Absolute BSD: the Ultimate Guide to FreeBSD

by Carl Christopherson

Title: Absolute BSD: The Ultimate Guide to FreeBSDAuthor: Michael LucasPublisher: No Starch PressISBN: 1-886411-74-3Price: $39.95 USD

It is no secret FreeBSD is coming into its own in the new generation of UNIX. Of course, those of us who have been around for a while certainly don't think of BSD as new. As for FreeBSD, well, it's been around formally for nearly ten years--to say nothing of BSD itself, which has been around for twenty five years.

So, why is everything old new again? It seems it's always the same circle of realizing what a great idea that thing that actually worked was. And so, we come back--full circle--to an operating system that has remained virtually bullet-proof for decades.

In the form of FreeBSD, we have all of the functionality, freedom and stability that the ideal operating system should offer. Features from tried and true networking applications to development and Kerberos services are packaged with FreeBSD 4.6. What more could you ask for? Well, to start with, perhaps an adequate reference guide to learn and administer such a giant. Enter Michael Lucas, author of Absolute BSD. His text promises to be The Ultimate Guide to FreeBSD.

Were one to evaluate the merit of Lucas's text based on its scope alone, one would be hard-pressed to provide sufficient praise. His 500-plus page text covers installation, help resources, backup and recovery, kernel configuration, networking, upgrading, security, the filesystem structure and hierarchy, system troubleshooting and system recovery. With such a breadth of information at our disposal, we should be empowered to perform spectacular feats with FreeBSD, right? Well, maybe.

Lucas introduces his book with the following words: "This book is a one-stop shop for new UNIX administrators who want to build, configure, and manage dedicated FreeBSD servers." Although this may seem to be an incredibly bold claim, when we refer back to the scope of the text, it may not be too far-fetched.

Lucas begins the main body of the text with an overview of the installation process. Upon explaining Sysinstall, however, he writes, "I won't present a step-by-step walkthrough of the interface (that shouldn't be necessary)... ". Perhaps it is unfair of me to suggest this, but Lucas just promised a one-stop aid to the new administrator. Vaguely recalling my first encounter with Sysinstall, it would have been helpful to have had a step-by-step walkthrough. Having had fairly extensive experience installing sundry operating systems, the experience was tolerable, but it would not have been so had I been a UNIX novice. Thus, the tone was set for Lucas's guide.

The text is very conceptual in nature; that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, for many readers, it can be quite a good thing. Descriptions of larger concepts are frequently all that are needed to shed light upon somewhat tenebrous subjects. For instance, Lucas provides a good conceptual structure for such subjects as backup and recovery. His illumination of tape devices and related commands is a finely crafted example of providing the reader with a sense of ideational fulfillment. However, he does little to explain fairly consequential subjects, such as cataloging and indexing backup sets. His focus on the greater picture is quite laudable; however, the somewhat cursory nature of the explications may prove disconcerting to the UNIX neophyte.

Moreover, Lucas brilliantly delves into software management and advanced software management. He offers readers some excellent pointers on automating procedures--including some creditable advice on scripting. He deftly describes the use of FreeBSD's package commands. Yet, somehow, Lucas fails to emphasize the use of /stand/sysinstall as a means to install needed software packages. To the new FreeBSD administrator, this tool may prove invaluable.

Examples such as those listed in this review are common. While it is of little consequence to the experienced BSD administrator that Michael Lucas offers an enormous amount of material with inconsistent, step-by-step detail, it may be quite unfortunate for the new user/administrator.

I greatly enjoyed the text. It is engaging, robust, insightful and pleasingly sequential. It has enough substance to stock a small library of texts on the subject of FreeBSD. However, it is hard to get past what the book promises versus what it delivers to the new administrator.

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