OS X Mountain Lion: The Missing Manual review

Sections: Mac OS X, Operating Systems, Reviews

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Author: David Pogue
Publisher: O’Reilly
Publication Date: July 2012
ISBN 10: 1-4493-3027-4 (print); 1-4493-3026-6 (e-book)
ISBN 13: 978-1-4493-3027-9 (print); 978-1-4493-3026-2 (e-book)
Pages: 898
Price: Print: $34.99; Ebook: $27.99 (formats: ePub, Mobi, PDF); Print & Ebook: $38.49

A new edition of David Pogue’s OS X: The Missing Manual is out, revised to cover OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and with a title alteration, dropping the erstwhile “Mac” preceding “OS X.” Typically a revision of OS X: The Missing Manual is the most anticipated Apple computing book of any year when a new OS X version is released. Indeed, the best-selling computer book overall since 2007, OS X: TMM lives up to its subtitle: “The Book That Should Have Been In The Box,” and then some.

This eighth edition, OS X Mountain Lion: The Missing Manual, gives me no reason to alter that assessment. The formula David Pogue established a decade ago still holds up nicely, striking a balance between readable, witty, conversational prose and technical thoroughgoingness that have made OS X The Missing Manual the #1 bestselling Mac book for over 10 years running. That’s no small achievement, although Pogue makes it look easy and fluid (he’s called one of the “world’s best explainers” by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly).

OS X TMM is a comprehensive manual and desktop reference, covering a gamut of topics including management, security, accounts, networking, build-your-own Services, file sharing with Windows, Twitter and Facebook integration, AirPlay TV mirroring, Power Nap, the Game Center, Documents in the Cloud, iMessage, Gatekeeper, Mountain Lion Dictation and much more that this deftly constructed expert guide make crystal clear.

OS X Mountain Lion: The Missing Manual

OS X TMM has continuously evolved over ten years of publication and eight revisions. For example, the first two editions contained long sections dedicated to Mac OS 9 Classic Mode, while the fifth edition, Mac OS X Leopard TMM, addressed the transition to Intel silicon on the Mac platform. The seventh edition tackled another major Mac OS evolutionary development—arguably the most radical OS X user interface changes and overhaul of the 50 or so software programs that come bundled with OS X: Safari, Mail, Messages, Preview, and so forth, to date—with the crossover of many features from Apple’s wildly successful, touch/gesture input oriented iOS mobile device OS into version 10.7 Lion, plus adding a section covering on Apple’s new iCloud online service.

As David Pogue observed in OS X TMM edition 7, if you could choose just one word to describe Apple’s central design objective for Mac OS X Lion, it would be “iPad,” contending that, “… in Lion, Apple has gone about as far as it could go in trying to turn the Mac into an iPad.” Well, maybe not so much, my suspicion at the time being that Mac OS convergence with Apple’s mobile iOS is just getting underway with Lion. In the eighth edition, Pogue observes that OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion represents a gentle continuation of the “iPadization” process that began with Lion, and often in this latest edition of OS X TMM he will refer to Lion/Mountain Lion because they’re fundamentally the same OS, although he hastens to add that there are enough changes in version 10.8 to justify the new TMM edition’s 36 dollar cover price (less if you opt for the ebook version or shop around for a discounted hard copy version at vendors like I’ll discuss the manual upgrade question a bit more below.

Anyway, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion has indeed carried on with the trend toward OS X/iOS convergence including even more iPaddishness like Dictation, the Notification Center, and Reminders among its advertised 200 new features and enhancements. Indeed, Pogue has titled the main section of his introduction to the eighth edition “The Mac Becomes an iPad,” observing that Apple’s overarching design goal with OS X Lion, and now Mountain Lion, has been to bring the iPad/iOS user experience to OS X.

In Pogue’s estimation, two characteristics in particular have made the iPad the fastest-selling electronic gadget in history. The first is simplicity: no overlapping windows since every app runs full-screen, and no save command since everything’s auto-saved. No directory level user access to the document and folder file system, no application menus. All apps are stored in and accessed from one place: the Home screen.

Now, that amounts to a representative inventory of what many Mac OS/OS X veterans (including me) dislike about Lion and Mountain Lion, leading to grumbling that our favorite personal computer OS is being dumbed-down, but as Pogue accurately observes, “To beginners, technophobes, and even old-timers [some old-timers at any rate, I suppose – CM], the iPad’s software represents a refreshing decluttering of the modern computer.”

Pogue maintains that the second huge iPad sales-catalyzing attribute is the multitouch display, with user input executed through tapping, dragging, swiping, pinching, etcetera on the display panel—another aspect with which keyboard and mouse input oriented graybeards like myself remain unenchanted, but its popularity with the masses can’t be gainsaid.

