Book Review - Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment

by Marco Fioretti
Book Review - Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment

John Wiley & Sons, 2003

ISBN: 0-7645-2508-5

$29.99 US

Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment could borrow the old Linux Gazette slogan, “Making Linux just a little more fun”. This book's target audience is novice users, and it makes a good gift for a friend entering the penguin world from the easiest and more playful side. The toys covered include a music jukebox, television recorder/player, arcade game player, home broadcast center, telephone answering center and toy car controller.

The chapters on toys that require hardware tinkering all are illustrated with plenty of pictures and include suggestions on how to not hurt yourself and your toy. The authors explain each step clearly, and their support continues with a companion Web site,

The most interesting section of the Web site is the one where new Linux toys are proposed and built. They go from combining two or more of the book projects to entirely new stuff, such as home automation or timeshifting radio.

All toys are built using Red Hat 9 (not included) as the base system. The extra programs needed by each project are in the attached CD-ROM, all packaged in RPM format.

The thing I liked most is also the one thing that might provide the most frustration to the inexperienced user. The authors do their best to hide the complexity behind each project and to provide a software set-up procedure as quick and painless as possible. This includes, for each chapter, custom-made RPMs and one single script to install all of them from the CD-ROM. Unfortunately, the script invokes RPM in such a way, rpm -i --quiet $pkg --nodeps --force, that if something goes wrong the user is left without a clue. This almost is never a problem on a new system built only with vanilla Red Hat 9 and the book packages. On a box previously submitted to the tiniest bit of customization, however, all kinds of problems may be masked. We therefore recommend modifying the enclosed install scripts to save error messages in a log file; see man rpm for details. With this precaution, the book surely is a lot of fun.

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