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Mac OS X For Unix Geeks

Ernest Rothman, Brian Jepson and Rich Rosen
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-52062-5
426 pages
£ 21.99
Published: 15th September 2008
reviewed by Gavin Inglis
   in the March 2009 issue (pdf), (html)

Success in publishing depends upon knowing your potential readers and meeting their needs. Seldom has a book illustrated this principle so clearly as Mac OS X For UNIX Geeks. Within the first page we learn how to change the behaviour of bash to conform to the POSIX 1003.1 standard. By this point the casual browser knows exactly whether they will purchase the book or not.

The target market is, of course, Linuxheads and old school console jockeys who are attracted to the white and silver gleam of the Apple Mac, but who just don't feel comfortable with a computer unless they can get beneath the gloss and mess about with the bits that the man in the shop would really rather they didn't.

For this kind of reader, the book is pitched just right. Part I alone contains enough material to fill the average technical book. It begins with the Terminal application: its differences from xterm, customising it, grouping it, or throwing it away entirely and choosing an alternative.

A useful piece of orientation follows in the chapter on files. From subtleties of resource forks to a grand tour of the file system, this explains enough to reassure the Linux user who feels adrift in a familiar but alien world. Nearby is a discussion of the Mac's much maligned implementation of X11, which comes installed as standard with Leopard.

For those not ready to leave behind the joys of Linux, Part I concludes with a round-up of options for squeezing other operating systems onto Mac hardware: virtualisation, dual boot and emulation. Even old faithful MS-DOS games get a look in.

Part II has a tighter focus and contains fifty pages of nitty-gritty on compiling software, headers, libraries and frameworks. The specifics here are likely to solve many build problems. Part III concerns package management. After an intro to Fink and MacPorts, the emphasis is on actually constructing packages and the options available for distributing your own software.

Finally Part IV considers using a Mac OS X machine as a server. The topics one would expect are all covered: file and printer sharing, database options, firewalls and mail handling. A very brief section on programming languages is tacked on the end.

The changes in this fourth edition largely concern Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Where the system behaviour has changed, the difference is explained clearly in the body of the text. There remains the odd reference to earlier versions, but the emphasis is on Tiger and Leopard. It's worth upgrading from a previous edition if the little details mean a lot to you.

Between the wider subjects mentioned here, a lot of bitty little topics are covered in a variable amount of detail. Any Mac-positive UNIX geek who doesn't learn something of interest from Mac OS X For UNIX Geeks is probably writing books like this themselves. Or working for Apple.

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