Mac OS X Panther Unleashed
Posted: 25-Jan-2005

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: Sams


Reviewer: Mike Lloyd $49.99

Mac OS X Panther Unleashed
By John Ray and William C. Ray
ISBN: 0-672-32604-3
1672 pages, $49.99
Publisher: Sams

What the Book is About
Mac OS X Panther Unleashed provides a comprehensive overview of Mac OS X 10.3. It is the next step beyond Mac OS X in a Nutshell. Mac OS X Panther Unleashed concisely covers many of the advanced features of this complex operating system. It focuses on Panther's UNIX underpinnings and how to apply them in the configuration of this sophisticated environment.

Target Audience
The authors of the book have targeted the book to the intermediate and advanced user. This user is one who wants to move beyond the basic usage of the Mac and move into a much broader use of its capabilities, specifically development and system administration.

What to Expect
In general, the book can be divided into two parts, one which emphasizes the graphical user interface (GUI) of Mac OS X and the other which has more of a command line interface (CLI) emphasis. The GUI portion drills down through the various features of the software provided with the Mac, including the iLife tools (except for Garage Band). The authors follow the menu structure of each application and provide quite a bit of detail on the use of the software by describing how each menu can be used. One of the more interesting parts was their configuration of the printer system to print to an Imagewriter. In this section, they provide instructions on installing the full CUPS system into Panther and then configuring it to print to an Imagewriter using Ghostscript drivers. The author make it clear that this is not a practical use of the power of CUPS (4 pages per hour), but it does demonstrate how Panther's printer system can be extended to support older printers.

The remaining two thirds of the book have more of a CLI emphasis. In this part, the book provides an extensive overview of the BSD Unix environment's applications, including file system navigation, file permissions, and process management. The book also provides discussions on inter-process communications via pipes and redirection. This section provides an excellent introduction on file system navigation and the architectural philosophy of UNIX based systems.

Once the foundation is set, the authors provide information on higher-level tools such as file editors, mail clients, and printing tools. This is followed by instructions on installing software from the command line. The discussion then shifts to the shell environment and task automation using shell scripts followed by configuring Panther through the system configuration files. This section continues to build on the basic provided in the previous section by show how the user can manage changes to Panther within the command line environment.

The previous sections provide a foundation for the next set of topics in the book. This set of topics discusses using X Windows applications, scripting languages such as Perl, Python and Applescript, the MySQL database, and file and resource sharing using NFS. These sections are followed by sections that describe setting up and configuring various flavors of servers, such as FTP, Web, Mail and Windows. These sections provide sufficient detail to put together a functioning server and make it usable. A set of references and web links are referenced to provide additional material where needed.

The final section discusses sever security and system maintenance. In this section, the authors discuss how to setup and use Snort, a network intrusion detection system, and how to use Brickhouse as an aid to configuring your network firewall settings. This information would be useful to administrators, who are placing their servers into a hostile environment (or serious about their network security). They also discuss system maintenance and performing diagnostics for your Panther system within the CLI environment.

The best part of Unleashed is the coverage of UNIX, particularly the use of the command line environment. This section gave me deeper understanding of the power available with the command line interface. The use of piping and shell scripts will be useful in the future. I also found the coverage of the CUPS printer configuration and Windows file server (Samba) very useful and interesting. The book provides the mechanisms to start and use their browser interfaces to configure these systems. One disappointment was that I could not get the CUPS browser interface or SWAT (Samba's browser configuration tool) to authenticate their use. I think this is due to a security change by Apple, since the passwords for these functions are sent in the clear. This change appears to have been implemented after the book was published, as I was able to use the CUPS browser six months ago. In spite of this problem, the CUPS discussion was useful by giving me insight into using the Print Setup Utility to configure access from my iMac to printers connected to a PC on my network. The good news is that the Print Setup Utility is rapidly evolving to the point that the CUPS browser interface will not be needed.

The other areas of interest are clustering systems and providing a single login for my network. The book's discussion of NetInfo and clustering machines will help me achieve this goal. Due to the press of time, I was not able to implement these changes. However, these are topics that I am particularly interested in. Overall, I was impressed with the breadth of coverage and quality of the author's organization. The coverage ranged from basic UNIX concepts and commands to establishing a professional level network and servers. Their build-up approach made it much easier to understand how to accomplish many of the more complicated tasks that come at the end of the book.

Mac Guild Grade
A (Outstanding)

Final Words
If you are interested in gaining a better understanding of the UNIX underpinnings of Mac OS X, I would recommend buying this book. If you are a new user of Mac OS X, I would recommend waiting until you have some experience with this environment. The Missing Manual series is better suited for the new user. The book is well organized and will take the intermediate user to the next level in their understanding of Mac OS X. This book is particularly useful for the user who wants a stronger understanding of the capabilities of Panther in order to take the next step in network and server administration. The authors definitely met their objectives with this book, which is well worth the purchase price.