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Learning Linux Survey Course Gets Tougher 11

chromatic's wide-ranging series of instructional and reference books for the Linux administrator continues here with three more titles, this time covering two books which sound aimed at fairly experienced uers, and one more suited to Windows crossover users. (Check out Part One and Part Two of this four-part series if you missed those, especially if you're looking for some more novice-oriented books.)

Don't carry all of these books at once, unless it's the only exercise you're getting. At this many total pages, you're likely to find something you don't know well enough -- unless you've written chunks of the software under discussion.

title Linux Clearly Explained
publisher Morgan Kaufmann
Included Stuff RedHat Linux 6.0, Corel WordPerfect 8.0
Intended Audience New users interested in Linux for the desktop.
Scope Desktop usage with GNOME.
Technical Correctness Good.
Writing style Easy to read -- informs without intimidating new users.
Other I was able to read 300 pages while waiting for a plane. It's quite easy to read while still useful.

Linux Clearly Explained aims squarely at a growing population -- people fed up with Windows, ready to try out the newfangled Linux desktop environments. Author Bryan Pfaffenberger explains the concepts of Linux in the context of the GNOME system, intending to help his readers become productive users. Rather than walking people through wizards (as one might expect from a typical Windows book, for example), he demonstrates how the peculiarities and design decisions of Linux flavor GNOME.

Pfaffenberger starts out with an 80 page history discussion. First, there was Unix. Then came RMS, GNU, and Linus. The advantages and shortcomings of Linux culminate in GNOME's raison d'etre -- and the reason this book exists. The author provides plenty of links to more information, even sneaking in a few pages on Internet support for Linux. Armed with this background, readers can tackle installation.

This part covers the Linux filesystem, lists supported hardware, talks about partitioning schemes, and dual booting. It walks through the RedHat 6.0 installation, briefly describing important packages. If your hardware is supported, you'll have no trouble here.

By far the largest, Running GNOME is the critical section. Use GNOME tools to create a normal user, then start exploring. Learn about GNOME conventions, help, and the file manager. Customize your desktop appearance, behavior, available programs, sounds, and window manager. Tour GNOME, KDE, and X productivity applications, then the basics of managing disks and installing new applications.

Part four helps you set up PPP (through various means) and discusses using Netscape and ftp for common Internet tasks. Finally, part five introduces the command line. It's a quick tour of files, basic shell usage, and permissions, with little on shell scripts. The administration section discusses disk maintenance, backups (a good section), and manually working with user accounts. Finally, an exploration of Midnight Commander demonstrates the powerful utility. The only chapter missing is one on security -- there's much more to learn.

Does it work? Can a new user really learn how to use Linux via GNOME? Pfaffenberger has produced an easy to read and informative book. It's not glaringly cutesy, as some books tend to be, but genuine. Linux's heritage comes through early, helping to explain things that aren't immediately obvious. If readers are inspired to explore things on their own (and the book equips them to do so), they'll do fine. Each chapter has plenty of references -- take the time to explore. (Order "Linux Clearly Explained" from Fatbrain.)

title Red Hat Linux Bible
publisher IDG Books
Included Stuff RedHat Linux 6.1 CD, with additional source disc.
Intended Audience New Linux types, especially those interested in configuring, using, and providing network services.
Scope Introduction, installation, some desktop use, administration, and networking.
Technical Correctness Too many typos and inaccuracies not to mention.
Writing style Technical, but readable.
Other If you have enough experience to know when this book is wrong, you might not need it. Still, there's a wealth of information, especially for new Linux networkadministrators.

All books have typos. Most people read over them. When describing Unix command lines to beginners, there's little room for error. This book confuses the shell redirection/concatenation operator (>>) with a pipe, while writing the operator as '>' multiple times. (See page 87.) That's not all, either. IDG needs to provide an errata list for data-clobbering mistakes. Granted, the number of errors I caught (around a dozen) considering the amount of information presented isn't huge, but it makes me question the book's accuracy. (See page 579, which confuses printer stair-stepping with font anti-aliasing.) That's a pity, because the book has a lot going for it.

Physically, the book divides material into the same sections you'd expect. The ubiquitious history and installation sections do their jobs, and the command line introduction is good. GNOME and popular Window Managers get some treatment, as well as generic X configuration. Desktop users will learn how to install applications from RPM and source, run applications remotely with the X protocol, and use DOS, Windows, and Mac emulators. There are plenty of other applications covered, like games, publishing utilities (from groff to StarOffice), to ubiquitous Internet apps. The breadth of programs covered is good.

