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Mac OS X Panther for Unix Geeks Brian Jepson and Ernest E Rothman
Published by O'Reilly Media
384 pages
£ 17.50
Published: February 2004
reviewed by Jan Wysocki
   in the June 2004 issue (pdf), (html)

Well I'm not sure that I'm very happy to think of myself as a geek, but as Unix SA who's recently acquired a dual G4 Mac I thought this book would help me get more out of it. I bought the G4 largely to replace two ageing Macs, but also with the thought that I could de-clutter my house and maybe get rid of some Linux boxes as well.

Who's this book really aimed at? Well I think it's fine for someone like me who'd just like to integrate some GNU clients like the Gimp and the Gnumeric spreadsheet, but it should suit someone who wants to do some serious coding for this platform. Which also means that as it's only a 300 page book its aims are probably higher than its achievement. With information aimed at several audiences, there's going to be some dissatisfaction.

Let's start with what the book has done for me in the few days I've had it. As it happened I was about to make my first attempt at a compile and install on OS X, so I checked out the chapter on building applications, then noticed that Fink was dealt with a little later. I'd heard of it, not understood what it was except that it was used in a porting context. A quick read put me straight, I wasn't surprised to learn that it's a package manager, but hadn't realised that it would lead me to a raft of compiled packages at Sourceforge. I quickly had Fink installed, rapidly followed by a binary installation of Gnumeric. The Fink chapter gave me enough information to understand and use Fink, leaving it to the Fink web site to fill in the details.

I haven't read this book from cover to cover. It works well as a source of specific information when you know enough to know what you want to do but need platform specifics. As far as I can see that's how you'd use this book. It does follow a plan being divided into parts with different aims and there's a lot to be said for at least reading Part 1: ``Getting Around'' which introduces Mac OS X from a user's perspective. Like any book, its indexing isn't comprehensive enough. After learning about the X11 preferences menu, I found it easier to discover how to stop the X server from starting in `rooted' (full screen) mode by using `find' to identify the relevant config file, than to find the page that held the information I needed.

I thought that the chapter on System Management could do with additional information, but that the chapter on Directory services was spot on. A chapter on filesystems would be useful. There's an appendix but that just lists principal directories whereas I'd have liked clarification on topics like forks, fsck caveats and how /Volume works.

In places the information can be quite dense. Superficially some of the appendices seem like fillers, but there are gems in there, waiting to be mined. So without scanning Appendix 3 I might never have guessed that `pbcopy' and `pbpaste' are available as tools to access the `clipboard'

I received this book just before becoming aware that a new OS X release was looming. This book does contain references to differences from the previous release of OS X, e.g. how to avoid problems with CPAN, and a publication date about 6 months after Panther, which suggests that considerable checking went on, as the book was revised.

If you're a Unix user who needs to go beyond the scope of ``The Missing Manual'' then this is probably the book for you. Developers new to Mac OS X will find it a good introduction before consulting on-line material.

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