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Mac OS X Tiger for Unix Geeks Brian Jepson and Ernest E Rothman
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN:0-596-00912-7
415 pages
£ 24.95
Published: 3rd June 2005
reviewed by Graham Lee
   in the September 2005 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

Released to coincide with version 10.4 of Apple's operating system, this is the third edition of ``Mac OS X for Unix Geeks''. As with the previous editions, the scope of the book is wider than its 395 pages would suggest. It sets out to describe not only the differences in implementation between Darwin -- the open source Unix layer in Mac OS X -- and other Unix flavours, but also features unique to Mac OS X.

The definition Jepson and Rothman seem to use for ``Unix Geek'' is ``developer, systems and network administrator who is also a power user and likes dual-booting''; chapters on directory services, package managers, source compilation and multimedia give some example of the breadth. The effect of squeezing so many topics in is that the depth of coverage is highly variable. It can seem that this book was written with 800 pages and then had sections arbitrarily chopped out to make it fit. Some of the topics which are briefly covered or neglected relate to new features in Tiger which are not found in any other Unix or indeed earlier Mac OS X, and should be prime pickings for this kind of text. Examples of this are launchd, Apple's replacement for init, which is given a quick look in the chapter on OS X's boot sequence, and Apple System Logger, used in Tiger instead of syslog, which is not mentioned at all. Similarly the chapter on searching and metadata discusses Spotlight and its command-line tools in great detail, but doesn't mention the *xattr() family of metadata access functions.

Where a topic is covered in depth, the book genuinely excels in its description. One such example is the Directory Services chapter, which includes information relevant to both developers and SAs. It shows an example of a traditional Unix way to get a password, explains why this fails on Mac OS X, then describes a solution. It explains the structure of Mac OS X's Directory Services setup and how it relates to /etc files on other systems. Two chapters are devoted to information for developers, which are similarly detailed in their coverage of Apple's GCC, porting considerations, and the Darwin dynamic link editor. Cocoa and Carbon -- Mac-specific APIs for creating Objective-C and C++ applications respectively -- are not treated in this section but are not of immediate relevance to the ``Unix Geeks'' of the title.

The interoperability of Mac OS X with other Unix is rightly given plenty of space, so setting up open source databases, scripting with Perl and Python and using X11 are all discussed as well as using Macs with CUPS and NFS. Providing Macintosh services on other platforms, for instance with the netatalk package or Unison are also mentioned but not in as much detail. This seems slightly at odds with the view of the audience as Unix-savvy and wanting to know how Mac OS X differs and what else it has to offer, and in my view reinforces the notion that the book could potentially cover much more.

Mac OS X Tiger for Unix Geeks is a useful introduction for Unix sysadmins new to Mac OS X, although some topics receive such brief attention that it may provide no more than a list of search engine keywords in some cases. This is unfortunate given the high quality of treatment given to other subjects; if the book were divided into two volumes, one for SAs and one for developers, each of length equal to the current edition then they would make an excellent reference. Apple are famed for the pace of their operating system's development, and that could limit the longevity of the book's currency. The Panther edition was only on the shelves for 15 months.

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