There is no shortage of books to read about Macs. So I asked Tera for a recommendation or two, and asked her what she’s reading now.
Guess what? Two books about Macs. Surprise. One she hasn’t finished, and one she sent for me to read. It’s a practical guide for what’s under the Mac’s hood.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind getting under the hood; either Mac or Mac OS X. I’m a long time Windows
user, so dinking around in an OS is OK by me. I’m masochistic.
Despite the Mac’s UNIX heritage, I’m probably like most Mac users who switched from Windows. Point and click works fine. Why? Because it just works.
Still, the Mac comes loaded, and I mean chock full to the gills loaded, with utilities and tools from the UNIX world. They’re on your Mac, ready to run, under the hood, so to speak.
Tera’s been doing Macs almost as long as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and has a rack of Mac books as her Girl Scout badge of honor. The two books on her table now are Fritz Anderson’s “Step Into Xcode,” and the more recent, and practical “A Practical Guide to UNIX for Mac OS X Users” by Mark Sobell and Peter Seebach.
I opted for the latter of the two. Why? Programming in Cocoa/XCode requires actual thinking.
I’m a former Windows user, remember?
A few years ago I picked up a UNIX for Mac OS X book for Jaguar. It was interesting, but somewhat sophomoric. “A Practical Guide to UNIX on Mac OS X” is bigger than a Mac mini, twice as thick as an iBook, and more for juniors and seniors (maybe that’s why Tera bought it).
Size matters. But not necessarily in books. What I want is something on OS X’s version of UNIX (it’s not ‘really’ UNIX), that’s, well, practical.
That means the reading is straightforward, understandable, and not aimed at geeks, yet, I can keep it on the shelf as a reference, too. If size matters, so does shelf life.
Think of “A Practical Guide to UNIX on Mac OS X” as a tutorial and reference. Tutorial? Yes. What do I know of emacs and vim?
You need a tutorial for some of those utilities, and something easy enough to understand when you come back to it as a reference 14 months later.
I enjoy using Terminal on Mac OS X. It reminds be a bit of my MS-DOS roots (actually, CP/M, which is one geeky thing Tera and I have in common)
In short, if you’re ready to look deeper into the wonders of Mac UNIX, start here.
The author, Mark G. Sobell, comes with a pedigree of UNIX and Linux background. At least, he’s written plenty of books about the subjects.
This book surprised me, pleasantly so. Yes, it’s bigger than a Mac mini, but it achieves a balance, not as a literary master work for the generations, but as a work I can read, understand, and refer to later.
Trust me. That doesn’t happen with every technical book I’ve bought.
What’s different? Examples. Not just a list of command line tools, but examples of what the tools do, how, and why. Networking on the Mac is soooo easy as to be child’s play; point and click and Bonjour do that.
“A Practical Guide to UNIX on Mac OS X” gives deeper insight into networking and examples of tweaks and how-tos. I’m not going to create an application in Cocoa and become a shareware developer, but I like creating scripts that do some neat task.
UNIX-like systems are perfect for that, and so is Mac OS X. For the Mac, there are many applications that have a simple GUI but run specific UNIX command line tools underneath.
Sobell’s book explains how that works. 236 pages of the nearly 1,000 total pages are devoted to the command reference for quick access. The UNIX glossary alone is worth the price of admission.
What’s the difference between tcsh and bash? I didn’t think it mattered. Sobell set me straight.
Did you know there are Mac-only UNIX utilities? Yep, including pltil, ditto, nidump, otool, SetFile, and more.
The point of a book like this is balance. If you’re new to Macs and just want to know more about what goes on underneath, “A Practical Guide to UNIX on Mac OS X” gets you there.
If you’re already something of a geek, have setup Linux on PC hardware, and aren’t afraid of a config file, you’ll like the exposure to Mac OS X’s UNIX heritage, and the reference capability.
Oh, back to examples and exercises. Examples make relevant that which is obscure or a bit obtuse, as some of the tools and utilities may be to some of us new to Macs.
The included exercises help to retain what’s provided in the text and examples.
A detailed view of a book of this substance could take a week, so, being concerned for your time and my carpal tunnel syndrome, head to the nearest geeky bookstore and check it out.
Or, click to Amazon for the reader reviews.