Linux Configuration and Installation, Second Edition
Author: Patrick Volkerding, Kevin Reichard, Eric F. Johnson
Publisher: MIS: Press
Reviewer: Harvey Friedman
The obvious question that a potentially interested reader might have when seeing a second edition of a useful book is “What are the changes and have they improved on the first edition?”
Linux Configuration and Installation is a book/2-CD package that includes the Linux 2.0.0 kernel, the Slackware 96 distribution, numerous games, utilities and programs.
The general outline of the book is the same as in the first edition; that is, it includes sections on “Linux Installation & Configuration”, “Using Linux”, “Linux Communications and Networking” and “Linux Programming”. However, the chapters within these sections have been revised extensively, both in order and content.
The first section, “Linux Installation & Configuration”, contains three chapters. Chapter 1, Linux and PC Hardware, is roughly the same with some newer hardware covered. Chapter 2, Installing Linux, is largely revised with an emphasis on an MS-DOS or Windows-based installation. A new feature is a section on starting Linux from Windows 95, but since I refuse to use Windows 95, I can't comment on whether this option works. There is also a section on upgrading from a previous version of Linux. In essence, the author recommends removing the old version entirely, particularly if you are going from a.out to ELF. I did this but failed to realize that the new version took much more space for the same packages; thus, my 120MB partition filled before the packages had all been installed. I had to repartition my disk before the new version would install properly. I think it would have been helpful to have the expanded size of all the Slackware disk sets listed, so that partition size could be better estimated. Chapter 3, Installing and Configuring XFree86, does a fairly good job of explaining X. The text describes in detail how to use xf86config without indicating its location; a less experienced user would probably not know to look for it in the /usr/x11/bin directory. This chapter was both 3 and 4 in the first edition.
The second section of the book, “Using Linux”, contains chapters 4 through 6. Chapter 4, Basic Linux Tools, is pretty much the same as Chapter 5 of the first edition.. Chapter 5, Linux Applications, is an expanded version of the first part of Chapter 7 from the first edition. Included are the introduction to Ghostscript that Steve Wegener asked for in his review of the first edition that appeared LJ (Issue 23, March 1996), a discussion of Mtools for MS-DOS file systems, some X applications and emulators for various older computers including DOSEMU 0.60.4. Chapter 6, Basic Linux System Administration, expands on the material in the last part of Chapter 7 from the first edition. It is well written and draws upon other Unix writings of Reichard and Johnson.
Section 3, “Linux Communications and Networking”, contains Chapters 7 through 9. Chapter 7, Linux and Telecommunications, was part of chapter 8 in the first edition and deals with serial communications using seyon, minicom, xminicom and rzsz. It is a short, 13-page chapter. Chapter 8, Linux Networking, is an even shorter 5-page chapter covering TCP/IP. It is assumed that the computer is directly cabled to the network via an Ethernet card. Chapter 9, Linux and the Internet, covers dial-up IP connections, electronic mail, the World Wide Web and web browsers, UUCP, FTP, telnet and Usenet newsgroups. I think that the discussion of dial-up IP would have fit better into Chapter 7.
Finally we have Section 4, “Linux Programming”, which consists of one chapter, Chapter 10, Programming in Linux. This appears to be the same Chapter 10 from the first edition. It is replete with short examples and simple explanations for many tools, including cc, make, LessTif, Tcl/Tk, Perl, gawk, etc.
There are two CD-ROMs included with the book, but the page describing the contents of each is missing quite a bit. There is almost no description (it stops after a few words of a sentence) of what is on the first CD (it's a fairly standard Slackware 96); however, there is a decent description of the second. The directory of the first one is shown in Listing 1.
To quote the page for the second one, “The second CD-ROM contains useful source code (and in some cases, precompiled binaries) for Linux/UNIX applications and utilities mentioned in the book, as well as selected archives from sunsite and tsx-11”. Some of the more interesting programs included, in the order of the page listing, are diald, slirp, several email handlers, WINE and NTFS, POV-ray, several multimedia and/or image processing programs, networking packages including Apache and Samba, office packages, LessTif, Mesa, Java, Perl-5.002, applications, xwatch and other window-managers.
This book/CD-ROM combination is a definite improvement over the first edition, offering more information and better explanations. One further addition that I think would improve the product considerably relates to a sentence on page 243: “As a matter of fact, when you installed Linux, you unwittingly set up dozens of linked files...”--unwittingly is problematic. Having a list of all the links, particularly non-standard ones belonging to other Unices, and a list of important files in non-standard locations would make it much easier for experienced Unix users to recommend Slackware as highly as other distributions.
All in all though, if one intends to use Slackware 96, particularly with no previous Unix or Linux experience, this book/CD-ROM is the one to buy.
Harvey Friedman is a computer consultant at the University of Washington, functioning either as system administrator or statistical analyst. Currently his work requires data analysis using SAS on large datasets. He doesn't spend as much of his leisure time as he'd like playing with Linux, because orienteering, the sport of navigation, is so much fun. He feels going from staring at a computer screen to moving oneself through the forest is a great way to retain sanity. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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