Top positive review
Accessible Hacking of Mac OSX
on May 7, 2003
Mac users have always been comfortable customizing the looks and operation of their machines. The Mac's Desktop, interface elements, and operations customarily have been very amenable to personalization, tweaks, and other manipulations. Mac OSX, however, while still very customizable, is not obviously tolerant of such things. There is, therefore, a need and a place for "Mac OSX Hacks," a book designed to show mostly traditional Mac users how to twist and contort their machines to fit their user and operations styles.
The major element in all of this, of course, is the Unix base of OSX which includes the command line, an unfamiliar file system, permissions issues, and the packing of unfamiliar Unix programs and services into the OS, often in obscure or hidden places. The traditional Mac user can easily become intimidated by all of this and reluctant to alter much, without guidance.
"Mac OSX Hacks," one of a new series of "Hacks" books published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., provides just the guidance Mac users need. A full 100 "hacks" are detailed in this book, some of which are written by the primary contributors to this book, Rael Dornfest and Kevin Hemenway, each an established writer or publisher of computer-related topics. They are assisted here by a large handful of contributors.
While the hacks are directed mostly at "power users," both for substantive matters and for "geeky" fun, most of these hacks are remarkably accessible to even non-geeks. Each of the nine topic areas - Files, Start-up, Multi-Media, User Interface, Unix & The Terminal, Networking, Email, Web, and Database, starts out with a non-technical overview of the subject matter containing useful information which helps make the hacks (and the need for the hacks) intelligible and understandable.
Hack #1, for example, provides a clear description of the user account structure of OSX - why it exists and how it is set up. Relatively simple instructions demonstrate how and why to set up multiple accounts and how to configure them, rename them and delete them, as desired. Other hacks explain what goes on in the background during the start-up process (#12), how to understand the differences in linebreaks among windows/DOS, Unix, and the Macintosh systems (#15); hack #48 is a very good explanation of the Terminal and what it is used for, including explanation of the most useful Unix commands. Hack #2 describes the various backup options for OSX, including reference to available freeware and shareware programs, as well as the built-in Unix applications.
All of the hacks are written with a no-nonsense, hands-on approach. Each is short and can be read in a few minutes. Even some of the Unix hacks are easy to do. One can learn how to open the contents of an OSX application?s "package" where one can hack revisions to application graphics, icons, and other resources, similar to what power users did with ResEdit to pre-OSX resources (#11). Hack #53 explains how to use the built-in Unix maintenence applications, like cron to perform tests and repairs using the command line.
A number of these hacks, even the ones requiring use of the command line, are amazingly accessible. For example, there is a 10-page hack (#23) on how to make your own documentary using iPhoto; #26 describes how to set up and run your own web radio station (14 pages); #78 describes how to setup a domain name service and create e-mail aliases; #85 tells how to set up a web server with the built-in Apache web application. #94 shows how to install a MYSQL database setup.
These hacks are written so clearly and concisely that I expect I will try some of them myself, and I am neither a Unix or a Mac geek.