9780596000714 / 0596000715

Learning Red Hat Linux, 2nd Edition


Publisher:O'Reilly Media



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About the book:

The economics of the free software business has taken another football bounce with the release of O'Reilly's Learning Red Hat Linux, a guide to the most popular distribution of the freely redistributable operating system. The bounce is this: for the typical tech-book list price of $35, you get Bill McCarty's beginners' survey and Red Hat 7.2, a $60 value at Red Hat's own retail price. McCarty's introduction claims that the two-CD set, printed with the O'Reilly logo, contains "everything you need to install and configure your own Red Hat Linux system." But is it really Red Hat 7.2? Yes, according to one Red Hat official, but like batteries, support is sold separately for $20 a month. Economics militate in favor of purchasing the book as well as a separate support contract from Red Hat, if needed. The book is, then, the freebie, and consequently a good deal.

McCarty follows his nose through the installation procedure and annotates each step with do's and don'ts; e.g., do use the "custom" install mode rather than "server" or "workstation" if you don't want to lose existing data on the hard drive. He intuits just what the new Linux user will want to do: configure X11, connect to ISP over a modem or LAN, use e-mail, run Samba over the network to read a PC hard drive, configure and start an Apache Web server, and configure a basic firewall. His chapter on RPM, the Red Hat Package Manager, is brief but useful, and his one-page discussion of the Red Hat Network $20-a-month support option is far too brief to be useful, but contains enough hints to allow a new member to keep expectations modest.

Brevity and velocity are the book's strengths, as McCarty glides from the highlights of one configuration protocol to another. Error recovery is ignored in favor of tips and hints on error avoidance. Larger issues in system administration strategies are unevenly treated: partitioning theory, dual booting, and backing up are skipped. Loading kernel modules dynamically is not discussed, and neither is kernel compiling, and the ubiquitous DHCP client is introduced only after the rather advanced DHCP server is discussed. To round out the knowledge base, I recommend Matt Welch's peerless Running Linux as the entry point for serious Linux system administration.

In his hurry, McCarty blurs distinctions between Linux distributions, leaving the reader wondering why Red Hat is singled out for book-length coverage. But his single biggest omission is an introduction to and the indispensable world of HOWTOs. Rather, reference to HOWTOs is relegated to an appendix on the boot process.

Ultimately, Learning Red Hat Linux should be viewed as an inexpensive way to obtain legitimate CDs of Red Hat 7.2, with installation documentation that exceeds the norm. Once the installation has either succeeded or failed, however, readers will want to move along to or Running Linux. --Peter Leopold

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