Mac OS X Hacks - 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
Posted: 13-Jun-2003

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: O'Reilly


Reviewer: Robert Hanno $24.95

Mac OS X Hacks - 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools

By Rael Donfest & Kevin Hemenway
ISBN: 0-596-00460-5
Published: Mar 2003, 406 pages
List Price: $24.95

What the Book is About
There was once a time when you purchased an Apple computer and the software did everything for you. Maybe you "played" with the extensions with the help of Conflict Catcher if something went awry or if you wanted to optimize for gaming or some other pursuit. But beyond that, a control panel configuration change or two and a minor foray into ResEdit, the life with the Macintosh for the modest user was circumscribed by rather fixed bounds --- you were the user and that was the computer.

With OS X and its Unix underpinnings, a whole new world has opened up. Thirty years of Unix programming (and hacking) has resulted in a rich trove of knowledge and applications that are now available to the adventurous Macintosh owner. O'Reilly books have been there for 25 of those years delivering up valuable books and now with an excellent on-line resource for Macintosh users:

Mac OS X Hacks book follows in that long line. Dornfest and Hemenway have tapped into many of O'Reilly's Macintosh and Unix gurus and that reservoir of Unix knowledge (and now, OS X knowledge) to produce a plethora of solid information for making your Macintosh bend to your will. Not all of these hacks involve firing up the Terminal and banging in some obscure shell commands, but it's not until Hack #11, "Inspecting the Contents of a .app Package", that you can forego the Terminal. After that, fifteen of the next sixteen refrain from any command line activity at all. A clever (but misguided) AppleScripter might even avoid the Terminal for all but a couple of hacks (similarly, BBEditing an Apache configuration file followed by a machine restart would serve the same purpose).

Level of Reading
The one hundred hacks (see - samples included) are rated for complexity with forty-three beginner hacks and the rest evenly split between moderate and expert. A knowledge of Unix is a prerequisite for many of these, but the beginner hacks may be utilized as an introduction.

What To Expect
Mac OS X Hacks format is to introduce a concept ("Introducing the Terminal" - Hack #28), or to instruct ("Make Your Own Documentary" - Hack #23). The nine chapters are titled "Files", "Startup", "Multimedia and iApps", "The User Interface", "Unix and the Terminal", "Networking", "Email", and "The Web and Databases".

Following the occasional Mac DevCenter Newsletter, and having a secure (if shallow) underpinning of Unix knowledge, I had been hacking away since migrating to OS X eighteen months ago. The contributors to the articles in that newsletter show up in this book to revise their earlier instructions and add some new information. While some of these hacks will be of lesser interest, even those that the user won't be applying might lend information or inspiration that lends itself to solving other problems. I hacked in another dozen of those contained in this book and have designs on another dozen to solve one deficiency or another (like iTunes library files spread across three partitions).

Mac Guild Grade
A Outstanding

Final Words
The only real deficiency I can report is the lack of a cost ($0 to $$$) associated with each hack to go along with the complexity. Much of this information may be found by a diligent surfer and much will be outmoded or in need of updating as OS X and the Macintosh applications evolve. That said, there is plenty here for the beginners who long to get their feet wet improving the day-to-day interface or for specialized needs. The moderate and expert users will also find something of value in the 57% of the hacks whose complexity falls within their competencies.