Consequently, says Pogue, Apple, has set itself to bringing as much of the iPad’s feature set to the Mac as possible, with things like Full-screen Mode, Auto Save, and the Launchpad being in his words “total iPad rip-offs.” He notes that in Mountain Lion, even the app names like Reminders, Notes, the Notification Center, the Game Center, and so forth have been cribbed directly from the iOS, and with many of the latter’s touch/gesture input conventions adapted to laptop or freestanding trackpads, or the top surface of Apple’s Magic Mouse if you’re so-equipped.

The thoroughgoing Pogue also catalogues what’s gone missing from the traditional OS X feature set in Lion and Mountain Lion, such as Front Row, faxing support, dial up modem support, FTP services, iSync, color sidebar icons, Web Sharing, RSS feed support in Mail and Safari, the X11 app and Xgrid support. Renamed to conform to iOS naming conventions are the erstwhile iCal (now Calendar), Address Book (Contacts), and iChat (Messages).

Another change introduced last year with Lion, is that OS X is now essentially a download-only software operating system. There was a costly USB thumb drive installer available for Lion, but it wasn’t intended for mass-market consumption, so an important element of these latest two OS X TMM editions is a tutorial on electronic download OS installs, which gets its own Appendix (A), “Installing Mac OS X Lion,” which was expanded to 12 pages with the Lion edition, up from 9 pages in the Snow Leopard edition, an indication that the new install process isn’t quite as simple as Apple makes it out to be. Hence a section called “Psychological Requirements” in addition to hardware requirements. There’s also a Power User’s Clinic sidebar on the new realities associated with reinstalling Lion. The Troubleshooting appendix (B) is also longer, up from 11 pages in the Snow Leopard edition to 13 pages in the Mountain Lion and Lion editions of TMM.

Suffice to say that OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and OS X 10.7 Lion before it jointly represent a substantial departure from the OS X conventions that went before, making a good manual a virtual necessity if you want to get the best out of Apple’s latest desktop operating systems even if you’re well-versed in the operation of previous OS X versions. TMM really is “the book that should have been in the box,” even more so now that there’s no box or even the sketchy quick start pamphlet that used to ship with shrinkwrapped OS X version upgrades.

The book’s layout and design follows the familiar TMM formula, with the green and white color theme on the cover that was introduced with OS X Leopard: TMM, and plenty of grayscale screenshot illustrations inside.

This is a big book, although the Mountain Lion edition is mildly slimmed-down from OS X 10.7 Lion TMM’s Tolstoyesque 908 pages to 867 pages, a few less than even OS X Snow Leopard: TMM’s 886. Out of curiosity, I stopped by the bathroom scale after rounding up the eight OS X TMM editions for the photo that appears below, and discovered that the entire stack weighs in at about 22 pounds.

As with previous editions, David Pogue says that while OS X Mountain Lion: TMM is designed to accommodate readers at any skill and experience level on the Mac platform, it’s primary discussions are written with advanced beginner to intermediate veteran users particularly in mind. However, if you’re a complete Mac newbie, one of the book’s several categories of sidebar micro-articles called “Up To Speed” is provided whenever appropriate to elucidate more basic introductory information.

As a Canadian, I’m also happy to report that while the US price of OS X: TMM has been carried over at $34.99 for the Snow Leopard edition, the Canadian price was cut substantially, from CAN$43.99 to Canadian $36.99 for the Lion and Mountain Lion edition. Still not quite as good as the cross-border price parity that obtained with the Leopard edition. We’ll happily take the cut, but come on, guys: the Canadian loonie has been hovering around par with, and frequently exceeded, the value of the US greenback for nearly two years now.

There is little OS X ground that David Pogue hasn’t covered in this volume. What’s great about Mac OS X: The Missing Manual (any edition), aside from the excellent writing, is its comprehensiveness. Whatever aspect of working with the operating system and the dozens of programs that come bundled with it, you’re almost certain to find it addressed in the pages of this book. And there’s still lots of time to order for Christmas.

So should you buy OS X Mountain Lion: The Missing Manual? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. If you’re new to the Mac or have been away from the platform for some time, then the answer is an emphatic “yes.” TMM is still the OS X book to have if you’re only having one.

On the other hand, if you already have the seventh Lion edition, you may dispute David Pogue’s contention that there is enough value added in the Mountain Lion edition to justify laying out another 35 bucks for what is a relatively minor revision. The Tables of Contents for the Lion and Mountain Lion editions of TMM are virtually identical except for some minor category rejigging in Parts 3 and 4 that do not alter the overall chapter count. Of course there is significant new content in Mountain Lion that isn’t covered in the Lion edition of TMM, such as Gatekeeper, improvements to iCloud, the restored (sort of) Save As command, closer Facebook and Twitter integration, the additional iOS feature imports, and so forth, so you’re ultimately the judge of whether the new edition is value-added enough to justify its purchase for you.

However, if you skipped OS X Lion and kept using OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, as many of us did, but have finally been convinced that it’s time to upgrade now that Mountain Lion is on the prowl, the eighth edition of OS X TMM is certainly a substantial enough revision from the sixth or earlier editions to justify its price.

Appletell Rating:
Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Lion Edition review

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