REVIEW: “Mac OS X Snow Leopard: The Missing Manual”, David Pogue

BKMXSLMM.RVW   20110202

“Mac OS X Snow Leopard: The Missing Manual”, David Pogue, 2009, 978-0-596-15328-1, U$34.99/C$43.99
%A   David Pogue
%C   103 Morris Street, Suite A, Sebastopol, CA   95472
%D   2009
%G   978-0-596-15328-1 0-596-15328-7
%I   O’Reilly & Associates, Inc.
%O   U$34.99/C$43.99 800-998-9938 fax: 707-829-0104
%O   Audience i+ Tech 3 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   885 p.
%T   “Mac OS X Snow Leopard: The Missing Manual”

The introduction to the book states that it is intended for all levels of users, although it is primarily directed at those with an intermediate level of familiarity with previous Mac versions.

Part one introduces the Desktop, and general interface functions.  Chapter one is about folders and windows.  It definitely provides the information necessary to begin to operate the computer, but it also gives the lie to the statement that the Mac is easy to use.  There are a huge number of options for different functions, so many that it is impossible to remember them all.  The material is generally organized by topic, but there are notes, tips, and mentions buried in the text, and it is almost impossible to find these again, when you go back to look for them.  (Given the size of the book, I hesitate to suggest an expansion, but a page or two, at the end of each chapter, listing the points made, would probably be quite helpful.  And the “delete” key definitely needs to be listed in either the index or the key shortcuts appendix.)  The descriptions of operations are also incomplete in some cases.  There is mention of an indicator under Dock items which have open windows, but not that processes with no open windows may still show this indicator.

Chapter two proceeds in much the same way, dealing with the filesystem, and a great deal of trivia related to the associated windows.  The search function, referred to as Spotlight, is very, very detailed in chapter three.  The Dock and Desktop, further aspects of the operating interface, are described in chapter four.  The review of the functions is sometimes annoying in terms of the jargon used: does “go straight to the corresponding window” mean that the window becomes active, or comes to the foreground?  Does it open a window if it doesn’t exist?  Does it relate to programs, or just folders?  You need to work through the material with the book in one hand, and the Mac under the other.  (This process is not aided by inconsistencies in the operation of the Mac itself.  As I was working through this content I tried to create a new document from within the TextEdit program, and found that I did not have any options to create a file in any of the new folders I had established previously.  Later in the chapter there was mention of dragging folders to the Dock, and so I tried that to see whether it would allow me to use that folder.  Lo and behold, now I could create files in any of the new folders I had made, not just the one I dragged to the Dock.  Handy for my purposes, but not very informative in terms of why it worked that way.)

Part two deals with applications and utilities that ship with the Mac.  Chapter five outlines programs in general, along with documents (in terms of association with specific programs) and spaces (virtual, multiple, or external screens).  (More inconsistency: hiding the Finder behaves differently from hiding other applications.  And hiding used with Expose can give you some very … interesting effects.  The book warns you about neither.)  There is also an overview of the Dashboard and “widgets.”  Various aspects of data (entering, checking and moving it) are addressed in chapter six.  At this point in the book, items and tips start to repeat in the content, which possibly addresses the shortcomings in organization and the index.  Scripting (AppleScript) and mechanization (Automator) of common operations are dealt with in chapter seven, along with a set of somewhat related functions known as services.  As could be expected with an activity of the complexity of programming, the description of the associated applications is unclear, but there are some examples that take the reader in lock step through the process, and this exploration should provide a better understanding.  Chapter eight discusses the installation of the Microsoft Windows operating system on a Mac.  The review of Boot Camp (multi-boot installation) is detailed, but the outline of the virtualization options is limited to a mention of functions.

Part three is entitled “The Components of Mac OS X,” which sounds odd in view of the pieces that have already been covered.  Chapter nine addresses System Preferences, which are fundamental and significant settings and operations.  The programs generally provided along with a new Mac are described (in varying levels of detail) in chapter ten.  Removable storage, such as CDs and DVDs, are outlined in chapter eleven, which also notes the iTunes system.

Part four is entitled the technologies of Mac OS X (which sounds a bit odd given that the whole book would be about said technologies).  Chapter twelve deals with account aspects and functions.  Given the importance of access control, it is a bit disappointing to see security factors dispersed throughout, and not presented clearly.  Networks and sharing are discussed in chapter thirteen, with an odd gap in terms of sharing a wired Internet connection.  Printing, in fourteen, misses out on the sharing of printers in a mixed environment.  Chapter fifteen lists some aspects of multimedia, but is strangely reticent about video capture.  Some commands from the default UNIX bash shell are described in chapter sixteen.  Chapter seventeen notes a few customizations, mostly dealt with via outside programs.

Part five stresses the Mac OS online.  Chapter eighteen examines the setup of an Internet connection (and the discussion of sharing it is still limited and confusing).  Setup and operation of the Mail program is covered in chapter nineteen.   The Safari Web browser is dealt with in chapter twenty, and, as usual, there are a number of little tricks which would probably take you years to find out (by accident) on the “intuitive” Mac.  Chapter twenty-one explains iChat, the networks you need to make it run, and an enormous number of tweaks for such a simple function.  Some Internet server programs are listed in chapter twenty-two.  They are given the level of detail that any average computer user would need–except that the average computer user would have no idea of the network connections needed to set up a server on the Internet.

Part six is a set of appendices.  The dialogues for basic installation are listed in the first, but I was sorry not to see anything about installation on non-Apple hardware.  Appendix B has handy tips and suggestions for troubleshooting the most common types of problems.  One of the appendices is a Windows-to-Mac dictionary, which can be
quite handy for those who are used to Microsoft systems.  It could use work in many areas: the entry for “Copy, Cut, Paste” says they work “exactly” as they do in Windows, but does not give the key equivalent of “Command” (the “clover” symbol) -C rather than Ctrl-C.  You also need to know that what the book, and most Apple keyboards, describes as the “option” key is portrayed, in Mac menus, with a kind of bashed “T.”  Appendix D has URLs for a number of resources.  A set of keyboard shortcuts is given in the last.  This can be handy, but I found, in trying to rediscover keystroke combinations that I vaguely recalled from somewhere in the book, that I could not find many of them in the appendix.

There is a style issue in the written material of the book: the constant assertions that the Mac is better than everything, for anything.  The first sentence of chapter one says “When you first turn on a Mac running OS X 10.6, an Apple logo greets you, soon followed by an animated, rotating `Please wait’ gear cursor–and then you’re in.  No progress bar, no red tape.”  Well, if the gear cursor isn’t an analogue of a progress bar, I don’t know what it’s supposed to be.  (While we’re at it, I’m not sure what the difference is between the “gear cursor” and the “spinning beachball of death/SBOD.”)  Also, this statement is false: when you first turn on a Snow Leopard Mac, you have to go through some red tape and questions.  This is only one example of many.  This style may have some validity.  After all, anyone who does not use a Mac comes across the same attitude in any Mac fanatic, and, even without the system chauvinism, a positive approach to teaching about the computer system is likely helpful to the novice user.  However, the style should not get in the way of factual information.

For those using the Mac, this book is enormously helpful, and contains a wealth of information.  It’s not limited to the novice, or even the intermediate user: I found items in the work that none of my Mac support contacts knew.  With some minor quibbles I can definitely say that it is a worthwhile purchase.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2011     BKMXSLMM.RVW   20110202