Linux: Installation, Configuration, Use

What new users need is a friendly guide to show them the ropes.
  • Author: Michael Kofler

  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Longman, Harlow, Essex, England

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  • Price: $34.95 US, $47.95 CAN (includes CD-ROM)

  • ISBN: 0-201-17809-5

  • Reviewer: Michael Scott Shappe

Linux can be a scary environment to the uninitiated. Users familiar with only GUIs can have a hard time adjusting to the plethora of typed commands. Those familiar primarily with control panels suddenly have to edit /etc files with strange syntaxes that vary from file to file. Even DOS users, used to typing commands and editing configuration files, can find the sheer power Linux places in even the average user's hands a bit daunting.

What new users need, then, is a friendly guide to show them the ropes. They need a tome that gives a broad overview of what they can do with this new operating system they've been hearing so much about, but that doesn't go into such depth as to scare them away. LINUX: Installation, Configuration, Use (first published in Germany as LINUX: Installation, Konfiguration, Anwendung) is a very good starting point.

Making the Switch

This book is aimed primarily at experienced users of other environments, such as DOS or Windows—people who know how to turn their computer on and off, who know how to get what they want out of what they already have and a little more besides, and are now ready to try something new.

The book has a surprising breadth of topics and gives what I think is just the right amount of depth for its purpose: a general overview of how to put a Linux system into practical use. In every area, it gives the user enough information to get him going, and then a little more to make it clear that any limitations are with the scope of the book and not the capabilities of the environment. It then points the reader to resources needed to go further.

The book begins, appropriately enough, with a brief description of Linux's history, along with an overview of what's available for Linux, and what sorts of things—both technologically and philosophically—make Linux unique. From there it moves immediately into the realm of the practical, walking the user through the first installation of Linux on his system.

The Installation chapter covers several different scenarios, but focuses primarily on a single distribution: Red Hat 4.1. This distribution is included on a CD with the book—a common enough occurrence—so the book tends to fall back on Red Hat when giving specific examples. Other distributions—notably Debian, Slackware, Caldera and S.u.S.E.—are mentioned, and significant differences are dealt with.

Installation taken care of, the author moves right along to a whirlwind tour of UNIX in general and Linux in particular. This section goes into no particular depth, but rather gives a rapid-fire overview of the basic utilities and programs a user should become familiar with, such as more, emacs, vi and X. Before diving further into the nitty-gritty, the author makes it clear where a user can find all the extensive on-line documentation—both from the included CD and also information available on the Net.

Making it Work

The section on configuration opens with a discussion of file management under Linux. Here again, the assumption is that the user is at least somewhat familiar with the concepts behind other command-line interfaces, such as DOS, although I don't believe a complete newbie would be lost. The section goes into how Linux structures file systems, how permissions work, the basics of administering users and groups and coping with removable media.

Following this is a peek at the actual innards of file systems—not in much detail, but enough to whet the appetite of a curious novice. Process administration comes next, followed by a discussion of library-related issues, including some troubleshooting tips for shared libraries. Finally, the init daemon and its importance are described in some detail before moving on to the topic of configuration.

The basic configuration and administration chapter starts with simple things—keyboard configuration; configuration of BASH, less and Emacs; setting the time, that sort of thing. It then walks the user through setting up new accounts, and moves on to a description of how to administer file systems. Next comes a discussion of LPD, followed by network configuration. The chapter concludes with a detailed section on tailoring the boot process, and a walk-through of how to recompile the Linux kernel.

The section on configuration concludes with a description of the X Window System, focusing on XFree86 3.1.2 (the version on the disk). All of the basic configuration issues are discussed here, including the importance of getting the monitor settings right so that you don't accidentally fry your screen. An overview of window managers is provided, covering several flavors of FVWM, TWM and OLWM. The section concludes with a quick overview of X Resources.