The Mac OS X Books of Maria Langer


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My survey team reports that a significantly large group of Mac users remain scared of Mac OS X. What comes in the box hardly qualifies as a manual, and the help system is not only limited, but requires you to be connected to the Internet for anything but superficial subjects. Why not cushion the Mac OS changes with a helpful and up-to-date Mac OS X book? To put it another way, not one new Macintosh is going to be able to run Mac OS 9 except in Classic mode. If you want to keep up with Mac technology you have to learn Mac OS X. Let a seasoned Mac veteran lend you a hand. Insightful shoppers will plan on buying at least one companion book along with their new Mac. Perhaps I can help you decide what book is best for you.

The number of Mac OS X books available is now in overflow mode. Least helpful books are being culled from publisher's collections and the better books are being updated for Mac OS X 10.2. The first pair of books I have chosen are the Mac OS X 10.2 Visual Quickstart Guide and its accompanying Mac OS X 10.2 Advanced Visual Quickpro Guide published by Peachpit Press. Their respective prices are US $21.99 and $24.99. Both books are written by the impressive Maria Langer.
I like Maria Langer's Mac OS X books for three reasons: First, she is up to date. Maria was the first author to publicly release a 10.2 book (sorry David Pogue!). The second reason is her calm, clear and efficient style of writing, with bits of humor tossed in. I find her to be very easy reading and believe beginning Mac OS X users will as well. The third reason is her adherence to the presentation method of all the Visual Quickstart Guides. Their pages are designed to present the reader with text on one side and visual illustration on the other. An added bonus is that most text references to illustrations refer to the current pair of pages. This helps to prevent frantic page flipping syndrome.

Click to Download Sample Pages. You will need Acrobat Reader.

Where Maria's books are a bit weak is in the definition of their audience, as well as fulfilling the learning needs of that audience. The result is what I consider to be gaps in the the reading for beginner audiences and over-simplicity for truly 'advanced' Mac OS X users. This places the audience for her work somewhere in the intermediate realm of readers. Marie's books work best for users already familiar with Mac OS, but not Mac OS X. They can name all the iThingy applications in X but want to learn how to use them.

Where Maria's books are a bit weak is in the definition of their audience, as well as fulfilling the learning needs of that audience. The result is what I consider to be gaps in the the reading for beginner audiences and over-simplicity for truly 'advanced' Mac OS X users. This places the audience for her work somewhere in the intermediate realm of readers. Marie's books work best for users already familiar with Mac OS, but not Mac OS X. They can name all the iThingy applications in X but want to learn how to use them.

For actual beginners I recommend either the Dummies books, or the refreshing, friendly and big 'Little Mac OS X Book' by Robin Williams. For advanced-intermediate users I recommend heading over to David Pogue's 'Mac OS X, The Missing Manual' which I will be reviewing elsewhere.

Ding!

That chime means it is time to play Derek's Beginner's Book Challenge. How does Maria Langer's Quickstart MOSX book hold up as a beginner's book? The beginner's challenge consists a simulated user who wants to complete 4 typical beginning Mac User tasks: (1) Connect to a Network, particularly the Internet. (2) Get to work importing and posting those pictures of the kids up on the .Mac site. (3) Turn the collected home movie footage into computerized movies to share with friends and family. (4) Start writing memoirs, letters, email, screenplays and other text editing tasks.

BANG! And the challenge has begun...

Networking: Right off the bat in Chapter 1 Maria familiarizes the reader with networking concepts like DHCP and covers the use of Apple's helpful Setup Assistant. In Chapter 9 we learn how to set up a network connection, accompanied by excellent illustrations of network configurations and an easy path right into setting Internet preferences.

Pictures: Uh oh. There is no dedicated iPhoto chapter in the first book, but there is a reasonable overview embedded in Chapter 11. Is there more detail in the Advanced book? So sorry, no go. Can our user find coverage how to post pictures to .Mac? Oh, again a no show! Happily the new version of the first book at least introduces .Mac. It is in an Appendix that is a brief 6 pages long. Hmm. Looks like this part of the books needs some work.

