March 27th 2003
By Mike Flaminio
The Robin Williams Mac OS X Book, Jaguar Edition
Big, lavish, friendly, elegant, cute and easy reading all apply to this new edition of Robin Williams' Mac OS X Book. It used to be called 'The Little Mac Book' but at 800 pages it is more like 'The Hefty Mac Book.' It weighs in at 800 pages, not exactly Grandma friendly for the road. But as it says on the book jacket, don't let the size intimidate you. This is a prime book for beginners of not only Mac OS X, but the Mac in general!
Right away one's attention is drawn to the dark tabs present on many pages of this book. Tabbed pages are designated for beginners. Eventually one discovers the built-in tutorial that not only directs you through the beginner pages, but provides exercises to use for practice along the way. This is a Mac OS X beginners dream land, well mostly. What is missing can be found in a new Peachpit Press book called The Little Mac iApps Book. Considering the size of the Mac OS X Book, who can blame them? And after all, if you haven't noticed, it's the trend these days to separate iApps out from nearly every beginner book.
So what do lucky beginners get with this book? First is full coverage of the Macintosh user interface, including mousing and the keyboard. As you might expect in a book by The Queen Of Fonts, there is an excellent coverage of word processing. The beginner's section ends with a terrific section about how to use the World Wide Web.
Everything else in the book is considered to be 'Beyond The Basics.' However, I would avoid considering this an intermediate user's book. It does have one solid intermediate user element: the recipe for activating the root user account. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to find a Mac OS X writer who is not a big fat scaredy cat regarding root. You get a medal Robin. On the other hand, Intermediate users will not find any sign of Unix, no coverage of software gizmos or hacking, minimal troubleshooting, and not much behind-the-scenes coverage of the OS. There is a total of one AppleScript example provided. Intermediate users look elsewhere!
The page layout of the book is revolutionary. There is no sign of the evil Figure 1, Table B stuff that annoys even seasoned readers. Instead the pages are designed to include every graphic in its natural place with relation to the text. There is virtually no page flipping syndrome! The Visual Quickstart books come close to this goal, but Robin's book is where graphics and text are truly married, and liking it.
Another nifty feature is the quiz at the end of every chapter. If you really want to make sure you learned your stuff, the quizzes are a godsend. They tip the book in favor of me recommending it to business users who want their employees to really learn Mac OS X, and not just the frills. Another feature of quality is Appendix A entitled "Where did it go?" It is similar to what David Pogue does in his MOSX Missing Manual, and is very effective for those moving from Mac OS 9 to X. I also have to point out the effectiveness of the book's coverage of networking. A difficult and dry subject in most other books, Robin instead demystifies it all, providing good methods of DIY everyday network settings. If you are looking for intermediate user networking, again look elsewhere. What is provided is just enough to get any beginner up and running.
Humor also abounds amidst its pages. Most noticeable is Url, the friendly cartoon rat, who follows you along on your learning journey. Url even has a web site for fans. Robin adds in the occasional verbal humor. I enjoyed her non sequitur URL for 'stain removal.'
If you are serious about learning Mac OS X, but want some fun and useful hand holding, this is a wonderful book. If you have a fetish about classy page layouts, grab this book off the shelf and stare at it in admiration the next time you're in a book store. If you are happy to go beyond the basics, but are afraid of stepping into intermediate user's territory, there is no better book going. Robin Williams isn't just about fonts anymore.
A good question to ask is what happens to these books once I have reviewed them? Surely I don't keep them all! Actually, I do keep the advanced books as I always need to learn a thing or two. But I am happy to report that the beginner and intermediate books go to my local library. :-D