System administration gets a few chapters, too. Not only is RedHat's Linuxconf tool brought to center stage, there's plenty of distribution-neutral command-line advice. Everything from managing user accounts (including an early taste of NFS home directories) to monitoring system status comes up. Shell programming and init levels are explained in the context of automating repetitive tasks, as well as at and cron. Finally, the backup and security chapters are quite good (very informative!), with a good mix of theory and practicality. Presenting multiple approaches with associated benefits and tradeoffs is valuable.

For those aching to demonstrate Linux's server strengths, part five aims to make you a good intranet member. A brief networking refresher tackles TCP/IP Ethernet setup (even over PLIP), and you'll soon be on the Internet if that's your thing. There's even information on using your Linux box as a router and proxy server.

Of course, Samba and NFS get their due. Surprisingly, so does the mars_nwe NetWare Emulator. The mail server chapter makes a valiant attempt at discussing sendmail's configuration file before admitting that the m4 macros make things much easier and devotes a few pages to majordomo mailing list software. There's a great section on ftp services, detailed configuration information for Apache, and good INN news server instructions. Rounding it all out is a brief NIS chapter, followed by an Appendix giving a brief description of the RPM packages included on the CD-ROM.

With another technical reviewer poring through the manuscript before it went to press, this book would have been better. As it stands, it's good, with plenty of detail about plenty of useful programs, marred by the fact that you're never quite sure that what you've just read is correct. If you're willing to play the part of editor and put up an errata page, you'll have done your good deed for the year.

(Order the "Red Hat Linux Bible" from Fatbrain.)

title Red Hat Linux 6 Unleashed
publisher SAMS
Included Stuff RedHat Linux 6 CD with installation tutorial videos.
Intended Audience Users and administrators already comfortable with the command line.
Scope At 1100+ pages, there's plenty of space to cover everything from installation to configuration and programming.
Technical Correctness Good.
Writing style Varies, depending on author. Most chapters are good, some are excellent.
Other This massive tome has plenty of information for configuring Linux as a server.

While Linux continues to attract desktop users, it remains an excellent server platform. Administrators familiar with Unix commands and techniques who want to deploy Linux servers might find this voluminous tome handy. (It makes a hefty LART.) While covering installation and configuration, the book intentionally skips over basic usage -- if you're not already comfortable with editing configuration files or reading man pages, you'll have some catching up to do.

After your system is installed, the first things to set up are mail, ftp, web, and news services. The SMTP and FTP chapters are excellent, with easily the best discussion of sendmail so far in this series. (Steve Shaw, author of both chapters, has his own book, reviewed in the last article of this series.) Beyond simple configuration or a light skimming of the man pages, these chapters give some theory and additional options. DNS and bind receive similarly good treatment. NIS and NFS get a few pages, but more attention is devoted to Samba -- serving both Linux and Windows clients.

The system administration section is also good. Of particular note is the TCP/IP chapter, spanning theory to firewalls. Also covered is basic system administration, PPP setup, backups, and security (good, but short). There's a chapter devoted to RedHat's graphical administration tools -- more than just Linuxconf, to be sure. Of this section, standouts include the basic administration chapter. It's packed with more details than any book so far, and focuses on a networked installation. The GNU utilities chapter describes common programs that might come in handy, if you didn't already know about them.

The last big section is an introduction to the smorgasbord of Linux programming. While thirty pages apiece isn't often enough to get into the real guts of a language or toolkit, it does suffice to help a careful reader begin to understand code she may have to confront one day. Shells (bash/pdksh, tcsh) and gawk get the best treatment, being comparatively simple. A kernel configuration chapter will guide you through kernel modules, recompilation and (hopefully short) troubleshooting. The chapter on automating common tasks can help you keep your workload manageable. Perl examples illustrate network programming, in an informative introduction.

Of course, heavy hitters -- C, C++, Perl, Tcl/Tk, Python, and Java each merit attention. Compiling, makefiles, RCS and CVS are covered in the C/C++ section. It's not the K&R book, but it's a decent overview. Perl fares better, with an introduction to the CPAN, one-liners, and shell access. Motif and LessTif get a chapter, and Tcl/Tk have a nice chapter. Python and Java each have plenty of space, but the former spends more time on actual code while the latter discusses Java technologies and libraries.

This book contains a lot of information (at 1252 pages, it ought to), and most of it is useful. Be aware, though, that many different authors contributed to it, so the writing style varies between chapters. For the most part, they're good, with David Pitts and Shaw standing out. If you want a comprehensive, everything-in-one-spot overview of technologies available for Linux in one spot, and are already familiar with Linux as a user, this book is good. (Order "Red Hat Linux 6 Unleashed" from Fatbrain.)

