Review: Mac OS X Snow Leopard Books

A comparison of 4 Mac OS X 10.6 Books (November 10th, 2009)

I give you the lowdown on a selection of Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard titles, from different publishers.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: No Starch, Pearson Education, and TidBITS Publishing

Price: $10.00 to $31.95

The Good

  • See each book.

The Bad

  • See each book.

When a new Mac operating system appears on the scene, so follows a flurry of books to enlighten us on the latest and greatest features. The arrival of Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard is no different. Books arrived on my desk from a variety of publishers.

While I'd like to introduce you to the whole catalog of Snow Leopard books, there are just too many, and some of them were not available when I started this review. Peachpit, No Starch Press, and TidBITs published the first available titles, so I'll give you the lowdown on a selection of those titles. If you want to hear about more books, please write us at and let us know.

Visual QuickStart

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual Quickstart Guide

Author: Maria Langer
Publisher and link to book: Pearson Education, Peachpit Press
Price: $23.99
Pages: 648

Maria Langer's Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide from Peachpit is part of a well-known series and she's well-known for her OS books. This title takes a tutorial approach to learning the new OS. While the book isn't quite focused on projects, it does walk you through various tasks with clearly written instructions and plenty of graphics to guide you through the steps. While these books seem geared to novice users, I think more advanced users can benefit from the basic steps provided. Langer also covers almost all the applications that ship with Mac OS X, including sections on the Utilities folder, the Dashboard, networking, Automator, and security. The graphics aren't quite as detailed as in other titles in this list, but they do the job.

In my very unscientific user polls, I found that people preferred the VQS books to the Dummies series almost 100% of the time. Maria explains steps well, and everyone has said they learned something new with each operating system book. The book's only drawback is its lack of color graphics.

Visual QuickStart

Sample Graphic

The 24 chapters present the numbered steps with plenty of tips. Only three pages cover the Mac OS X 10.6 new features. Sample Chapters include:
Setting Up Mac OS X 10.6
Desktop Management (Available to download as a PDF.) File Management
Application Basics
Printing & Faxing

Connecting to the Internet

If you register your book on Peachpit's site, you gain access to bonus material and purchase coupons. There was no bonus material published yet.

Pros: For advanced beginners. Project or lesson based. Easy to read. Good graphics.
Cons: No color grahics.
Rating: 4 stars.

My New Mac

My New Mac, Snow Leopard Edition

Author: Wallace Wang
Publisher and link to book: No Starch Press
Price: $29.95
Pages: 512

No Starch Press released My New Mac, Snow Leopard Edition within days of Snow Leopard's release. This title focuses on the new Macintosh owner and covers some basics not seen in other books.

My New Mac Snow Leopard Edition does not have a section devoted to the changes in Snow Leopard, because it is aimed at people who are buying their first Mac and presumably aren't familiar with Mac OS X. To its credit, it covers in complete detail using a mouse and turning on and off your Mac. Whether it really needs 14 pages on how to turn off your Mac is up to the reader.

The author, Wallace Wang, a former writer at MacNN, takes a project approach to using Snow Leopard. The "52 Simple Projects to Get You Started," are not all projects though; some are basic tutorials. Chapters include:
Learning to Drag and Drop
Editing Digital Photographs in iPhoto
Getting on the Internet and Sharing Folders
Keeping Your Internet Activities Private
Configuring the Firewall
Putting Your Information at Your Fingertips with Dashboard (Available to download as a PDF.)

Although this easy to follow book includes plenty of graphics, they're all grayscale with few arrows to highlight the text points.

New Mac

Sample Graphic

I also found the text hard to wade through because of its passive style. All the using, finding, pointing and dragging make for a hard read, which eventually bores you. In addition, the author doesn't always use the Apple interface terminology to refer to items. For example, he refers to Status Menu items (the right side of the main menu), as menulets; a term never used by Apple. The 1986-ish cover graphic doesn't help the visual appeal of the book either. For what it's worth, last three pages does give instructions on how to make a paper model of the graphic. Personally, I think those pages should have been devoted to a list of the new features in Snow Leopard.

Unless you've never ever seen a Mac before, never touched a mouse, or are switching from a DOS-based system I just can't recommend this book.

