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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.
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on May 1, 2003
The tide of Mac OS X "hacks" books is rising with the O'Reilly's publication of Mac OS X Hacks 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tricks. This trade paperback-sized volume is stuffed full of very useful suggestions to improve your OS X skills. While hard-core Unix converts to OS X may scoff at the some of the beginner-level "hacks," there are plenty of fun tricks for novices to intermediates, and challenging techniques for intermediates to experts. The varying range of hack sophistication and difficulty is one of the best aspects of this book: you can start with the easy tips, move on to the moderate tricks, and hope someday you'll be geeky enough to work the magic of the most exotic Unix-based feats of skill and daring.
The tips and tricks are sorted by subject; Files, Startup, Multimedia, User Interface, Unix and the Terminal, Networking, Email, the Web, and Databases. To help the reader decide which hacks to try, each one is rated Beginner, Moderate, or Expert, and is illustrated by a small thermometer. The higher the mercury, the more expertise (usually Unix) is called for. Be sure to check the temperature, as you may find an expert hack right next to a beginner hack.
Now, don't get scared off by the "U-word." Dornfest and Hemenway do a creditable job walking readers through the exact Unix steps needed (if any) to do a hack or trick. But, caveat lector; if you jump into deep water, you might be in over your head. Mistype some Unix commands in an ?ber-geek hack, you'll sorely regret the fact you don't have enough Unix knowledge to truly understand the cookbook-style instructions. While ten pages of Hacks are devoted to an overview of commonly used Unix commands, after reading it I felt I knew just enough to get into serious trouble. So, exercise caution when typing. You'll soon find out that Unix has no "undo." But, good backups provide the courage to try new things!
Still too scared to try Unix? Morally/spiritually/philosophically opposed to command lines? Be at ease! Dornfest and Hemenway give plenty of fun mouse-based suggestions to learn how to do great slideshows, run an Internet radio station, modify the standard Desktop look and feel, and more. Just experimenting with the beginner-level hacks and the recommended shareware/free applications will be fun for many readers, so don't pass by Mac OS X Hacks just because you are allergic to Unix!
Warnings aside, the power of Unix combined with the Mac OS is a thing to behold. Executing just a few simple Unix commands can add tremendous capabilities to your computer; email servers, sophisticated Web server functionality, neat user interface tricks, and many more.
Über-geek wannabes like myself will be tantalized by all the neat things that require only a modicum of Unix; SSH remote logins to another OS X Mac, running AppleScripts from the command line, running FTP servers, even setting up a Web DAV server (like an iDisk).
Later, when I get my nerve up, I'll dive into the hacks to run the built-in Apache web server, as well as the Sendmail mail server, and experiment with setting up cron jobs to run tasks on a regular basis.
Mac OS X Hacks is a book you can live with for a long time, as few readers will be jumping into the expert hacks right away. You can come back to Mac OS X Hacks time after time, and find some new tip or trick to play with.
Production values are typically O'Reilly: outstanding. The trade paperback size makes this book quite easy to hold, unlike many of the boat anchors I've recently had to manhandle. Screenshots and type are both crisp and clear.
MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5
David Weeks
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on April 4, 2003
...O'Reilly has never steered me wrong with books for UNIX, Windows, Perl, you name it. So therefore when I saw the "MAC OS X HACKS" book I immediately grabbed a copy. Having just finished "Google Hacks", another O'Reilly publication, I was eager to dive in and see if this book would be as useful as the Google book. I would not be disappointed. One of the unique aspects of this book is you can turn to any "hack" and begin applying it without having to read the others. The book is like a collection of many magazine articles brought together under one roof - and with all the media fluff removed. I was amazed at how a novice like me could easily follow the step-by-step instructions and not feel lost. I soon found myself using color-coded paperclips to mark off sections of the book for future reference in terms of what they did (OS setting, audio settings, etc.). You can dive right into some of the more advanced hacks, such as setting up your own mail server, without having to worry that the authors will assume you are familiar with how to do a particular step. They walk you through the entire process; complete with screen shots for some of the more tricky options, and let you focus on the task at hand.
