Miscellaneous Ramblings

My New Mac: Snow Leopard Edition Is a Great Introduction to the Mac

Charles Moore - 2009.12.08 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 and a half out of 4

If you're looking for a Christmas gift in the $30 range for Mac users on your list - especially someone new to the platform - check out Wallace Wang's My New Mac: Snow Leopard Edition.

The book has been completely revised and updated to address the new features of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and is not a manual substitute like David Pogue's Mac OS X Snow Leopard: The Missing Manual and several other similar volumes.

No Starch Press publisher Bill Pollock defines this book as "a project-based get-it-done-without-a-a lot-of-fuss-guide to using a Mac - not a tedious and boring manual - because who wants to read those anyway?" Well, personally, I like reading manuals, but I know a lot of folks don't, so there's definitely room for volumes like this on the bookshelves too.

My New Mac, Snow Leopard EditionThis edition of My New Mac, like its predecessors, is structured in a format of semi-discrete projects - in this instance 54 of them - that instruct the reader, especially readers new to the Mac OS, how to do many useful things with their Macs without the necessity of climbing a steep learning curve.

Wallace Wang says that "instead of burdening users with technical details, the Macintosh lets them get useful stuff done right away. That's why I designed My New Mac as a project-oriented book that focuses on accomplishing specific tasks, rather than a book that lists all the possible menu options." Fair enough; appendices full of menu options are not my favorite part of manual volumes.

The first edition (2008) of My New Mac was a bestseller in Apple stores and bookstores around the world, and this completely revised Snow Leopard Edition should sell robustly as well, since it's a concept that will appeal to many Mac users.

Notwithstanding that My New Mac makes a point of not getting bogged down in technical minutiae and detail, it's no lightweight (although very readable in style), containing 500 pages and being nearly an inch-and-a-half thick. There's plenty of content for your $29.95.

The 54 projects covered are grouped in five category sections plus an Introduction and a whimsical appendix with a template for building a paper computer model.

With 54 of them, the project tutorials are relatively relatively short subjects that can be approached much like recipes in a cookbook. Each project describes a common problem you may may encounter when using your computer, explains how the Mac can help you solve the problem, and then lists all the steps you need to follow in order to reach the solution in the inimitable Macintosh way.

This format allows the neophyte reader or new Mac owner to discover how to do fun and useful things with the computer right away, walked through the processes with hands-on, illustrated instructions. Readers are completely new to the Macintosh will probably benefit from starting at the beginning, with the first section: Part One: Basic Training. Aside from that consideration, you can pretty much dive in anywhere you like after scanning through the table of contents for projects that particularly pique your interest, while skipping stuff that doesn't interest you without any worries about loss of continuity.

The first section, Basic Training, starts with the very fundamental basics like turning your Mac on and off, and the several possible ways that can be addressed. There is also a section on learning to use the mouse or trackpad, how to toggle commands using the menu bar, understanding dialog sheets, dealing with the Mac OS X Dock (including customization options), and, of course, using and getting the best out of some of the more advanced Mac OS X features like Exposé, Spaces, navigating the Finder, managing files and folders, and there's even a chapter on energy conservation when using your Mac.

Part Two: Making Life Easier with Shortcuts, is what it sounds like, beginning with the eponymous keyboard shortcuts, but also addressing topics like controlling your Mac with "hot corners", finding files quickly with Spotlight, using QuickLook to check out files without actually opening them in an application, file organization, using the Dashboard and widgets, configuring multiple personalities and user accounts as well as parental controls (if desired), adjusting view options, and using the Stickies program.

Part Three is called Putting Your Macintosh to Work, beginning with tutorials on using the iCal and Address Book applications, playing audio CDs and audio files with iTunes, ripping and burning audio CDs as well as making file archives on CD or DVD-ROM discs, working with images on your Macintosh using iPhoto to organize your pictures as well as doing the basic image editing that iPhoto supports, creating slideshows, sharing files with Bluetooth and much more.

Part Four, Touching the World Through the Internet, is exactly what it sounds like, with instructions on getting your Mac online and configuring and using the Safari browser and Mail email client programs, as well as instant messaging with iChat.

Part Five: Maintaining Your Macintosh, is the book's most technical section, starting with some basics on how your Mac works, then moving on to tutorials on such topics as installing, updating, and uninstalling software, and dealing with troubleshooting issues like ejecting stuck CDs or DVDs, as well as addressing security issues like configuring password protection, encrypting your data and setting up a firewall.

The book ends with a one-page essay called "The Next Step", which summarizes My New Mac: Snow Leopard Edition as being analogous to training wheels that give the reader a gentle push in the right direction, and encouraging them to take them off and ride on their own, in the knowledge that one of the things that makes the Macintosh different from any other personal computer is that learning how to use it can actually be fun.

My New Mac: Snow Leopard Edition is copiously illustrated with screenshots, albeit rendered in monochrome, which helps keep the price down, and there is a comprehensive 10 page index.

The book's page layout is attractive and reads easily, in a no-nonsense sans serif font and with plenty of white space breaking up the text, which is incidentally printed on Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certified Fiber Sourcing stock.

The prose style is conversational and easygoing, which you would expect from an author who wears another hat as a successful standup comic who has appeared on A&E's Evening at the Improv and appears regularly at the Riviera Comedy Club in Las Vegas.

If you're a seasoned Mac veteran, My New Mac: Snow Leopard Edition is probably not your best choice if you're planning on buying only one Snow Leopard book (although it would still be a handy reference to have around, and I'm sure there are things virtually any Mac user could learn from it), but for folks who are new to the Mac - or even experienced non-power-users who have never progressed past the basics of Mac operation - it should hit the sweet spot.

My New Mac: Snow Leopard Edition
54 Simple Projects to Get You Started
By Wallace Wang
No Starch Press
August 2009
512 Pages
$29.95
Can$37.95

Currently available from Amazon.com for $19.77.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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