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Learning Linux Survey Course Gets Tougher

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  • Umm, you do realize that the word 'Bible' just means 'book'? In French, a library is 'Bibliotheque'. A list of books used as references is a 'Bibliography'. Someone who loves books is a 'Bibliophile'. If you want to specifically refer to the Christian 'book', it's 'The Holy Bible', though 'The Bible' (always capitalized and singular) has admittedly become common shorthand.

    -- Bryan Feir
  • all I can say is HOW LATE WAS THE FSCKING PLANE ???, or it the book printed in 1600 point font so that each letter gets its own page?
    Laptop006 (RHCE: That means I know what I'm talking about! When talking about linux at least...)
  • IMHO, its a Good Thing to gain new users. As long as we don't go the M$ route (sacrifice power for userfriendly-ness) Linux will continue to grow. Even if we do have something like RedHat that wants to become LinuxM$ its not like they are going to take over- thats what the GPL is for!

    -Elendale (is bored)

    Karma burn coming
    As i meta-troll again

  • It's also the whole idea of the operating system market today!

    I come from a windows world. I grew up around MS-DOS and then MS Windows and for a long time that's all i knew...

    A couple of years ago i read more and more about this linux thing and decide to get in on the action. I have some extra hardware around the house so I buy a book and load up the distro of redhat 5.2 included with the book. Long story short, i banged my head against the wall, read how-tos and bought a couple more books before I finally got this linux thing down well enough that I could do what I wanted do with it.

    What did I want to do with it? Well, pretty much everything I do with windows, check mail, surf the web, blah blah blah. I got sick of microsoft dictating the way I use my computer. I have never purchased a prebuilt computer. The idea kinda makes me sick actually. I choose parts based on preformance and reliability to make my systems kick. If I have to use an OS that doesn't allow me to do that, then what's the point really? Linux is still new ground for me, but one has to start somewhere.
  • I am too. The reason why I tried it out was to see what all the hype was about and *gasp* it (beer..mmmmm). I think curiosity is a big factor in turning people over to the Linux Side, but I think more hype NEEDS to be generated for Win98 users. It is important that J. Random Newbie be drawn over to Linux exactly because it can do what winbloze can do...but *keyword* better (faster...insert Linux vs. Win descriptor here). Plus you can write your own apps/programs/etc without the need of silly proprietary compilers and script debuggers. I think the "Ferrari" right now is sort of like an erector set right now. Once people realize the absolute relentless potentential of this kit, to become a Ferrari, it will take off. Documentation however must continue to improve and some Howto's need to be cleaned up IMO, because right now some of them read like ancient Armaic(sp?) Stereo Instructions.

  • The rainforest is safe from my office printer...for NOW. *evil laughter*

  • It's going to be quite interesting to see where linux goes now that so many new users are starting to stream in from completely different backgrounds. What I mean by that is that it used to be that linux was difficult enough with the installation and configuration that J. Random Newbie couldn't really run it. Now that's not true. Can you imagine a new class of linux users that don't know how to use a UNIX shell? Well, that's where it's going.

    I'm not going to be a crusty old bastard and say that everybody should have to do it the painful way, because I don't believe that. But it will definately change linux to have a new breed of users becoming a dominant percentage of the user base.

    It used to also be that people mostly used linux because they found other systems not meeting their needs, or for a challenge. The people that I meet nowadays that are learning linux want to know how to do the things that they do on windows, only on linux. Things like gmc really give them a stiffy.

    I don't have anything against new users who don't get their hands dirty in the guts of UNIX, but I do think it would be a shame to use linux like you use windows. Sort of like owning a $100,000 ferrari and only driving it through parking lots.

  • I had half the time on my hands that Chromatic must have ;)
  • Ummm (I'm guessing that's how replies to this thread are supposed to start now) I think the reference is to "The Bible" when used in this way. The word Bible is actually derived from the Phonecian city, Byblos. Today the term Bible connotes a complete, authoritative guide. The use of the term 'bible' as the simple equivalent of 'book' is obsolete.
  • It may seem silly, but I'm getting really tired of books with "Bible" in the title

    Ummmm ... you do realize that "Bible" is just a borrowing from Greek of 'biblia'? If translators weren't idiots, it would be called "The Book".

    Although I also wish people would be a bit more creative in titling. 'Tome', 'Grimoire', 'Vade-mecum' ... English has lots of funky words for "book" :)
  • by froz ( 69551 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2000 @05:57AM (#804885)
    Sort of like owning a $100,000 ferrari and only driving it through parking lots.

    So whether you're driving a ferrari through a parking lot or using linux to check your mail, deep down you know it's for exactly the same reason.

    To impress chicks.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI