Saturday 01 January 2005

Mac OS X Power Tools

Isn’t it irritating when someone asks you for advice only to ignore the advice you’ve gone to the trouble of offering?

Cover of Mac OS X Power Tools by Dan FrakesAt the end of the post announcing my return to the Macintosh, I asked for suggestions about the best Mac OS X book to buy. The overwhelming recommendation was for David Pogue’s Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition, but I promptly went to Kinokuniya (where they offer a flat 20% discount on computer books instead of their normal 10% customer loyalty discount) and bought Dan Frakes’ Mac OS X Power Tools, Second Edition instead.

This was partly because Windows 2000 Pro: The Missing Manual, which I found to be close to useless, had undermined my confidence in the “Missing Manual” brand.

But the main reason was that, after spending an hour in Kinokuniya looking carefully at the Pogue book, the Frakes book, and John Ray & William C Ray’s Mac OS X Panther Unleashed, Third Edition, I decided that the Frakes book appeared to have been written for me personally—since the opening chapters answered all the questions that had occurred to me as I’d been testing Mac OS X and various applications and utilities on my friend G’s PowerMac G5. So far, I’ve read the first four chapters, which cover the following subjects:

  • Chapter 1 — permissions and user accounts.
  • Chapter 2 — system and application preferences.
  • Chapter 3 — boot, startup, and login processes.
  • Chapter 4 — installing Mac OS and Apple & third party software.

Now I feel reasonably confident that I can set up the new Macintosh correctly and install the applications I need in the appropriate locations.

The next four chapters cover working with files and the Finder, customizing the Dock, using and troubleshooting applications & utilities, and using the Classic environment. Then it’s on to network and Internet setup, file sharing, connecting to shares on other computers & servers, and printing. Finally, there are chapters on security, maintenance and administration, and UNIX plus an appendix on working with multiple volumes and partitions (this was the frosting on the cake, since I’m a compulsive disk partitioner).

The book is cleanly designed, Frakes writes in a straightforward, engaging style, and he provides lots of links to useful shareware programs. In the introduction, Frakes positions his book between Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition and Mac OS X Panther Unleashed, Third Edition and this seems exactly right to me. If you’re looking—as I was—for something warmer than Pogue but not as hot as Ray & Ray, then Mac OS X Power Tools, Second Edition might be just right.

In addition to the Official Website for the book (with a sample chapter, extra tips, and updates/errata), there’s also an incredibly useful Superb Software page, which lists “every software title mentioned in Mac OS X Power Tools, along with URLs to get more information about each.”

There was another book in Kinokuniya that attracted my attention: David Pogue’s Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual. But I decided that, rather than buying it, I’d be better off subscribing to O’Reilly’s Safari Bookshelf for a month or two and getting access to this book and a bunch of others for a modest monthly fee. Unfortunately, it’s not included in the Safari Mac OS X books, though David Coursey’s Mac OS X for Windows Users: A Switchers’ Guide is. But both Rob Griffiths’ Mac OS X Power Hound and Rael Dornfest & James Duncan Davidson’s Mac OS X Panther Hacks are on the Safari list, so perhaps a subscription might be worth while—it will certainly be a lot less expensive than buying another three or four books.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who offered advice on which book to buy—even though I appeared to ignore your suggestions, you actually helped me to figure out the book I needed to buy. I’ll ask about software applications in a subsequent post.

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Comments

When you get around to setting up the Mac, after you create your own Admin account, go ahead and create another account that you don't plan on using.

It's often useful to have a generic, unmodified, untouched account to use for troubleshooting. Now my Macs are all at home, where it's not at all likely that anyone but me will use them, but technically, it's seen as a security risk to have more than one Admin account, among the security experts. So they would tell you not to make the second user an Admin, but I do in fact do just that.

You probably know this, but do not create a root user unless it's a dire emergency; you can do anything you'd ordinarily need to do with sudo. Some of the Power User books are a little bit fast and loose with Root privileges and it makes me a mite uneasy.

Posted by Lisa Spangenberg on 2 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Since you seem to have access to a number of Mac books, and since I'm giving some consideration to putting some Mac in my family's life, I was wondering if any of them address setting up a RAID array using software? I keep scans of all our photos, my digital photos, our music, our home videos, etc. on several disks in a RAID-5 configuration, and I'd hate to lose that.

TIA,
Ewan

Posted by Ewan Grantham on 2 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Lisa, Dan Frakes does suggest setting up a troubleshooting account and never using it... until one strikes a problem. Like you, I think it's an excellent idea. He also suggests setting up a "test user" account for testing beta software although I'm inclined to use SuperDuper's Safety Clone feature for this. And, although Frakes does explain how to enable the root account, he strongly advises against doing so. Instead he recommends using sudo to gain temporary root access in Terminal or using Snard or Pseudo to temporarily open applications as root.

