Mac OS X for Dummies
by Bob LeVitus and Shelly Brisbin
Review by David L. Harris
Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint
I had to renew my AppleWorks Users Group membership and
buy a battery for my B&W G3, so I added a copy,
available at discount, of Mac OS for Dummies to my
order. I hoped to learn something about Mac OS X, and get a
more satisfying mental "picture" of Mac OS X than I have
been able to get from playing with it part time on my
The book is a 334-plus page, large-size paperback, with
normal size text and large titles. It uses big icons on the
sides of the pages to mark various sections that the authors
consider important. The writing style is chatty and
personal, but I found it got on my nerves after a short
while. The greater part of the book is written for Mac
novices, but with the assumption of Mac OS X as the
operating system--as would be appropriate for someone who
has just bought a new Mac, and has not used a computer much
The introduction of the book is "about this book," and
details some of the conventions the authors use, how the
book is organized, and the uses of margin icons. It is
probably a standard Dummies book format.
Desktop Madness: Navigating Mac OS X
Chapter 1 is the very beginnings: how to turn on the Mac,
what you should expect to see after bootup, possible
problems at bootup, and basics such as the meanings of words
like "point," "click," and so on. It also tells how to shut
down your Mac and how not to. All very basic.
Chapter 2 is "Meet the Desktop"--what are those things on
the screen: the Dock, icons, windows, menus, aliases. Icons
are said to be "little pictures" that are all "containers
that hold things," something that is confusing to a more
advanced user who distinguishes between folders (icons) that
contain things and other icons (e.g. applications) that
don't. There is a short description of the icons you will
see on the screen the first time, and how to choose a new
Desktop picture. Again, very basic.
Chapter 3 gives an introduction to the Dock and the items
that are on it (Finder, Mail, Internet Explorer, Sherlock,
System Preferences, etc.), each looked at in a short
paragraph. Often, throughout the book, details are postponed
to later sections or only briefly alluded to. Adding and
removing things from the Dock are explained, as well as how
to set Dock preferences.
Chapter 4 is about icons, in all their various forms. The
authors present icons as the primary realities, rather than
the way I think of them, as representations of objects which
are the "real" things. According to the book, a file (seen
on the screen) is an icon. "Document icons are files created
by applications." Or "You can open any icon in the following
four ways:" It is a way of thinking that I found strange.
Aliases are treated in more detail in this chapter, as are
selecting "icons" and renaming them, as well as using Show
Info for selected "icons."
Chapter 5 deals with Finder windows and dialog boxes.
Chapter 6 treats Finder menus, the difference between the
new and old Apple menu, what you can do via the File and
Edit menus, the different ways windows can be viewed (View
menu)--but details are postponed to Chapter 7. Other Finder
menus are presented, including the valuable Help menu. Again
most of the discussion is on the novice or near-novice
Rounding Out Your Basic Training
Chapter 7 focuses on the new Finder, which is now a
window (or several) itself. The Toolbar (that part of Finder
windows that runs along the top, and has icons on it) is
discussed. There's more detail on the ways you can view
windows--icon, list, and column views (the authors dislike
the icon view), as well as how windows can be customized
with background colors or pictures. As in the rest of the
book there are pictures to refer to as you read about these
topics. The similarity to using a Web browser when moving
from one window to another is noted.
Chapter 8 is about something that confounds many new Mac
users: navigating through folders, where to save items, how
the Save sheet and Open dialog boxes work. The authors
suggest saving most files in the Documents folder, or
subfolders within Documents.
Chapter 9 is a short discussion of removable media.
Chapter 10 treats, in more detail, the subject of file
management, creating new folders, moving or copying files
and folders, putting oft-used folders into the Dock, and the
rather different nature of Mac OS X folders. Mac OS X
defines a more rigid structure than earlier systems did, and
playing with what's inside many folders is to be avoided
unless you really know what you are doing. The various
Library folders hold Font folders, and these are where you
might put fonts, accessible either to all users or only to
yourself. Library folders also hold preferences, but the
reader is warned not to do much with them. I found the
discussion of the folders found in your Home folder to be
useful; I hadn't explored all of them myself.
Doing Stuff with Your Mac
Up to this point, the book is mostly basic training for
Mac users, with Mac OS X as the basis of all operations.
Chapter 11 introduces actually using your Mac, mostly on the
Internet. Microsoft Internet Explorer, Sherlock (including
indexing your Home folder), and Mail are explored in some
detail. Address Book, something I had not looked into, is
introduced, but "You can do some pretty neat stuff with
Address Book that we just don't have room to cover in this
book." iTools are briefly introduced.
Unfortunately for the novice user, most of these tools
can't be used until an Internet connection is established.
He or she has at least the basics of another subject to
learn first. While selection of an Internet Service Provider
(ISP), and using a modem or high-speed connection is
discussed, details of settings must be gotten from your ISP.
