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Mac OS X Hacks Full Review

I have finished my review of Mac OS X Hacks from O'Reilly.

The review will also soon be posted up on the chicago perl mongers site.

The full review is on the complete page for this post. The short version of the review is that if you want to trick out your Mac OS X installation or want to start digging into the unix side of your Mac (go on. you know you want to), this book is a must have.

Title: Mac OS X Hacks: 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tricks
Authors: Rael Dornfest, Kevin Hemenway
Publisher: O'Reilly
Pages: 430
Reviewer: Jason Scott Gessner
Synopsis: A great collection of unusual and useful GUI, automation and unix tricks for your Mac OS X system.

Table of Contents:
Chapter 1. Files
Chapter 2. Startup
Chapter 3. Multimedia and the iApps
Chapter 4. The User Interface
Chapter 5. Unix and the Terminal
Chapter 6. Networking
Chapter 7. Email
Chapter 8. The Web
Chapter 9. Databases

Rael Dornfest and Kevin Hemenway have put together an extensive collection of generally neat and genuinely useful tricks for a Mac OS X machine. The multimedia iApps are covered, explanations of Mac OS X's unix-ness are covered, applescripting and perl all get their place. Overall the book covers the topics given well, but the release of iLife and the updated iApps have made some of the hacks less useful and several important unix sections are either missing completely or woefully inadequate. Thankfully, there are only 2 inadequate sections and the rest of the hacks are well thought out and inventive.

The Good
Multimedia has always been a strong point with the Macintosh and the proliferation of MP3s, digital video and still cameras has made good multimedia software a necessity. Apple's iApps (iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto and iDVD) have been lauded as some of the best around. There are many tips in the book for integrating the iApps, but Apple seems to have pulled the rug out from underneath the authors. The recently released iLife suite contains updated versions of the iApps that already work incredibly well together. You can search your iTunes playlist from iPhoto for a slide show, or from iDVD for a menu screen. iMovie files can now be opened directly from iDVD. Useful tips include some freeware to manage multiple iPhoto libraries, utilities to change the metal applications to an aqua look and feel. brian d foy provides a great article on controlling iTunes with perl and even providing an apache module for that purpose.

The Bad
The sections on MySQL and PostgreSQL installations (Hacks 99 and 100 respectively) are probably the thinnest in the book. Not in terms of page count, but overall usefulness. Compiling, installing and initially configuring MySQL is covered, but testing it is described by creating a PHP script instead of connecting via the command line. The postgreSQL section does a more thorough job of this, covering database creation, command line connections and even JDBC connection settings.
Aside from the limited discussions of the databases themselves. I would have liked to see more uses for the databases on the system. Maybe a hack to send your iCal events to mysql for publishing on your web site, or your address book for a company directory based on postgreSQL.

The Missing
X11 is only mentioned in Hack 56, "Top 10 Tips for Unix Geeks," and then only in passing. This is a major omission from the book. Apple's web site is constantly showcasing scientists and other professionals who are moving to the Mac OS X platform because it can run all (or most) of their unix apps natively and any remotely, but the authors choose not to address it here. Apple's X11 Server is also a major advance for X11 on Mac OS X with hardware openGL support and great integration with the Aqua interface. Apple has also been working to integrate Mac OS X support with the XFree86 maintainers. Regardless of the relatively recent release of the Apple X11 server, the authors missed a great opportunity to showcase one of the many X11 server options available for Mac OS X and its usefulness.

This book is a must have for serious Mac OS X users. The hacks cover every aspect of daily OS X use and introduce many advanced unix topics to the unix newbies. While more coverage on X11 and more creative uses of the database technologies would have been welcome, this book is a gem.