Ewan, I only have the Dan Frakes book at the moment. He briefly notes that you can use Apple's Disk Utility to set up either RAID 0 (striping) or RAID 1 (mirroring).

There's a lengthy Macintouch thread on RAID here: http://www.macintouch.com/raid.html

However, a couple of contributors point to deficiencies in Apple's software RAID: http://www.macintouch.com/raid.html#dec02

and recommend SoftRAID (http://www.softraid.com/features.html) instead.

Unfortunately, SoftRAID only supports RAID 0 and RAID 1. (I briefly considered using SoftRAID but decided that I didn't really need mirroring and that cloning my boot drive with SuperDuper would provide me with an adequate copy of it.)

The Macintouch thread does suggest some RAID 5 alternatives so you might want to check it out.

Posted by Jonathon on 2 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

I have the Missing Manual book, and it is good, but I've heard positive things on the one you bought.

Unfortunately, it looks like I may no longer have the Safari membership, O'Reilly gives, or perhaps used to give, O'Reilly authors. However, it is a handy service, and better than killing a bunch of trees (not to mention taking up space in your book case, which would be better served for holding new movie DVDs for movies).

Posted by Shelley on 2 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Sigh. Should be, "...which would be better served for holding new movie DVDs."

Now, if only you had post-publishing comment editing...

Posted by Shelley on 2 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Shelley, having used -- and been mightily impressed by -- the post-publishing comment editing on your weblog a few times, I too wish I had it here. Any chance of your packaging it as an MT plug-in?

Posted by Jonathon on 2 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathon, thanks for the link. It looks like there is support for Hardware RAID 5, but nothing that specifically mentions Software RAID 5. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to have to keep one of the Linux boxes around for disk storage, but I'll keep looking to see if there are any other solutions. If I find anything, I'll be sure to post.

Thanks again!

Posted by Ewan Grantham on 3 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

I've thought about this Jonathon, ever since Jerry (fron The Jer Zone) mentioned in my comments about me extending my comment package so that he could incorporate into his home grown comment system.

I have an idea that I wouldn't mind trying out, but would need a site with a MT installation that I could play with (i.e. not production, not public), that had SSH access I could be given. I would install MT on my own site, but space is becoming a slight problem until my OsCommerce work is finished.

Not that I'm hinting, or anything....

Posted by Shelley on 3 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathon:

Google Alerts alerted me -- fancy that ;-) -- about your blog entry. Thanks for the kind words on the book; I'm glad to hear you're enjoying it and finding it useful!

Posted by Dan Frakes on 3 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Dan, thanks for dropping by. Years ago, I laughed when a friend told me he'd read the FileMaker Plus manual from cover to cover. Now I realize there's a strong chance I might do exactly the same with your book.

I realized I hadn't mentioned the book's website or the Superb Software page, so I've added a paragraph about them.

Posted by Jonathon on 3 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Your note reminded me that I hadn't yet updated the Superb Software page with a bunch of titles that had been inadvertently left out. I did that this morning, so it should be complete now ;-)

Posted by Dan Frakes on 4 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

I don't know if you've got your Mac yet, but I just wanted to drop you a recommendation on software. Given your immaculate collector's taste, I thought you might be interested in Delicious Library, a DVD, Book & CD cataloguing program. It's just out and maybe has a few extra features yet to implement, but its already the sort of special application that Mac users have come to cherish (and then demand more out of). Good luck with your Mac.

Posted by Darrell Moore on 6 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Darrell, thanks for the suggestion. As it happens, I already played with Delicious Library when I was testing a bunch of applications on a friend's Macintosh. Since I have quite a few Japanese books and DVDs I was particularly impressed that I could access the appropriate information from Amazon's Japanese website. And I also like the fact that the library information is stored as an XML file.

One thing I didn't like is that you can't create and populate your own custom fields. For example, I'd want to be able to specify whether a DVD is Anamorphic or not and there doesn't appear to be a way to do this in the current version. Nor did I like the fact that you're stuck with the faux woodgrain shelving -- I preferred the gray steel shelving in the Import area but couldn't figure out how to have that for my collection too.

I agree with you, though, it's an amazing program. Let's hope that the few extra features left to implement include the two I've mentioned.

Posted by Jonathon on 6 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

Delicious Monster, the developers for Delicious Library are very responsive to user feedback; drop them a line, after fixing the obviously munged address, leaving the hypen as is:
delicious?delicious-monster.com.

Posted by Lisa Spangenberg on 7 January 2005 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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