Book Review: The UNIX CD Bookshelf
Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
Price: $69.95 US
Reviewer: Derek Vadala
The UNIX CD Bookshelf, packaged by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., marks the third installment in an emerging series by my favorite publisher. The CD-ROM contains a complete copy of UNIX in a Nutshell: System V Edition; UNIX Power Tools, 2nd Edition; Learning the vi Editor, 5th Edition; Learning the UNIX Operating System, 4th Edition; sed and awk, 2nd Edition; and Learning the Korn Shell. These electronic files are laid out in HTML format on the CD-ROM, making them easy to read, navigate, share across local area networks and travel. O'Reilly has also included all the software from UNIX Power Tools, i.e., many useful utilities, shell scripts and software.
For those not familiar with these books, a brief summary follows.
UNIX in a Nutshell is a desktop quick reference outlining the fundamentals of many core UNIX commands while touching on such topics as shell scripting, pattern matching and text processing and editing.
UNIX Power Tools is a collection of articles containing tips and tricks for effective UNIX usage. Organized into more than fifty topics, UPT also includes useful scripts and oodles of pre-compiled open-source software.
Learning the vi Editor covers the ins and outs of this popular editor and its pattern matching and text replacement functions.
Learning the UNIX Operating System provides a swift introduction to the art of UNIX and includes tutorials on basic command use, redirection and process management.
sed and awk focuses on the usage of these two powerful text processing utilities and provides practical examples of their use.
Learning the Korn Shell introduces the fundamentals of the Korn shell as both a user environment and a scripting language, while expanding on many UNIX basics.
While the static pages of these books are exceedingly valuable, the true power of The Bookshelf is unleashed with the included search facility, which makes every book searchable, allowing users to quickly mine information from some of O'Reilly's top titles. Want to know how to copy files using tar? Merely enter tar and copy into the convenient index page, and the article “Copying Directory Trees with tar” from UNIX Power Tools pops up.
The included Java-powered search engine requires installation of the Java run-time environment (JRE), which is conveniently located on the CD. I did notice some minor glitches while using the Java search facility. The Java searcher proved unreliable in searching individual books, but worked flawlessly when milling through the collective titles. Buyers might also find it a tad frustrating that book titles are not returned as part of the results when searching the entire set, making it harder to quickly decide which article will be most relevant to the problem at hand.
The setup of the JRE is straightforward and should be workable by even a UNIX novice. If you cannot make heads or tails of the README file included with the tar archive file or the hassle-free install script, an HTML page (included on the CD and linked from the main index page) includes help for those who need a little push. JRE binaries are included for Linux (libc5 and glibc), Solaris (x86 and Intel), FreeBSD, SunOS and HP/UX. A polite note on the help pages indicates that AIX, Digital UNIX and SCO UNIX binaries could not be included because of licensing issues, but a working link to more information on getting the JRE for any of these architectures, and many others, is provided. Power users might consider using an alternate method to search through the electronic texts. I was able to easily index the lot with htdig. Similar effects could be produced with many other free packages, making the Java annoyances no excuse for passing over this formidable ensemble.
As if the collective texts of these invaluable books coupled with a search facility was not enough, a print copy of UNIX in a Nutshell is also included. Unfortunately, it has not been revised for this release, other than some changes to its artwork and layout. While the included 1994 edition is still wonderfully helpful as a reference book, a more up-to-date revision would have been welcome. This will undoubtedly make many Linux users go running for man pages or a copy of Linux in a Nutshell instead. It would also have been nice to include the 6th edition of Learning the vi Editor, rather than the outdated 5th edition which does not include any of the long-awaited chapters on vi clones. GNU/Emacs users might also find it a tad offensive that they have been usurped here.
The UNIX CD Bookshelf is a must for any UNIX beginner who hasn't been previously exposed to the usefulness of these wonderful books. It makes for a verbose yet portable UNIX desk reference that will surely save UNIX users hours of time. At $69.95, it is also a bargain compared to the aggregate price of the individual titles. Expert users who own most of these titles might want to think twice before shelling out the cash for this bundle, although it would make a serious asset to any consultant on the road. The power of searching through these UNIX titles can save even veterans from many headaches. Looking down the “CD Bookshelf” road with future releases including The Networking CD Bookshelf and The Perl CD Bookshelf, I wonder when we'll see an O'Reilly compendium on DVD-ROM.
Derek Vadala (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in San Francisco and works as a UNIX consultant for Taos Mountain. He wishes more people would use Linux as it would make his life fairly hassle free. Send praise or flames to email@example.com.