9780596000257 / 0596000251

LINUX in A Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (3rd Edition)


Publisher:O'Reilly Media



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About the book:

Into the already crowded Linux desk-reference market (which threatens to push my monitor off my desktop) comes O'Reilly's third edition of Linux in a Nutshell by Ellen Siever and colleagues. The ever-expanding horizon of Linuxology makes the editorial task of circumscribing it in a nutshell impossible--even from the venerable O'Reilly sources. We ask, "What didn't they cut, and do we really need it next to the coffee cup?" The success of this attempt is spotty, at best.

From agetty to znew, this Nutshell book contributes half of its contents to alphabetically arranged synopses of 400 user, programmer, and administrator commands and utilities. The online manual page for "ps"--the process status program--produces over 14 screens of command-line options, environment variables, output formatting statements, utility cross-references, and author credits. The abstracted Nutshell entry contains only three textual pages of command-line options and bare-bones output abbreviations.

We learn that "yes" is an obscure little utility that's used ostensibly for driving scripts like ./configure. When misused, "yes" can create a 5-MB file on your hard drive in one CPU second; but the entry contains neither a warning to that effect nor a description of its relationship to big brother "expect"--which is alarming in its absence from both the alphabetical parade of commands and the index altogether.

Consequently, the first half of the book is intended for the curious and possibly nonexistent subpopulation of well-trained users who want to remind themselves of command-line flags, but would rather not use the online manual pages as a reference.

The meat in this Nutshell is contained sparingly in its second half. Here, it compares favorably with online how-tos for providing technical details of Linux kernel loading and boot parameterization, package management, bash/tcsh/csh shell use, and the underused CVS version-control system. The technical specifics of the popular editors emacs and vi are of marginal use to the experienced administrator whose manual muscle memory is full. The gawk and sed tutorials are somewhat more reference-worthy, and the tome ends with introductions to the barely discussed gnome, JDE, and fvwm2 window managers. The gaping crack in this book is the absence of X11 configuration guidelines, which often takes 80 percent of system configuration time, even for experienced administrators.

If you can't spare a better patch of pine, you might consider wedging 75 percent of this desk reference under your monitor, where it might contribute more to the ergonomics of coding than to the content. The remaining 25 percent will slip into your blotter for easy access. --Peter Leopold

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