the ground.

Feiler has excellent coverage of AppleScript in OS X; it’s far more comprehensive than Steinberg’s. You could actually do something useful after reading the AppleScript chapter in Mac OS X: The Complete Reference. At the opposite end of the usefulness spectrum is Feiler’s discussion of programming OS X. I find it hard to believe that even a “Power User” would be able to DO anything after reading these pages. I hope that an aspiring programmer would get the proper resources to learn programming. The 50 pages devoted to “programming” Carbon and Cocoa would be better spent by being eliminated, and lightening the book!

I found the Feiler book had many more interesting tidbits of information on the subtleties of OS X. I came away knowing much more than I did before I read it. The fundamental concepts behind X are well explained. Some of that knowledge was immediately useful, and some of it may be useful in the future. Feiler does not present the sequential, step-by-step installation and troubleshooting procedures that Steinberg does.

If you are looking for a no-muss, no-fuss, how to get OS X running book, buy Gene Steinberg’s Mac OS X: Little Black Book, which I rate for the average user at:

MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

If you want a more comprehensive volume that explains more about the whats and whys of OS X in more detail than a novice-intermediate level book, buy Jesse Feiler’s Mac OS X: The Complete Reference, rated for the power user at:

MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

David Weeks

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