Mac OS X in a Nutshell

by Stephen Henry

I purchased one of the first Apple Macintosh's in 1984 when they first came out. I still have it tucked away in my garage. You may have seen it featured on the cover of the January 2004 cover of MacAddict magazine. Hey, if it's good enough for the MacAddict - it's good enough for my garage.

One of the old Apple TV ads I remember showed an IBM PC and a stack of manuals taller than the computer dropping next to it. The next scene was a Macintosh with a thin spiral bound manual floating down next to it. Get the idea? Mac users didn't need bunch of manuals to learn how to operate a computer. That was the way it was. They had a command line and we had a mouse. We now have a new modern operating system with multi-users, multi-tasking, multi-threading and multi-etc. We have Unix under the hood with a command line and taken one leap forward in complexity and one giant leap backward in history. Unix was invented back in the 1960's well before there was a Mac, before Windows and even before there was MS-DOS running in all of those IBM PC's.

Don't get me wrong. Since learning Unix a number of years ago, I felt that the company that came out with a good Graphical User Interface (GUI) over Unix should win the OS wars and Apple had the GUI part down pat. They have done a wonderful job of incorporating a user friendly GUI over the top of Unix. But, with the power and flexibility of Unix running our user friendly Macs, we need to learn a little about Unix to effectively manage our computer. Thus we need manuals!

O'Reilly & Associates and long time publisher of Unix books and a local company is a good source for those manuals. O'Reilly has taken to Mac OS X in a big way. While just a few years ago there were a handful of Mac related titles in their catalog, there are now over 15 titles for Mac OS X and Apple technologies.

One of those books is Mac OS X in a Nutshell - A Desktop Quick Reference. All of the Nutshell series of books from O'Reilly are intended for the advanced or Power User audience. Thus, if you are interested in getting under the GUI hood and learn about the nuts and bolts of OS X, then this book is for you. Unix users new to OS X will benefit from this book also. This first edition delivers concise information in 826 pages and 25 chapters and covers OS X 10.2. There aren't many pictures in this book. Most are in the first section mostly dealing with the finder, the desktop and system preference panes. This book is fairly technical and besides, what good are pictures when you are discussing the command line interface.

If you are interested in just learning how to get around the OS X GUI or need more help than the Apple manual that ships with OS X and the Mac help pages on the menu bar just doesn't explain enough, then Mac OS X: The Missing Manual from O'Reilly is a better choice.

The first two chapters of Mac OS X in a Nutshell are an introduction to using OS X and the Finder found in other O'Reilly books with some added tips for users familiar with Unix. The next chapter discusses OS 9 and Classic.

Chapter 4 is a handy and informative chapter dedicated to question and answers for settings, task and shortcuts arranged by categories like Date & Time, Fonts & Font Management, Modems & Dial-up Networking, and more.

Chapter 5 is a whole section showing and explaining every system preference pane, panel and options.

Chapter 6 is about applications and utilities provided by Apple. There is no effort to explain any of the iLife Applications other than mentioning them. This chapter is mainly about the system applications and utilities that provide a GUI interface to the many Unix system tools and command line options.

Chapters 7 and 8 are on networking tools, networking configurations, printing and printer setup. Chapter 9 discusses the Mac OS X file system and everyone's favorite - file permissions. The last chapter in the first sections of the book - Chapter 10 - shows how to run Java applications and introduces building Java applications with the application builder that is part of the Developer Tools software suite that ships with OS X.

The next half of the book begins to really get into the inner workings of OS X and Unix. This is the stuff Unix geeks will love. The authors discuss system administration including setting up users and groups and who is the root user. Next is network administration where network setup and services are discussed. Turning on & configuring the firewall is touched on but not in great detail. Missing is a list of ports used by the OS and services. Most network discussion is about using the network & sharing preference panes. At the end of Chapter 11 there is a few pages explaining cron task and how to configure the cron table. Cron is a group of utilities that can be set to run scripts or applications at scheduled times or intervals.

Chapter 12 discusses the mysterious NetInfo utility and Directory Services. This chapter presents just the fundamentals as the subject of directory services is complex and for network administrators. The subject is further obscured by the fact that OS X keeps much of the information and configurations in the non-standard NetInfo database and not where Unix administrators are expecting. This subject needs a whole book unto itself but the authors do a good job of giving us a simplified overview.

You will find yourself pulling this book out frequently. I find myself reaching for this book before all others I have on OS X, so I keep it close by.

Look for Panther in a Nutshell coming in 2004. I'm sure it will be as comprehensive and valuable as OS X in a Nutshell and a must for any Panther user that really wants to get under the hood and understand their new operating system. This book and more can be found at http://www.oreilly.com or at our monthly meetings through our book librarian.