Book Review - Running Linux, 4th Edition

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Author: StormhawkLocation: Warwickshire, England, UK PostPosted: Wed May 18, 2005 1:51 pm    Post subject: Book Review - Running Linux, 4th Edition
Running Linux, 4th Edition

Author: Matt Welsh, Matthias Kalle Dalheimer, Terry Dawson, Lar Kaufman
Publisher: O'Reilly
Date Published: December 2002
Book Specifications: Softcover, 650 pages
Category: Linux
Publisher's Suggested User Level: None
Reviewer's Suggested User Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Suggested Publisher Price: US$44.95 / CAN$69.95
ISBN: 0-596-00272-6

Info from back cover:
You're about to begin your first Linux installation. Or, you may have been using Linux for years and need to know more about adding a network printer or configuring for ADSL. Running Linux, a classic now in its fourth edition, is the book you'll want to reach for. Widely recognised in the Linux community as the getting-started book that solves people's actual needs, Running Linux answers the questions and tackles configuration issues that frequently plague users, but are seldom addressed in other books.

Running Linux has everything you'll need to understand, install, and start using Linux. The book doesn't draw the line at the kernel, or the shell, or the GUI, or even at the point of essential applications. Rather, the authors, experienced Linux enthusiasts, have anticipated problem areas, selected stable and popular solutions, and provided clear discussions and instructions to ensure that you'll have a satisfying experience using Linux. The discussion is direct and complete enough to guide novice users while still providing the additional information experienced users will need to progress in their mastery of Linux.

In one form or another, I have personally been using Linux for over 7 years. I learned by experimenting with commands and utilities, by searching the Web for documentation and by asking questions. My experience with the learning curve to getting acquainted with Linux would have been much improved had I been aware of this book. Even though most of its topics are, by now, well known to me, I read this book with an enthusiasm and vigour often reserved for the most gripping novels. Indeed, I read its 600+ pages in a single night, such was the clarity of this book.

If you are a Windows user looking to try out Linux, a UNIX user looking to switch to (or expand your knowledge into) Linux, or already a Linux user, and looking to become more comfortable with using and administrating Linux, this book has something for you.

Content & Overview
The book introduces the concepts of Linux in chapter 1. This makes an interesting read as it covers the history of Linux and the open-source philosophy. An understanding of the heritage and philosophy behind Linux is, I believe, imperative to fully appreciating the power and flexibility of Linux. This book serves to provide an introduction which carries with it the important detail, without boring the reader with excessive history.

Chapters 2 and 3 cover installation and initial configuration. For those users looking to set up a Linux system, these chapters should provide a basis on which you will be able to build with the documentation for the distribution of your choice, in successfully completing your installation.

Chapter 4 looks at the basic UNIX commands and concepts. It covers topics such as logging in, setting passwords and the all-important file permissions.

Chapters 5 and 6 describe system management and maintenance; booting, shutting down, user accounts, filesystems and devices.

In chapter 7, the book embraces the Linux philosophy of customisation by detailing software upgrades, and even looks at the kernel, the heart of the Linux system. For a book targetted at Linux novices, the discussion of a kernel compile is unusual, but its presence is very much welcomed, as it introduces users to what is otherwise the single most frightening thing to do on a Linux system for the first time.

In chapter 8, the discussion turns to administration. This includes backups, scheduled tasks, system logs and printing. It also includes a section on emergency recovery, which should be considered essential reading to those who plan on trying out new things (such as compiling a kernel!).

Chapter 9 touches on the (often somewhat sensitive) topic of text editors. The UNIX world is effectively split between “vi” users and “emacs” users. This book makes no attempt to justify either side, and discusses both editors with equal coverage. Chapter 9 also contains a discussion of text processors such as LaTeX and word processing software, before turning to graphics applications, audio and printing.

Chapter 10 explains how to install the X Window system, the basis for GUI operation of Linux. This is followed by a discussion in chapter 11 of the many ways in which X can be customised.

Chapter 12 embraces the networked world by covering interoperability with Microsoft Windows. The chapter discusses floppy disks, partition sharing, and the Samba suite, which provides Windows-style network file and printer sharing.

In chapters 13 and 14, the discussion turns to programming languages, and the features Linux provides for programmers. These chapters are clearly written with programmers switching from UNIX or Windows in mind, and cover gcc, Makefiles, shell programming, Perl, Java, the gdb debugger and several other tools and Integrated Development Environments. There is even a discussion of the Python programming language, which is often overlooked in favour of Perl.

Chapter 15 brings us closer to a networked world, discussing TCP/IP and PPP, including configuration of dial-up, ISDN and ADSL Internet links. This is followed by a discussion of web browsers and email systems in chapter 16.

Chapter 17 covers the important topic of Security. It covers topics from basic system security to TCP Wrappers and packet-filtering firewalls based on the netfilter module (iptables).

The popular LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server setup is covered in chapter 18, rounding off the book with a topic which leads deeper into the world of Linux as a server.

The book also has two appendices and an extensive bibliography. The appendixes provide additional sources of information, and guidelines for installing on non-Intel hardware.

Style & Detail
As I mentioned in the Introduction, this book managed to keep me turning its pages at a remarkable rate, and most of the information it provided was not new to me. I did find several topics on which the book was able to provide me with something I didn't know, and was surprised at the depth of discussion reached at many points. For a book geared towards Linux novices, this has a vast amount of information on a huge range of essential topics.

The chapters split topics into related groups, and the discussion flows more or less fluidly between chapters. The book begins at the beginning and ends with the option to take the reader so much further. The appendices and bibliography further serve to boost the feeling that, upon finishing this book, you must immediately try out everything you have just learned (I found myself trying out some of the commands for the gdb debugger and the CUPS print system as I read those topics, because I had not been aware of the existence of certain features of those systems prior to reading this book).

For all this, however, the book makes a small sacrifice. That is, it is outdated in its discussion of certain topics (the ALSA sound system, for instance). This is an important consideration, as anyone learning Linux should be brought up to speed with the latest developments, but given the printing date of the book (2002) and the fact that the vast majority of Linux commands and utilities do not change significantly in terms of user interface from one version to the next, the age of some of the information is mitigated by the robustness of Linux software. Often, even if a new version of a piece of software makes a major change to the way it works, backward-compatibility is provided so that it can be used as a drop-in replacement for the existing system. As such, the basics of running Linux do not change from one year to the next, or from one distribution to the next, and this book does an excellent job of introducing those fixed, stable basics.

My recommendation to prospective readers is to persevere with every chapter of this book, including those you do not think you are likely to need in the near future. For example, if you are not a programmer, it is tempting to skip the chapters on programming under Linux, but those chapters provide an insight into the way software on Linux is often installed, and if you ever do decide to try your hand at programming, it helps to know what is already available on your system so as to eliminate some of the trial-and-error associated with beginning programming.

This book, overall, covers every basic topic thoroughly, whilst keeping the discussion interesting and understandable. It deserves a solid 8 out of 10 for its efforts in introducing Linux and providing a glimpse into a world where anything is possible, and everything is free.

This book receives an honoured SFDC rating of 8/10

Keywords: Linux, installation, system administration

This review is copyright 2005 by the author, Andrew J. Bennieston, and Security-Forums Dot Com, and may not be reproduced in any form in any media without the express permission of the author, or Security-Forums Dot Com.

Author: antgbd PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2005 1:15 am    Post subject:
Very Happy Sounds like an impressive book

Looks like this could be just what i need to get a deeper understanding of linux.

Thanx for the review was very useful Smile

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