Considering how much benefit this novice MAC OS X user got from the book, more advanced Macintosh users are likely to find that this book provides a quick "easy reference" for some of the more tricky or complicated setups. Since the book is organized into independent sections, one could easily use this for a desktop reference. Plus, it's not the "Macintosh for Dummies" type of book that seems to fill most shelves nowadays - the authors assume you want to do the advanced stuff with OS X, but just need some tips to get you going. Hopefully O'Reilly will continue with the "Hacks" series of books (I'm eagerly awaiting a book on Windows Hacks!); they are the first series of books that really let the end users get under the hood of various platforms and tasks and "get the job done" without feeling lost. I would not be surprised to see MAC OS X Hacks, as well as other Hacks books, come out in volume format. After all, after spending almost a week with the MAC OS X book, I can see how these can quickly expand to cover a lot more topics in a similar, condensed format - which for us "get it done now" type people is a godsend!
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on May 14, 2003
Tim O'Reilly's blurb about the Hacks series of books includes the following: "I've always wanted to publish books that capture the essence of the hacker experience. I wanted a format that made it easy to present lots of small but useful tidbits - tips, tricks, and dare I say, hacks." One of my initial impressions regarding Mac OS X Hacks was that, despite each of the arcticles being dubbed a numbered "hack," many of them weren't, exactly, hacks. However, I think Tim's description does capture the sentiment with which the book seems to have been compiled - it's all about making your Mac distinctively yours, whether it's just by an ingenious combination of standard Preferences, installing third party utilities, or writing some yourself.
The book is especially useful in that each hack is written as a short, standalone article, so you don't have to have read #1-26 to be able to follow #27. If one article assumes or benefits from something covered in another, it's explicitly referenced in the text, as are other sources to turn to for more information, on the web and in print. It also provides the benefit of long-time Mac experience from a number of different authors - you can find out what Derrick Story has learned the hard way from years of backing up his own laptop on the road, for example.
The authors do a good job of pointing out many little freeware and shareware utilities and workarounds for specific tasks - the sort of thing you'd usually have to spend half an hour digging through forum postings to find. Of course, this means that many of the tricks and techniques (like removing the brushed metal from Cocoa applications) can be found on the web for the price of some patient Googling, but the pleasure in having a book like this is that someone - or many someones, in this case - has already done the necessary dredging and written a slick little nugget of an article condensing everything you need to know. The authors are, for the most part, excellent writers and vastly knowledgable about their subject matter. I've selected a couple of my favorite chapters to talk about (I couldn't include them all for space reasons).
Chapter Two: Startup
This is one of the sections - and there are several - where Mac OS X Hacks reminds me very much of Unix Power Tools. I particularly remember the Logging In and Logging Out chapters of UPT, which were a revelation to me years ago when I first started playing with a Linux box and had never heard of such a thing as a .profile. The Startup chapter in this book deals with (among other things) verbose booting (#13), using open firmware for added password protection (#16), and how to get OS X running on an older, unsupported Mac (#17).
Chapter Three: Multimedia and the iApps
I admit I haven't spent all that much time with this chapter, because I prefer other options for most of the functionality provided by the iApps. I think Audion does a better job as an MP3 player than iTunes, and Adium a better job for instant messaging than iChat, and iCal fascinated me for about a week before I went back to a pen-and-paper planner, of all things. However, I'm intrigued by some of the different ways these applications can be combined and scripted. #28 (Controlling iTunes with Perl) is definitely worth a read.
Chapter Four: The User Interface
Mac users have always been fond of customization, especially as far as the GUI is concerned, so it's not surprising that the chapter in which I feel this book really shines is this one. Many of my favorite (and now dog-eared) articles live here. #40 (Extending Your Screen Real Estate with Virtual Desktops) was a treat; I've always liked using multiple desktops with other window managers and had wondered if it could be done under OS X. The article points out a couple of options - one shareware, one freeware. #43 (Screensaver as Desktop) was fun as well - Running the Cosmos screensaver in the background beneath a slew of transparent terminal windows is a striking effect, and not as CPU intensive as you might think. Other gems in this chapter include #45 (Speakable Web Services) and #47 (Prying the Chrome Off Cocoa Applications). There's also a discussion of various alternatives or additions to the Dock, although noticeably absent is my personal favorite, DragThing.
Chapter Five: Unix and the Terminal
More Unix basics that many people will already know, but also some interesting discussion of material specific to Mac OS. There's the requisite information about changing the appearance of Terminal windows (mmm, transparent) and an introduction to Apple's Developer Tools, featuring Project Builder and Interface Builder. #56 (Top 10 Mac OS X Tips for Unix Geeks) collects some of the differences *nix users will encounter between OS X and other operating systems. #65 (Running Linux on an iBook) is fun, too.
