Spencerian writes "Learning Unix for Mac OS X Panther is a good tool for those who are experienced with the original Mac OS or Mac OS X, but not the Unix command line. Most of the content would not interest the traditional programmer, Linux, BSD, or other UNIX jockey, however." For Spencerian's take on why, read on for the rest of his review.
This book focuses on those of us in the Mac OS professional world who have become Unix system admins by default with the introduction of OS X, and could stand to have a handy UNIX reference nearby, particularly if the Finder freezes in Apple's latest version of their BSD/OpenStep blend of a UNIX operating system.
As the authors explain in the book, the best justification for understanding and using the UNIX components present is Mac OS X is the same as in any other UNIX-family operating system: power and control. The Finder (Mac OS X's graphical desktop manager) can't do everything, so this book provides information to help power users and technicians resolve issues, install software, or create an optimized experience, all through the Terminal.
Chapters 1 and 2 provide a very helpful tutorial on the Mac OS X Terminal application, from showing the benefits of customizing the Terminal, the concept of shells, UNIX command syntax, and other obscure but useful settings that strengthen the power of the application when accessing the BSD innards of Mac OS X. Arguably, these two chapters are the strongest guide on Mac OS X's Terminal application (as it relates to its UNIX roots) that I have seen in any Mac OS X book to date.
Chapters 3 and 4 handle understanding of the UNIX filesystem, administration and superuser access, privileges, handling external volumes, file and directory names and the like. Mac OS X, while a BSD at heart, doesn't map out everything in a traditional UNIX-style directory format--at least, not from the Finder's view. Through the Terminal, a user can see the underlying, otherwise-hidden UNIX directories. The authors go through some basic but very helpful situations such as changing file and owner permissions, which can be changed from the Finder with greater ease in Panther, but not with the same finesse as done from a command line.
The file management chapter moves readers through the classic commands for moving, editing, and copying files from the command line, which can be very helpful for administrators of Mac OS X systems who must attempt repairs by SSH, for instance, and don't have access to the usual graphical elements that generally make Mac OS usage so easy. The authors don't pick sides in the vi vs. pico debate, and just offer the basic instructions on how to use either for your editing.
The book continues with the same level of complexity that local system admins or power users require in issues such as printing via CUPS, handling processes that the Finder doesn't show, using the X11 application, using Fink (a Debian-style installation application) installing OpenOffice and GIMP, using FTP and secure shell, using Pine and Lynx, and more.
For a book of just 168 pages, the authors pack quite a bit on making a Mac OS X system work from its Terminal roots. New Mac OS X system administrators will find this book most useful, particularly if their UNIX experience is lacking or radically different from what Mac OS X presents. Experienced *NIX users who bought a new Mac may find the book a good intermediary to demonstrate how Mac OS X Panther differs from the *NIX boxen they've used in the past.
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