Pros: Covers basics for beginners. Project or lesson based. Covers Time Machine, Dashboard, multiple users, and how to burn media.
Cons: Hard to wade through. Graphics not highlighted well. Doesn't cover Utilities folder and other included applications. No synopsis of changes in Snow Leopard.
Rating: 3.5 stars.

Williams' Book

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard A Quick Reference Guide to Mastering Snow Leopard

Authors: Robin Williams with Jon Tollett Pearson Education, Peachpit Press
Publisher and link to book: Price: $31.49
Pages: 480

This Peachpit Learning Series title is a mouthful, but this book by Robin Williams and Jon Tollett simply covers all the basics you need to use your Mac productively. While not aimed at complete beginners, and therefore doesn't cover using a mouse and keyboard, it does include 24 useful lessons. From the first page turn, I liked this book. I also recommend it for the widest audience. The color graphics include complete labels and arrows to highlight points in the text, which contributes to your easy understanding of the material covered.

Snow Leopard book

Sample Graphic

Robin and Jon make you feel like they're in the room guiding you along your journey to learn your Mac. All of the instructions deal with programs that come with Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, so they do not cover the iLife applications.

Their chapter, "TextEdit for Word Processing," really shows you how you how to get the most out of TextEdit, including table creation. Other chapters include; each with step-by-step instructions:
Introduction to Mac OS X Applications
Mail for Email, Notes, and To Do Lists
Miscellaneous Tools on your Mac (Available to download as a PDF.)
Basic Troubleshooting

Pros: For advanced beginners. Lesson based. Easy to read, easy to understand. Detailed graphics with annotations.
Cons: Too short.
Rating: 5 stars.

Tidbits Book

Take Control of Upgrading Snow Leopard

Author: Joe Kissell
Publisher and link to book: TidBITS Publishing, Inc.
Price: Ebook: $10.00; Print: $19.99
Pages: 85 pages

If you're a more advanced or experienced Mac OS X user, you may not want a step by step tutorial book. If that is the case, you can find the best in TIDBits Publishing's Take Control series of books. There are now 5 Snow Leopard related titles, including Take Control of Exploring & Customizing Snow Leopard (1.0), Take Control of Upgrading to Snow Leopard (1.1), and Take Control of Sharing Files in Snow Leopard (1.0), Take Control of Syncing Data in Leopard (1.1), Take Control of Users & Accounts in Snow Leopard. I read two of the books, Upgrading and Exploring & Customizing Snow Leopard by Joe Kissel. I review Upgrading only here.

This concise ebook covers the new features of Snow Leopard well and includes very useful information. The text flows so well, that I didn't mind reading it like a novel. The detail on different upgrade, methodologies, a highlighted area on the importance of making a backup of your OS, and potential pitfalls ensures you don't hose your operating system when you update. There are very few annotated graphics in the book, but that helps keep the PDF lean and mean. I also learned that my plan to upgrade the RAM in my iMac should not be done without deauthorizing iTunes first. That was news to me.

Topics covered include: Snow Leopard Installer Changes
Clean Up Your Mac
Upgrade using Plan A or Plan B
Set Up Your Snow Leopard Environment

The Take Control series books are your best bang for the buck, if you don't mind reading PDFs on your computer screen. I much prefer reading a paper-based book I can hold, and often bite the paper bullet and print out my Take Control books, but you can buy a printed version. They certainly deserve a spot on your bookshelf.

In the final count, you may spend more than on the previous printed books, because separate Take Control books cover different topics. The more comprehensive printed books bundle everything in one place, as shown in the titles above. Yet, the Take Control books include free minor updates, clickable links, and the joy of immediately downloading what you want to buy.

You can download free sample PDFs from the site: Exploring & Customizing or Upgrading. Both books are available as a bundle with a discount.

Pros: For intermediate and advanced Mac users. Informative. Easy to read. Packed with tips and hints.
Cons: For more advanced users who don't need steps or graphics
Rating: 5 stars.

A latecomer I haven't have time to fully read, is Mac OS X Snow Leopard on Demand by Steve Johnson, published by Pearson Education, Informit - Que. It deserves a mention because it is the only book I read or skimmed that includes a chapter on Automator. The 20-page chapter should help anyone learn to use this often-ignored application; that is, ignored by beginners. This $23.99 title deserves a close look because it's chock full of annotated color graphics, tips, and step-by-step instructions.

Prices of the above titles are correct as of today. Next week they may be lower.


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