Chapter Eight: The Web
The web chapter is a lot of fun. #85 (Searching the Internet from your Desktop) explores a couple of ways to use Google outside a browser - this seems like the kind of thing there might be more of in the Google Hacks book - as well as other search methods, including Sherlock. Other favorites from this chapter include #87 (Reading Syndicated Online Content), and the articles dealing with the Apache installation that comes with OS X. These are #88 (Serving Up a Web Site with the Built-In Apache Server), #89 (Editing the Apache Web Server's Configuration), and #90 (Build Your Own Apache Server with mod_perl).
Summing Up
There's a lot in this book that smart users could figure out by themselves and that experienced users would already know, but that's not why you'd buy it. Mac OS X Hacks picks up where Mac OS X: The Missing Manual leaves off, assuming a reasonable level of competence in day-to-day functions, but guiding you through the wealth of capabilities contained within OS X that you might be vaguely aware of but haven't really played around with. You probably could find out a lot of this information on your own, but would you?
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on June 10, 2003
'Mac OS X Hacks' is a good grab bag of tips and techniques for getting the most from your Mac. While the tips are not as universally appealing (even among Mac owners) as those in 'Google Hacks' most people will find some value in the selection; some may find it a little thin.
The book is split into 9 chapters; 'Files', 'Startup", 'Multimedia and the iApps', 'The User Interface', 'Unix and the Terminal', 'Networking', 'Email', 'The Web' and 'Databases'.
For my money the last chapter is a complete waste of space since it only covers installing MySQL and PostgresSQL, and if you can't figure out how to install them from the documentation then you shouldn't use them. A number of the other tips would come close to that level, I feel their only use may be to encourage people who would otherwise stay away to make some use of the terminal and similar tools.
When I first started reviewing the book I would have complained about a large number of the tips being too application specific, too general or too low in skill level. Since then I've had a friend who wanted to edit a movie and we both found the chapter on iApps useful, one with a brand new Bluetooth phone who liked the couple of tips on Bluetooth and another who found the cross platform Windows-Mac stuff useful. So I have to say that while some of the tips might seem useless now you may come to appreciate them later.
Overall the book is well written, well laid out and well cross-referenced and covers a wide range of information.
My one major beef is still that there are too many 'tips' that are well covered by other material. Since you shouldn't really get this book until you are at least Mac proficient and probably own a basic Mac book or two then perhaps a tenth of the hundred tips will be covered in most Mac books and perhaps another five to ten you will have discovered on your own.
Reading over my notes I feel split between raving about how good the book is - well written with a bunch of useful tips and tricks for any Mac user - and complaining about the useless nature of some of the tips. So I am left saying that if the book falls into your definition of 'inexpensive' then grab a copy. If the price is 'expensive' then just make sure a friend owns a copy and borrow theirs every so often.
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on February 5, 2004
I'm a Unix guy from way back, having worked on TENEX and TOPS-10 systems in the late 70s, on SunOS and Solaris during the 80s and 90s, and having been introduced to Linux in the early 90s. I've worked on Windows PCs mainly for office work (but never on Macs), and when Mac OS X came out, I was in computer geek heaven. I bought a PowerBook G4 with Microsoft Office X, and then I had a laptop with Office, Unix, the command line, and the beautiful Mac look-and-feel and the stunning display. I thought I probably knew quite a bit about Unix and the Mac already, given my background, and I didn't really anticipate how much a book on OS X hacks would have to offer.
"Mac OS X Hacks" proved to be a great buy for me! The book has 100 hacks spread across 9 chapters, one for each major area of interest to the authors (Files, Startup, Multimedia, etc.), and almost every chapter contained a hack that was valuable to me. I skimmed the entire book and marked out many hacks for later study, some of which I intend to implement and/or play with immediately. The hacks in which I have initial interest include #8) ejecting jammed CDs, #13) getting a glimpse of the boot process, #21) built-in image conversion, #22) multiple library management for iPhoto, #23) making your own documentary, #24) how the iApps work together, #41) capturing screenshots, #45) speakable Web Services, #58) installing Unix applications with Fink, #59) mirroring files and directories with rsync (for backup), #77) using a cell phone as a Bluetooth modem, #78) using dynamic DNS services to set up an externally-accessible web server at home, #79) working with the Entourage (Outlook for Mac) database, and #88) using the built-in Apache server on the Mac.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in hacking OS X on their Mac. This book should have exciting new information for all but the most experienced hackers of Mac and OS X.
