Mac OS in a Nutshell

I recommend Rita Lewis’s Mac OS in a Nutshell – with mild reservations. The book is a concise (360 pages), inexpensive ($24.95) guide to Mac OS 8.x, with a primary emphasis on OS 8.5.

Mac OS in a NutshellMac OS in a Nutshell is part of the O’Reilly “Nutshell” series, which is both this book’s strength and weakness.

On the plus side, Mac OS in a Nutshell packs a lot of information into relatively little space. In particular, chapter 14 (networking) and chapter 15 (the Internet) do a good job of explaining the roles various control panels and system extensions play in connecting to networks.

This is the book I’ll use when I’m having network configuration problems.

Also recommended:

  • chapter 3, for its listing of OS versions and eight pages on memory management
  • chapter 5’s discussion of files and filetypes
  • chapter 16’s seven page overview of the inner workings of the Mac OS
  • chapter 19’s review of what’s different in OS 9.

Mind you, there’s little new information, even in the chapters I recommend. Mac OS in a Nutshell is not a Secrets-style book. But the information is reasonably laid out and presented, and the book is small enough physically to make it easy to carry in a briefcase or messenger bag.

On the other hand, it’s not a particularly readable book, by which I mean this is not the Mac book you want to take to the couch on a Saturday afternoon.

I think that’s less the author’s doing and more the fact that this is a “Nutshell” guide. O’Reilly house style seems to dictate that a lot of information gets repeated from section to section, presumably so that people who use the book as a problem solver and reference guide have everything they want in one place.

The trade-off is annoyances like this: On page 233 we learn, “One benefit of MIDI is its ability to synchronize sounds to video or even to HTML on the web.” On the very next page, about halfway down, we read, “The benefit of MIDI to Mac users is its ability to synchronize sounds to video or even to HTML on the web.”

Also, the book could have used one more round of proofing. At one point, Lewis declares that Open Transport was introduced “with OS 8” (pg. 274), when it was instead introduced with System 7.5.2 in May 1995.

Because it’s a “Nutshell” guide, you sometimes get just enough explanation to be frustrating. Consider this note from page 121: “Apple supports the use of Drive Setup only with internal Apple drives. In reality, Drive Setup can initialize many manufacturer’s drives.”

Were I new to Macs, I would find those sentences frustrating: Do they mean Drive Setup may well work regardless of the manufacturer? Or do they mean (as I suspect the author intended) that you can hack Drive Setup to not check for whether the drive is an Apple drive?

Nonetheless, Mac OS in a Nutshell is my current reference book of choice. I recommend it to you if you already have a solid Mac background and just need a gentle reminder of the details.

Mac OS in a Nutshell is published by O’Reilly and Associates.

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