Spencerian writes "I've become quite accustomed the depth of co-author Dave Taylor's writing on UNIX in previous books such as Teach Yourself UNIX in 24 Hours . As you can note from Dave's recent writing credits, his experience and knowledge of UNIX is vast and varied. That said, I was mildly disappointed with this latest offering that discusses the UNIX underpinnings of Mac OS X." Spencerian explains the logic underlying that conclusion in his complete review, below.
For starters, I was annoyed to find that the book's title implied a larger format than the 139 pages it comprises. The book has an audience problem because of its size. UNIX guys like thick books. Is this book mostly for newbies to OS X, to UNIX, or to Mac OS X's implementation of UNIX? Despite this targeting problem, the book's contents are still useful, but I think its audience is more geared to new UNIX users. The book just doesn't have much depth for even a reference title, especially for a topic such as UNIX, and particularly for a new, little-documented UNIX family operating system such as OS X.
While Mac OS X is a BSD variant, it has a few idiosyncrasies that may throw off a veteran UNIX user, and this book manages to address most, if not all of these notable problems. For instance, Dave notes problems in sendmail that prevent it from working from the command line in Mac OS X's Terminal application, and presents a fix for the problem. If you use command lines in UNIX all the time, the book does present good instructions on getting Lynx, IRC, newsgroups, pine, and the like up and running in Terminal. The book shies away (quite appropriately) from any graphic interface items unless required, such as when changing Terminal's preferences.
This book was very recently published (May 2002) but already has fallen behind with the release of Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar). Some components of Jaguar, such as CUPS support for stronger printing options, are completely missing from this book. If you have Jaguar installed on your computer, don't dive headlong into the NetInfo Manager steps for LPR printer configuration. Books typically don't age this fast, but in the case of this book, small changes seem to mean a lot to this title's usefulness -- the introduction of CUPS may have made Chapter 5's contents almost irrelevant.
Another small nag involves the lack of information on useful commands for Mac OS X users that weren't available (or were difficult to find) with the old Mac OS 9. One such command, cron, makes my life easier for handling some tasks on my home computer. It's not even mentioned in this book, nor will you find much information on shell scripting or compiling UNIX code you might happen to find. I guess I'm most annoyed at the lack of compile information since the Apple Developer Connection marked this book as a Recommended Title.
Despite our fondness for (and tolerance of the slightly-higher prices of) Macintosh computers, Mac users aren't made of money and don't like to buy a bookstore's worth of tomes for basic information. It would have made a lot of sense to talk more about compiling software since Apple's software or other GUI products don't meet or can configure all UNIX needs. And I won't even talk about the lack of coverage about XDarwin, an application that starts XFree86 within a Mac OS X installation, allowing X Window applications to run atop or in tandem with the OS X interface. XDarwin has become popular enough for it to become part of the stable XFree86 distribution. Given that not every UNIX user is a command-line freak, this is a pretty critical omission in my mind.
So, who should buy this book?
If you are completely new to UNIX and have been a gooey-kiddie who's used almost nothing except Mac OS 9, this is a very good reference to get your toes moist with UNIX. However, as drug dealers say, "the first taste is free." This book will leave you wanting more detailed information. More experienced UNIX users can probably find out what they need about Mac OS X's command line from a few free locations such as Mac OS X Hints.
One last thing: A pox upon Tim O'Reilly for not using the platypus for the animal on the book's cover. Given that the open-source core operating system of Mac OS X is named Darwin and has a nicely-modified take-off on the BSD mascot that depicts both the name of the OS and its BSD origins, I would think that O'Reilly would have jumped on this obvious cover.
You can purchase Learning UNIX for Mac OS X from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.