Running Linux Companion CD-ROM
Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates and Red Hat Software
Reviewer: Josh Turiel
When Matt Welsh and Lar Kaufman wrote their excellent Running Linux last year, one of the things I noticed about it was that, unlike most Linux books to that date, Running Linux was not really written with any one distribution's idiosyncrasies in mind. Also, most Linux boxes typically have a CD-ROM with whatever distribution they favor (historically the Slackware du jour).
Running Linux had none. With the Running Linux Companion CD-ROM, a separate 100-page volume with a bound-in copy of Red Hat Linux 2.1, O'Reilly enters the Linux distribution business. Unlike most, Red Hat's Marc Ewing has written the guide, aided by Donnie Barnes and Erik Troan, also of Red Hat.
The included copy of Red Hat Linux 2.1 is precisely the same as any other version the reader may have encountered—in fact, as I am writing this, the current release is 3.03, so this one is even a little out-of-date. However, the point of the Running Linux package is not to have a bleeding-edge distribution for all the hard-core Linux enthusiasts to pound on; it is to give readers a combination of several assets:
The O'Reilly brand name, a staple to Unix sysadmins and network pros everywhere
A book oriented to the user who wants to become familiar with Linux
A software distribution for those who want to put theory into practice (backed with the first two assets)
The CD-ROMs in the package contain the Red hat 2.1 installation and a Sunsite archive of freely distributable software (not all in the RPM format)
The manual seems to have a definite bent towards the user with previous network experience—or possibly those who are already familiar with the Linux information in the original Running Linux. It's interesting at times, since a section like the Xconfigurator description seems to be written with novice-level users in mind (with instructions explaining what kind of graphics chip your video card probably has, among other relatively basic features), while the section immediately following on Sendmail opens with the following paragraph:
A default sendmail.cf file will be installed in /etc. The default configuration should work for most SMTP-only sites. It will not work for UUCP sites; you will need to generate a new sendmail.cf if you need to use UUCP mail transfers.
My question here is not so much a criticism as a comment. A trend I have noticed in many Linux books is to present instructions like these for the more complex software packages. Remember, O'Reilly's own definitive Sendmail reference is over 800 pages long, so obviously all the needed information doesn't fit here. But it would be handy to at least explain some of the relevant terms with bullet points or something similar. Even though the ideal use of this set is with the Running Linux volume, having this information in a slightly less elliptical form would be helpful in making Linux less threatening for the first-timer.
That aside, there is excellent documentation provided on glint, the Red Hat package manager for X, and the Red Hat FAQ at the end of the book is very helpful (particularly the clearly written information on the Trident 9400 series chip-set). One thing that was not completely clear from the documentation is the support arrangements for the Companion CD-ROM. Although its authorship by Red Hat may lead you to believe otherwise, support on this product is not available from Red Hat directly without the purchase of a support agreement. Support on the Companion CD-ROM is available on the Internet (through Red Hat's mailing lists and the comp.os.linux.* hierarchies), and O'Reilly provides installation support via e-mail.
O'Reilly & Associates intends to update the Companion CD-ROM on a fairly frequent basis (every six months or so), in order to stay fairly current with the state of Linux development. As a first step into the actual software distribution business, this is a fairly sound strategy. They've associated themselves with the distribution that is arguably the most “commercial-ready”, provided very solid reference material, and split the product into both a book (with relatively infrequent updates) and a CD product that can be updated more often. Combined with the new attention to Linux appearing in O'Reilly's newest editions of their indispensable Unix guides, the Running Linux Companion CD-ROM is a product that can only help in the ongoing penetration of the market by Linux.