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on June 15, 2003
This book is a very interesting read. For folks that like their solutions quick and clean this the book for you. The book is designed to be used by reading "chunks" to accomplish your desired hack, in the vein of "How to" articles popularized by the now defunct MacUser magazine. Dornfest and Hemenway put together a slick, easy to read guide with some very useful tips and tricks for Mac OS X. The authors have impressive credentials in the Mac community and several equally qualified professionals are credited with contributions to the tome.
The book is divided into nine chapters, each with about 10 tips. The subjects include Files, Startup, Multimedia and iApps, The User Interface, UNIX and the Terminal, Networking, Email, The Web, and Databases. Each tip is one to three pages long and well laid out in easy to follow step-wise instructions. A simple "thermometer" icon is given with each tip to alert the user to the level of difficulty. Additionally, throughout the book the authors alert users to areas where they should be careful. Being new to the Unix environment, I found the tips on use of the Terminal application and several utilities that are unique to Unix to be a valuable introduction for me. After the thorough introduction to the Terminal application, Dornfest and Hemenway proceed to build on the basics by demonstrating the usefulness of the application with more advanced commands such as chmod and sudo.
Tricks covered include: Stubborn trash, stuck images and Jammed CDs; Turning your Mac into a Hard Drive; Hijacking Audio from Mac Apps; Top Screenshots Tips; Interacting with the UNIX Shell from AppleScript; Sharing an Internet Connection; Creating Mail Aliases; and Serving up a Website with the Built-in Apache Server. Each chapter includes tips and tricks for beginners and advanced users alike. Several of the hacks make reference to other areas covered in the book, but each tip is useful on its own.
Several of the tips are hacks to the system using the Terminal application and serve to show the user the underpinnings of the OS. All in all, a fascinating look at OS X from two masters of the realm.
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on April 12, 2003
Here we have a rather well done little book that I wasn't going to bother to review because I assumed that it was just a boring collection of the same old tired hacks one can find on dozens of web pages. The very idea of even opening such a book made me tired, bored, uninterested. I just didn't think I could even bear to read it, never mind review it.
Once again, I was wrong.
The first thing I liked about this is something we are starting to see more frequently: some use of color in the text. Photos and screen shots are still black and white (still too expensive to do that much yet), but section headings are nicely set off in purple. Such a small thing, and probably something that will become very common soon, but it enhanced my reading experience.
If this really was the boring collection of so called hints I thought it was, the purple text effect wouldn't have been enough to keep me going. But I did keep going. Yes, a lot of it was stuff I already knew, and some of it (the movie editing, for example) is stuff I have no real interest in. But all of it is practical: there's none of the silly "turn your scroll bars into cartoon characters" kind of nonsense. The authors obviously use their Macs to do real work, and the tips and hacks reflect that. Would you expect to find instructions and examples of using MySQL and PostgeSQL? This has those. It also has instructions for using a Bluetooth enabled phone as a modem, and enough other esoteric hacks that you'll surely find more than enough value for your money.
Interestingly, I couldn't find a single thing I disagreed with either. Every time I thought that a little carelessness had crept in, the next paragraph gave the very caveat that had bothered me.
Nicely done. That's almost always true of O'Reilly books, but it still needs to be said.
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on April 29, 2003
Wow! What a wonderful book...I thought it would've been filled with...little tips like "how to change your dock settings" but I was totally wrong. Instead, I found Terminal commands, how to set up your own online radio station using nothing but QuickTime software, and many other intresting stuff. None of the hacks are very hard to do either, even a amateure Mac user can follow along with the nice pictures included with almost every hack. The layout of the book is also very simple and easy to read. I suggest that all OS X users purchase a copy of this book if you want to take full advantage of your Mac.
If you are an advanced OS X user, this book may not be so much down your lane. There will probably be only a few hacks in this book that will intrest you but it will not be the full price of the book...but I would still reccomend this book to everyone else.
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on February 9, 2004
I am coming back to Mac after 8 years of unix and linux, so it's cool to have a book like this. It has a lot of good tips about using the Macintosh applications (iPhoto, iMovie, Mail) as well as ways to integrate them with the unix stuff (cron, apache, mysql,...). I also loved the information about dynamic domain name service for your broadband connection. I devoured the book in a weekend.
One caveat: the book covers OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) and we're up to 10.3 (Panther). Some of the iApps have changed since the writing. Interestingly enough, some "hacks" are now easy-to-use features. There are a few notes about this fact, but it would be nice to have a new edition for a new OS.
All in all, though, it's a book that makes me feel smart for buying a Mac, and helps me to realize its full potential.
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