Master Your Mac book review

Sections: Lion, Mac OS X, Mountain Lion, Operating Systems, Reviews

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Author: Matt Cone
Publisher: No Starch Press
Publication Date: November 12, 2012
ISBN 10: 1593274068
ISBN 13:
Pages: 424
Price: $29.95 USD (currently available at 40% off for $19.00)

Most OS X manuals and reference books contain how-to tutorials on executing various functions and tasks in OS X, and usually some maintenance and troubleshooting tips. However, Master Your Mac is authored by a guy who’s made a career of writing instructional tutorials specializing in Apple’s OS X Mac platform.

Matt Cone has been a Mac user for more than 20 years, and is a former ghostwriter for some of Apple’s most notable instructors. Cone founded his own Macinstruct Website in 1999, and it’s now one of the most popular online destinations for OS X tutorials.

Aside from specifically OS X issues, Master Your Mac frequently focuses on third-party apps and utilities for OS X. It doesn’t try to be a point-by-point manual covering every aspect of OS X use, maintenance and troubleshooting. There is definitely a place for such books (I use them frequently for my own reference needs) but Master Your Mac is a different type of OS X book, with the author opting to emphasize and explain particular aspects of Mac usage in detail, instead of attempting comprehensive feature coverage. In Master Your Mac, Cone concentrates on 38 specific projects in addition to some introductory general information.

Macs are great for beginners, because learning the basics is easy. “The great thing about OS X is that a complete beginner can turn on a new Mac and start surfing the web in less than five minutes,” says Cone.

However, the challenge comes when you want OS X to do things your way. Cone says he wrote Master Your Mac for users who want to travel beyond the Mac basics and do things in OS X that they didn’t even know were possible.

With tips on an eclectic array of OS X topics ranging from organizing your workspace to strengthening your computer’s security, this 400+ page book will show you how to tweak, customize, and control your Mac. And since many of the best tools for unlocking your Mac’s potential don’t come with OS X, as noted above, Cone gives you the skinny on the best third-party apps to fix those everyday Apple annoyances and make your computer do things your way.

Part One: Back To Basics, interestingly starts with a chapter on keyboard shortcuts—both pre-programmed and ones you compose on your own, with a tutorial on how to proceed with that. There are also chapters on configuring log-in items, on finding files and folders using OS X’s powerful built-in indexed search engine, Spotlight, or alternatively doing name searches with third-party developer Thomas Tempelmann’s Find Any File non-indexed search utility.

There are also chapters in Part One on organizing Finder windows, with focus mainly on the Mission Control feature in OS X 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion that replaced the former Spaces and Exposé, as well as tips on using the third-party Divvy, Moom, and Cinch applications that make split screen windows on your Mac’s display possible, a tutorial on hard drive tidying and cleaning, and one on configuring energy and display settings.

Part Two covers Boosting Productivity. It kicks off with a chapter on launching applications, then three more on customizing trackpad and mouse gestures, configuring multiple displays, and a chapter on using OS X speech recognition.

Part Three is on automation, making task macros that can cut down immensely on the donkey work you have to do on your computer, especially repetitive tasks. There are tutorials on using the built-in OS X Automator feature and on making macros with the third party Keyboard Maestro app. There’s also a chapter on automating tasks with AppleScript—Apple’s plain-English programming language for creating automation programs. Chapter 13 is a tutorial on creating a Bluetooth proximity monitor, which will allow your Mac to sense that you’re away from your workstation simply by your taking your iPhone or iPad with you. There’s also a chapter on automating Finder actions—both using Automator and the third-party Hazel application. The last chapter in Part Three is on triggering location-based actions using the third-party Sidekick utility.

Part Four, entitled “Managing Your Life,” begins with a chapter on managing email. Again there’s tutorial focus on using a third-party utility, in this instance MailSteward.

There’s also a chapter dedicated to killing spam, with focus on using Google’s Gmail service. There’s a chapter on creating quick and easy alerts, another on managing your music using iTunes and the third-party CoverSutra utility.

Part Five is a big one on the Internet and Networking. The first chapter in the section, Chapter 20, is on creating your own Safari extensions. There’s a chapter on turning websites into applications, another on storing files in the cloud using iCloud or Dropbox. Accessing your Mac remotely is also covered, as is turning your Mac into a Web and FTP server. Also addressed are wirelessly sharing a printer and hard drive, and synchronizing files between computers.

Part Six is called “Serious Security.” There’s a full chapter on creating strong passwords and storing them securely, another on enabling firmware password protection, and a third on encrypting your Mac’s Internet connection. Rounding out the section are chapters on enabling firewalls, on preserving your anonymity online, and on encrypting your hard disks and backups.

Part Seven is on the all-important topics of monitoring, troubleshooting, and maintenance. Chapter 33 is on system and process monitoring while Chapter 34 covers repairing disk permissions. Chapter 35 is on verifying and repairing the hard disk, while Chapter 36 covers making better file backups, using OS X Time Machine, cloning your hard drive using SuperDuper, storing backups on the Internet, restoring your files from a backup, and more. Chapter 37 discusses maintaining a MacBook’s battery, and the final chapter in the book, Chapter 38, is on creating a bootable emergency USB drive. There’s also a 10-page Index.

Master Your Mac is attractively designed, with wide page margins and just the right amount of white space. I like the cover theme and color choice. I’m not enchanted with the sans serif type font, which looks a bit industrial, but that’s not a deal-breaker. The book is copiously illustrated throughout with screenshots, rendered in grayscale. The paper stock is good quality, although not glossy.

I enjoy reading Matt Cone’s Macinstruct tutorials, so I expected I would like his book as well, and I do. It’s a bit different and a breath of fresh air in a crowded field of OS X literature. If you’re a complete Mac newbie, there are better choices for you, such as Bob LeVitus’s OS X For Dummies, David Pogue’s OS X Mountain Lion: The Missing Manual, and several others. However, if you have some Mac mileage under your belt and are looking for ways to tweak and tune your Mac to make it work the way you want it to, Master Your Mac can illuminate the way.

Appletell Rating:
The OS X Mountain Lion Bible review

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  • Thomas Tempelmann

    Thanks for mentioning my tool Find Any File. Please note that you’ve misspelled my name, though (mine is the German spelling, you used the English spelling – happens quite often).

    • Kirk Hiner

      Fixed. Sorry about that, Thomas.