OS X Panther Hacks
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First
published in Low
September 15, 2004
Computer book publisher O'Reilly is perhaps best known for a series of
volumes on different programming languages, each with a different
obscure animal on the cover. These tomes have become pretty much the
standard references on their various subjects.
Now, the company seems to be on a mission to rehabilitate the word
"hacker," rescuing it from its current connotations of a nasty loner
trying to use the Internet to steal data from your computer. With an
expanded output of books, including Paul Graham's musings in Hackers
and Painters and former "Stand by Me" and "Star Trek: The Next
Generation" and current blogger Wil Wheaton's biographical Just a Geek,
O'Reilly hopes that we'll all see hackers as people who are curious
about computers and trying to push them to their limits.
And what hackers do is play with hacks, "clever ways to get something
done". For the past year or two, O'Reilly has been releasing a series
of books, each containing 100 hacks promising "industrial strength tips
and tools." Subjects have included Google, eBay, Amazon, digital
photography, wireless, and Linux server.
And now it's the turn for Mac OS X Panther Hacks (ISBN 0-596-00718-3)
by Rael Dornfest & James Duncan Davidson (US$29.95). It's clear
that the authors are fans of the Mac and its latest operating system,
and with this book they are hoping to empower other Mac-lovers to take
their computer use one (or more) steps further.
Like other books in this series, you don't have to be a programmer or
hard-core geek to be able to use at least some of the hacks. In fact, a
number of them aren't really hacks but rather pointers to useful free
or inexpensive online utilities. There's no CD included, but the author
includes links to all the programs mentioned, along with the price.
(Off-topic rant: All too often books and download sites fail to mention
the price for shareware software, feeding into the misconception that
if it can be freely downloaded, it shouldn't be paid for. If you
continue to use a shareware product, pay for it. 'Nuff said!).
For instance, the authors review a variety of programs for running
multiple desktops, ranging in price from free to $40, clearly noting
the pluses and minuses of each.
But not all hacks require add-on programs. For instance, they reveal a
few lines of Terminal code that makes the menu bar clock add the date.
Nice. (And also nice that they show how to return to the default if
Another line of Terminal code speeds up Safari page display. Twenty
seconds of typing for a perkier-feeling Internet.
Some of the hacks may not be for the faint of heart. If I plug an
external monitor into my iBook, the display mirrors what's on the
notebook screen; on a more expensive PowerBook, an external monitor can
be used to get a larger desktop spanning the two screens. Before trying
out the hack promising to "enable spanning in open firmware," note the
author's warning that "A mistake can prevent your machine from booting
properly" and their further warning that with ATI Rage-based iBooks
"the patch renders such machines dead as a proverbial doornail."
(You can check whether your iBook, iMac, or eMac can use the patch at http://www.rutemoeller.com/mp/ibook/supportlist_e.html
Co-author Dornfest also wrote O'Reilly's volume, AppleScript: the
Definitive Guide, so it's not surprising that some of the hacks in this
book involve AppleScripting. In some cases, the code involved covers
several pages. Luckily, the code for all these hacks can be found
online at http://hacks.oreilly.com/pub/ht/106
Relatively few of the 100 hacks require involved coding. I suspect most
Panther users will find enough of these hacks valuable to justify the