The Mosaic Handbook for the X Window System
Authors: Dougherty, Komen, and Fergeson
Publishers: O'Reilly & Associates
Reviewer: Morgan Hall
Why read a book review? Perhaps the most fundamental reason is to judge whether or not to spend time or money, or both. With this in mind, a reviewer's responsibility is to judge whether or not a particular book is worth the time or effort, or to whom a book would be worthwhile. Perhaps this bit of philosophical musing may alert you to the fact that my feelings are mixed about this particular book.
I suspect that the Mosaic Handbook for the X Window System was written more for completeness than for a clearly defined audience. The general tone and approach are more suited to an MS-Windows or Mac user than to the typical Linux user. The lack of Linux software on the packaged CD-ROM further supports this suspicion. We're a strange breed, a mixture of knowledge and naivety, and probably not easy to characterize.
Let's look at what the book contains, then see who would most benefit from it.
The Mosaic Handbook for the X Window System is a “trade paperback”--the familiar soft cover binding we know well. Inside the back cover is a CD-ROM containing software for Digital, Hewlett Packard, IBM AIX, Silicon Graphics, and Sun machines. Notable by its absence are binaries for Linux or any other “PC-Unix”, such as BSD386 or SCO UNIX.
The book itself starts with an explanation of the internet, the services available on the internet, how client-server software works, and a short history of the World Wide Web (WWW from here on). In addition, it explains why O'Reilly and Associates developed the Global Network Navigator and their view of the net and where it will develop.
Chapter two is concerned with the Mosaic program itself. It asserts that only a SLIP or PPP connection can run mosaic over a dialup line (no, the book never mentions TERM). A quick explanation of how to start up Mosaic, and the book sends the reader straight to O'Reilly's Global Network Navigator to learn the basics of Mosaic. The last half of chapter two is where the beginner to Mosaic can really learn how to use the program.
Chapters three and four are mainly concerned with using Mosaic to prowl the net. Chapter three introduces the reader to various parts of the web; chapter four concentrates on other services, such as archie, WAIS, news, FTP, and telnet.
Chapters five and six are concerned with Mosaic, the program. Chapter five covers customizing Mosaic; chapter six deals with Mosaic and multimedia.
Chapter seven is a brief (and quite useful) introduction to creating simple documents with HTML. It explains how hypertext works, the basic structure of simple hypertext documents, and the minimal set of tags that a new HTML author needs to get started. Serious exploration will quickly go beyond the scope of this explanation, but it's a good start for someone who's totally new to the game. Also, in chapter seven is a brief explanation of an HTML editor and syntax checker, HoTMetaL. I haven't yet tried to find a Linux implementation of it, but it looks like a useful tool. Chasing this goes on the To Do list....
Chapter eight looks toward the future. It asks (and tries to answer, in part), “Where is the Web going?” An interview (that originally appeared in GNN NetNews) with MIT's Michael Dertouzos discusses the evolving WWW standards, the W3O project from CERN.
Finally, the book concludes with four appendices: A is the Mosaic Reference Guide, B is the HTML Reference Guide, C is the list of X resources used by Mosaic, and D is concerned with installing Mosaic. Appendix D emphasizes the CD-ROM supplied with the book, but also mentions obtaining copies from the net and building from source code.
Having not read the companion volumes for Microsoft Windows and the Macintosh, I can only speculate that most of the content is the same. However, the general tone and level of detail make it almost certain.
The Mosaic Handbook for the X Window System is a well-written, informative book. However, it is not targeted at the Linux community. In my opinion, the users most likely to get maximum use from this book will be new users who are approaching the net for the first time. Linux users will have to exercise their network skills to get source or binaries (sunsite has both normal and term-aware copies of Mosaic). I'd recommend borrowing a copy to find the nuggets of information that it contains, but can't, in good conscience recommend that you run right out and buy a copy.
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One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
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