Movies: Chapter 11 provides a nice but brief introductory section about iMovie. Can our user learn about putting finished movies up on .Mac? Sadly we have only the limited .Mac Appendix as a reference. Darn!

Text Editing: Beginner users who go hunting in the Index for words like 'writing,' 'letters,' and 'typing' are going to be disappointed. More experienced users will know to search under the Mac-savvy lingo of 'documents' or 'text' which will hit the jackpot. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the TextEdit application. Sweet! But oh, the book falls down again when it discusses the Mail application in Chapter 11. Five pages ain't enough, sad to say.

On the other hand, let's test the first book for 10.2 features: installation, iChat, .Mac, Sherlock, and an decent introductory section about many of the other 10.2 changes. Nice work.

How about help sources for the lost user? Here we hit another jackpot. Chapter 13 in the first book has nice help coverage, and ends with excellent advice for getting further help.

On the other hand, let's test the first book for 10.2 features: installation, iChat, .Mac, Sherlock, and an decent introductory section about many of the other 10.2 changes. Nice work.

Are there help sources for the lost user? Here we hit another jackpot. Chapter 13 in the first book has nice help coverage, and ends with excellent advice for getting further help.
Did you know Maria Langer is also a helicopter pilot?

How about coverage of more difficult subjects? Chapter 12 of the first book is dedicated to AppleScript, and I like it. It wets the wits of the reader, leading them to enjoy a nice surprise in the Advanced book: a decent Applescript chapter contributed by Ethan Wilde. The second book also includes not one, but two chapters dedicated to the use of UNIX build into MOSX, contributed by Ron Hipschman. Am I happy or what?

How about learning Mac OS X user adminstration? That's a great idea isn't it? I was really impressed when Maria included instructions for accessing the 'root' account in the first edition of the Quickstart guide. So, where did it go in the second edition? They moved it into the 'Advanced' book, right? Uh, no! In fact the entire subject of user adminstration is avoided. Apparently this subject is now considered a bit too advanced for the 'Advanced' users. Snort. Actually, I am happy that the second book goes into some detail about security. But this remains another area where the books need some work. Oh well.

Maria provides a website with stories of her helicopter piloting adventures as well as information pertinent to her books. One nice thing about the site is the iCal Appendix she wrote for her 10.2 books. You will also find sample pages to give a taste of each book, the Quickstart Guide and the QuickPro Guide. The site is worth a visit whether you want to check out her books or not.

I have one more crafty question to ask: How do Maria Langer's books fit into the entire library or Peachpit publications? You are in for a nice surprise: It fits in perfectly! First there is the previously mentioned hand-holding joy of 'The Little Mac Book' for true beginners. For uses pulling their hair out for help there is the 'Mac 911' book as well as 'Mac OS X Disaster Relief.' If you liked Ethan Wilde's chapter on AppleScript, how about following up with his entire book on the subject! If you thought Maria's coverage of iMovie was skimpy you need to take a look at the 'iMovie 2 for Macintosh Visual Quickstart Guide.' And if you want to move on to some more truly advanced MOSX tricks, check out the latest edition of 'The Macintosh Bible.'

From the perspective of Peachpit Press what we have in Maria Langer's books is a nice pair of friendly reference books that touch on just about every MOSX subject. They are is nice introduction to 10.2 for the intermediate Mac user who is moving over to Mac OS X. Both beginners and and advanced users will find them wanting, but then again PeachPit have books in their catalog for both extremes. Who can complain? This is an example of where corporate thinking actually pays off and the customer wins. (Yeah, OK! So you have to pay for the books! You can deal with it.)

OutsideX

Stay tuned for further book reviews in InsideX. As ever, your feedback is welcome, and expected. Share and enjoy!