Book Review – Mac OS X for Unix Geeks

Mac OS X for Unix Geeks
Brian Jepson and Ernest E. Rothman

O’Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 0-596-00356-0
US $24.95 CA $38.95 UK £
188 pages not including index

Confessions of a ‘Net Geezer:’ Yep, I’m old enough to remember when the term ‘geek’ was synonymous with ‘nerd;’ old enough to remember programming computers with punch cards; old enough to remember when “real geeks wore pocket-protectors.” Now, of course, most of you reading this came on board the personal computing platform during the great Internet-Quake, which brought with it that dreaded Dot-Com Tsunami which is still wreaking havoc in the ebb of its tide.

If you are a geek, (and you know it if you are) then you understand that vi isn’t necessarily the Roman number for six, perl isn’t a misspelling of a precious jewel, and X11 isn’t a top-secret military reconnaissance plane. Indeed, it’s been suggested that “real geeks speak Unix.” Of course that’s an overly narrow view, but there’s no denying that the server and development landscape has been radically changed by Line, freebased, and the many *nix offshoots that have begun to mature and come into their own.

As with all O’Reilly publications, Mac OS X for Unix Geeks is authored by true experts in the topic, in this case, Unix geeks. In addition it has a complete index and helpful appendixes. But the content itself is fairly inclusive of all the basic tools and services with which Unix developers will be familiar. Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it didn’t ‘think different-ly’ and such is the case with Mac OS X. The file structures are just consistent enough but with significant variances to throw an old Unix geek into fits of frustration, and cause the newcomer to become befuddled rather quickly.
Whether mainly managing services, building structures, or seeking information about Darwin and advanced compiling techniques, Brian and Ernest have excellent advice and pointers for you to consider. They will quickly take you through the basics of Mac OS X’s file structure and services, how to modify them to suit your personal needs and preferences, and get that “personalized” Unix that only a geek could appreciate! In addition, you’ll get the benefit of their advice about using some of Apple’s cool new GUI tools to manage some services that are typically only handled via the command line in traditional Unix installations.

Unix geeks who have been around awhile know that much of the information they need can be found in detail, IF one knows where to look. By now, there are more than a few excellent online resources that cater to Mac OS X from a Unix point of view. This book provides suggestions for outside resources dealing explicitly with a particular topic of interest. I recommend checking out Brian’s article: Top Ten Mac OS X Tips for Unix Geeks. The largest section of the book is for the developer. Apple is counting on developers to port their applications from other operating systems over to Mac OS X. While much has been made of the purported ease of moving current Mac OS 9 apps over to Mac OS X via Carbon, there’s actually a bit more to it, as is often the case, and this little book does a good job of giving the developer a handle on where the Unix tools are located and how best to approach the packaging and deployment of applications for Mac OS X.

One of the toughest challenges in writing a book like this is knowing when to stop. This is not meant to be an exhaustive text about Mac OS X, nor is it a full-featured explanation of Unix from a Mac perspective. It’s a very handy guide for someone who’s familiar with the ‘engine’ but isn’t sure of the terrain.

My advice is to view this book as a quick reference source for an overview of the common command-level features currently available in Mac OS X, how they are addressed either through the Terminal or a GUI or both, and where further details and help can be obtained online and in print. Software developers in particular will want this book, followed by server administrators. Network administrators will probably find this is not as helpful as a more exhaustive and general work like Unix Power Tools.

MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

Jeffrey McPheeters

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