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Mac OS X in a Nutshell Jason McIntosh, Chuck Toporek and Chris Stone
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
826 pages
Published: January 2003
reviewed by Lindsay Marshall

I got into trouble the last time I reviewed O'Reilly books on Mac OS X! I was told that I was being elitist and that there were people out there who really need this kind of book. I am not entirely convinced - after all why would such a person be reading the UKUUG newsletter? So, I'll tread more carefully this time and try wearing different hats.

So, first off I'll put on a dunce's cap - I have to pretend to be someone who really likes Windows and is scared of changing to a Mac, and a Mac running Unix too! Hmm, the cover illustration appears to be of a trapeze artist rather insecurely hooked onto a trapeze and there appears to be someone just slipping out of their grasp in the bottom right hand corner. I just hope that there's a safety net down there somewhere.

Anyhow, it all starts reassuringly telling me about one button mice and stuff like that, but good grief, don't the screen shots look horrible. The aqua interface does not look good in grey scale, it is all subtle and tasteful shades so just looks mushy on the page. And reading on, the tone is just a little patronising, I suppose it's meant to sound encouraging (I am a Windows user after all and thus probably a little slow), but there is a definite feeling of the jolly aunt who is going to make you have a damn good time whether you want to or not. "You really owe it to yourself to try Safari" But the information is sound and it will get you going - big lists of favourite programs and their Mac equivalents, how to get files across etc. etc. There's even stuff about the shell tucked away at the back of the book.

So, OK, I give in. Yes, I would give this to a dyed in the wool Windows user who was moving to the Mac. It's the phrase book that helps you order an edible meal with no surprises and no unpleasant after effects. You still have to learn the language properly though.

Which is a nice seque into the second book. other book Sadly, the same mushy pictures, but lots more information. This is not really for novices, it's much more of a quick, no frills, fairly-system oriented reference for someone who has good idea of what is going on but needs prompted or a little more detail. An experienced Unix user moving to Mac OS X would certainly have no trouble using it, though they would clearly find most of the Unix related material superfluous.

There is a certain amount of "print the manual page" of course - several pages of emacs key bindings and how to set up vi - and there are some odd inclusions. The "developer" section has a whole chapter on CVS which just doesn't feel right to me for some reason, it's somehow out of kilter with the rest of the content. Then there are sections like that on the Defaults system which has a couple of examples which just contain ascii formatted binary data which serves no real illustrative purpose at all.

I'm wearing my Mac OS X user hat, it's tasteful and blueish and well designed. So it should be, it cost just that little bit more, but it was worth it. It must have kept my head the right temperature too as I reckon I'm going to keep this edition on my desk to deal with the (admittedly infrequent) times when I can't make my Mac do what I want it to.

I think they ought to distribute this book to reviewers in electronic form installed on a 30G iPod though.

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