Considering the state of knowledge of Macs by the help
departments of many ISPs, you might better consult your
local user group.
Chapter 12 discusses printing in some detail, but in a
very basic way--for instance starting by pointing out the
difference between a power cord and the cord used to connect
the printer to the Mac. Using the Print Center to inform
your Mac what printer you have is discussed, although I
think with some printers the lack of Mac OS X drivers may
present an unexpected surprise. The workings of a
representative application's print dialog box or sheet is
gone over in good detail. The idea of using different fonts
to spruce up your writings is introduced, as well as where
to install new fonts.
Chapter 13 is a run-through of all the default
applications found in the Applications folder. I found this
useful, since I had never sat down to explore them all
myself. For instance I hadn't noticed that Key Caps is still
present, in the Utilities folder; I have barely used it
under OS 9 and earlier systems since PopChar became
available. One more thing not available in Mac OS X.
Chapter 14 is about the Classic environment, which is
treated as a poor stepchild. Maybe this is a good way to
approach it, looking forward, but I found it slightly
shocking, considering that I still do most of my work booted
Chapter 15 runs through every item in System Preferences,
which interested me, as once again I have yet to explore
them all. Sometimes you are advised to not mess with them
"unless you know what you are doing." ColorSync is one of
these. All the preference items are gone through in
considerable detail. In QuickTime the authors advise setting
"Play Movies Automatically;" wasn't there a virus or Trojan
Horse that took advantage of this or a similar setting?
U 2 Can B a Guru
Chapter 16 is about file sharing on a home network or via
the Internet. There is some discussion of setting up the
home network via Ethernet or Airport. Once a network is
established, there is, I think, enough detail to instruct
most users how to set up sharing files between Macs, via
AppleTalk or TCP/IP. Connecting to your Mac via a remote Mac
is discussed. Possible dangers in allowing connections,
particularly over the Internet, are not mentioned.
I found the thorough discussion of file sharing, which
would probably help many a more advanced Mac user, to be
incongruous, since it deals with a topic that most novices
won't soon (if ever) need.
Backing up your files is the subject of the short Chapter
17. Unfortunately there still are no substantial programs
for doing this in Mac OS X at this writing. The authors
complain that Apple should long ago have supplied backup
software with every Mac sold. Only in this chapter is the
subject of viruses broached; you may find them in backups if
you don't use some kind of virus-detection software.
Chapter 18 is on troubleshooting: what are the signs of
hardware vs. software failure. If you can't even boot from
your startup disk, try the Installation CD. Run Disk Utility
and try a Repair. Maybe your Mac cannot find a disk with a
valid System on it. Zapping the PRAM; re-installing MAC OS
X--or, taking it into the repair shop (or Tuesday night
The Part of Tens
Chapters 19, 20, and 22 give advice on how to improve
your Mac experience, either in operation shortcuts, or
hardware and software additions. Chapter 21 lists ten
valuable Web sites (but leaves out one of my favorites,
MacSurfer's Headline News).
At the end is an appendix on how to re-install Mac OS X
in case of need, followed by an index, a couple of note
pages, and advertising for Dummies Online.
One of the rationalizations I had for getting this book
was the thought that it might help me form a better mental
picture of Mac OS X, as compared with earlier systems.
Instead, this is sort of a cookbook, mostly for novices, on
how to use Mac OS X. Nevertheless, it set me thinking about
the factors that make me feel that my Macintosh under Mac OS
X is more obscure than it is under OS 9. In OS 9 the
Desktop/Finder is at the center of things; I typically have
a few icons on it, in addition to the hard or removeable
disk icons. There may be aliases to programs such as StuffIt
Expander, or to oft-used folders. I access many applications
through Favorites in the Apple menu. When I open a folder, I
feel as though I am looking into a part of my Macintosh, and
I can continue this as deeply as I wish. Over the years my
overall picture of the Mac has not really changed since
starting with the Mac Plus. I find Mac OS X/Aqua to be less
intuitive, if often visually stunning.
Why is this? So far, at least, I use the Mac OS X Desktop
almost not at all. It gives me the feeling of facing a blank
facade, hiding what's inside, almost intentionally. You have
to open Finder windows to get at many of the goodies. And
they no longer give me the feeling of being containers. In
spite of, or perhaps because of, their three-dimensional
appearance (e.g. shadows) they lead to a feeling of
flatness--of sheets, not depth. (With this flatness the
column view is very handy.) And I still find opening an
object in one window leading to a replacement window
confusing. I guess I do need to customize the Desktop,
windows, and the Dock so that things feel more natural to
me. I'm thinking of even including icons in this customizing
process. Icons in previous systems were icons; now they are
pictures. A different way of operating. I feel there is some
truth in the observation which I read recently, that Aqua is
the "large print" version of a user interface. A new world,
with which this long-time Mac user is not entirely