Mac OS X Unleashed
Book Review

Mac OS X Unleashed
By John Ray & William C. Ray

Sams Publishing
ISBN 0-672-32229-3
1464 pages
$49.99 US $74.95 CA

Doing book reviews for can be hazardous to your health. John Nemerovski asked me to review this book earlier this summer, but when I first picked it up, I threw my shoulder out. This has to be the weightiest OS X book ever produced! Mac OS X Unleashed’s 1464 pages tips the scales at over 3 pounds.

After some recuperation, I am now using Mac OS X Unleashed as a free weight when doing my shoulder therapy exercises. Not only has this book improved my OS X knowledge, it does double duty as a medical accessory!
All kidding aside, Mac OS X Unleashed is the most comprehensive book on the Unix understructure of OS X I have yet read. The information that this book contains will move intermediate-level OS X users to the advanced level, and it will serve as a fine reference for veteran Unix administrators who are learning to support OS X.

When you plunk down your $49.99 US ($74.95 CA), you are actually getting three books.

The first book is the first 400 pages of Unleashed. It discusses the usual Mac OS X overview and basics. General OS X operation, Finder usage, System Preferences, and the iApps get a modicum of coverage. This section is perhaps the weakest part Mac OS X Unleashed. The target audience for this book does not need or want entry-level coverage of how to use the Finder, or how to burn CD’s in iTunes. The best book for the beginner to intermediate OS X student is David Pogue’s Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. Ray and Ray could easily delete Part I and much of Part II, and the work would still have all its appeal to their real target audience.

The remaining two thirds of Unleashed comprise two book, and is why you spend $49.95 for an OS X reference book. The section on basic Unix commands and techniques is as thorough as some smaller stand-alone Unix primers for Macintosh users. You could easily spend $39.95 for other OS X Unix books that do not have have the depth and breadth of Unix coverage that you find in Unleashed. Ray and Ray do more than just cover Unix fundamentals. They cover advanced shell scripting, Unix clustering, the X Windows system, Emacs and vi, and on and on. While some of the chapters ( Unix clustering, for example) are not going to be of interest to the average OS X intermediate-level user who wants to get under the hood, the detail is there for those who want it.

Here is a brief summary of some of the Unix topics covered:

Unix file management basics
Command line software installation and troubleshooting
File system operations including permissions and groups
Process management including pipes
Command line applications (Lynx, telnet, FTP, rlogin, ssh, pine, emacs, lpr, etc.)
Environment and shell variables
Installing and using XFree86
The section on Network Administration has good fundamentals on AppleScript, Perl, PHP, MySQL, as well as intermediate and advanced level tips on how to work the the all-important NetInfo database.

Some of the best OS X info includes printer and font management, especially how to install and configure LPR printers, which can be something of a black art, or so I am told. Personally, I would not know an LPR printer if I tripped over one in the hallway.

The last sections are devoted to learning the Unix applications included in OS X: the Apache web server, Sendmail, WebDAV, PHP. There is also a smattering of info on CGI programming. While both Apache and Sendmail have thousand-page tomes devoted to them, Ray and Ray provide enough detail for the Mac-centric OS X user to get a feel for the power of the Apache web server and the Sendmail application. While anyone can turn on Apache in the System Preferences, Apple provides virtually NO guidance or instructions. Unleashed will at least provide you with a good grounding in Apache basics. Ray and Ray discuss proper care and feeding of FTP sites is provided as well.

I generally do not like book reviews to be mere recitations of the various subjects covered. But I felt it important to show how much valuable information is contained in this one book! But raw information is of no use if it is not intelligently presented. The authors’ writing style is crisp and to the point, and the example provided are relevant to real-world Macintosh computing. Too-small screen shots are my only objection to the production values. If publishers could figure out how to use paper that weighs less without sacrificing durability, then I would be even happier. This book is ponderous enough that it is difficult to hold in your lap to read. I had to lay it flat on a table to manage it.

Beginners should NOT waste their time and money on Mac OS X Unleashed. Buy Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. instead. But for those who want to learn about Mac OS X-oriented Unix, warts and all, this book should be at the top of your list.

Just be careful to watch your posture when you pick it up.

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

David Weeks

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