Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Big Book of Apple Hacks (book review)

cover of Big Book of Apple Hacks

Here is a book that could renew your passion for technology.

Big Book of Apple Hacks
Tips and Tools for unlocking the power of your Apple Devices
by Chris Seibold
Published by O'Reilly
Paperback, 627 pages, $ 34.99

You've probably already read about the stunning success of Firefox. In the past month since the latest version 3.0 appeared, this pop-star of web browsers has been downloaded more than 28 million times. Along the way, it set a Guinness Book of World Records record for the most downloads in one 24-hour period: more than 8 million. Here are four reasons why I use Firefox: It works; it has 15,000 improvements; it's free; and I can customize it, to get the browser that is perfect for all my needs.

Move into a new house or apartment, and you know that you don't need to keep those ugly green rugs or the yellow polka-dot wallpaper in the kitchen. You fix it up the way you want it. Why not do the same with your hardware and software? Seibold writes:

"This is the essence of hacking: getting your stuff to do what you want in the manner you want. Fortunately, tech stuff tends to be near infinitely hackable, customizable and extensible, which means that you can truly be the unbending overlord of your Apple gadgets."

This is a truly a big book, that explains how you can make changes to your Mac desktop, laptop, Leopard operating system, iPod, web browsers, iTunes, iChat, iWeb, Apple TV, and many more products in the Apple universe. Some of the hacks are simple to do, a few of the hacks require a daring streak of geekness, but almost all of the hacks can be done by anyone who has patience, and can follow the very clear instructions in the book.

Take a look inside Chapter 8, at hack number 69, called: "Move from Windows to Mac OS X Painlesly." The pages that follow succinctly explain the essential similarities and differences between these two operating systems. (This information is available from the Internet, of course, but it would have taken me hours to find it and assemble it as efficiently as the material presented here.) So in addition to the stellar hacks, there is an unadvertised feature of the book: you'll get a deep education about the inner workings of your computer, your software, and your gadgets.

Hacking can be habit-forming. The book made me think like a hacker, in other words, ask the simple and all-important question: How can this software or hardware be improved? ... Last night, when the new Firefox location bar dropped down websites I had no interest at all in seeing, it took less than a minute to edit some code to fix that pesky bar. Would I have tried that without hesitation, if I had not read the Big Book? ... Maybe yes &mdash but maybe not.

A heavy reference book that's fun? ... Yes, somehow the author and the contributors and the editors have managed to make a big useful book without the boredom factor. The Big Book of Apple Hacks is a big winner. Read it, back up your essential files, and then go forth and hack your Mac.

Story Links:

MAKE magazine ... http://www.makezine.com
Maker Faire ... http://www.makerfaire.com
Hacks ... http://www.hackszine.com