Computer books are a dime a dozen. As soon as a new version of Microsoft Whatchamacallit or Adobe Thingamajig appears on the shelves of CompUSA or MacRetailer, the instruction books hit the shelves of Borders, or Amazon.com’s virtual bookshelves. Since more and more applications no longer ship with paper manuals, the need for printed manuals grows. Unfortunately, most computer books tend to be massive tomes that are little more than elaborate regurgitation’s of the skinny manuals and Help files shipping with the software itself. The reader learns little more than how to accomplish certain functions in a certain order. This is what I call the cookbook approach to computer manuals.
While there is a place for cookbook manuals, the best books transcend this genre, and teach both principles and background for understanding, as well as providing cookbook-style recipes for doing. David Pogue’s most recent addition to his “Missing Manual” series does just this for Macintosh OS X. If I were to pick one Mac OS X book for an extended stay on a desert island, Mac OS X: The Missing Manual would be the one. (Of course, I would want a dual 1 Gigahertz processor G4 Power Mac and 22″ Cinema Display on the island, as well). Mac OS X: The Missing Manual combines the basics of OS X for newbies, and provides a more-than-generous helping of advanced techniques and principles for power-users, or those who aspire to power-userdom. The primary reason I enjoyed Mac Mac OS X: The Missing Manual much more than the other OS X books I have read is that the book is simply fun to read. Pogue consistently writes with a light wit, yet he does not indulge in the sappy humor found in the “(fill in the blank) for Dummies” series. I learned something on almost every page, even though I consider myself an OS X power-user. Even the sections I did not need to read were interesting, and I felt little desire to skip ahead to chapters covering more advanced territory. Being able to hold the reader’s attention is one mark of a good technical writer.
One benchmark I use when reviewing OS X books is how much technical detail is included. Pogue includes plenty of coverage of Unix fundamentals, and he gives examples of using the Terminal application to do things that may be difficult or impossible in the Mac OS X graphic user interface. First, he makes it clear that diving into the Unixness inside OS X is optional for most users. Then he provides enough Unix instruction for the reader to get the task accomplished.
When I saw a detailed description of how to use the NetInfo database to create and edit User groups for file sharing purposes, I knew Pogue didn’t shy away from addressing the more difficult parts of OS X. There is a substantial amount of advanced material for the intermediate to power-user to read and digest. The chapters on file permissions provided me the first thorough yet understandable overview of Unix file permissions I’ve read in a Macintosh-centric book.
In a refreshing display of candor, the author is not above admitting that certain features of OS X are less mature (or non-existent, for that matter) than in OS 9. Some aspects of administering file sharing in OS X are far less user-friendly than OS, ???NINE??? and Pogue makes no attempt to hide such unpleasant facts. Pogue’s willingness to discuss OS X’s faults and shortcomings is a pleasant surprise; most computer book authors tend to gloss over shortcomings of their subject application of operating system. Lest this review sound like a press release by the publisher, I do have a few quibbles with Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. I found the subject matter organization to be a bit confusing. For example, Part One, Chapter Two is titled “Organizing Your Stuff.” This covers how to best understand the OS X folder structure, and how to organize your files. However, Chapter 3 “Dock, Desk, and Toolbar” has lots of great information on how to use the organizational aspects of the Dock to get easy access to your files. While I suppose it would be hard to meld the two chapters, I did not like information on how to organize your drive being spread around several chapters. Another example of topics being covered in widely separated locations is when Pogue discusses problems with deleting certain files and folders, he refers the reader to tips located hundreds of pages away in another chapters. The unavoidable result is lots of page flipping and bookmarking. At least it’s worth the effort.
If you are going to purchase one book on Mac OS X, buy this one.
It’s almost certainly got the information you need, be you a new OS X user, an OS 9 convert, and a regular OS X user searching for a good reference work.
You will enjoy reading it, which is a rare thing for computer books.
If you read it all, you’ll know 95% of what you will ever need for beginner to power-user (but not Unix geek) level usage. As of this writing, David Pogue’s Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is the best OS X book for your dollar.
MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5