The Joy of Sybex (and Other Linux Publishers)

As Products Editor and Newsletter Editor here at Linux Journal, I come across many computer books. Despite our era of 'get it on the 'Net' and perverse industry consolidation, I am continually astounded by the variety and quality of books, on both real and virtual paper, to which we now have access. What follows is a (somewhat) comprehensive summary of publishers of Linux open-source computer books in the English language.

The Big Picture

Despite the above complaint about the drastic consolidation that has occurred in computer-book publishing, nay publishing in general, the industry is pumping out great books like never before. As with all mature industries, the strongest trend involves a handful of conservative, deep-pocketed multinationals, such as Pearson, Elsevier and Wiley, that have gobbled up the smaller guys in an attempt to reduce costs and increase profits. While there is much to complain about with these publishing conglomerates, e.g. generally publishing on predictable topics rather than risky ones, they offer us a great deal of essential, vetted, well-written information.

A less-dominant but more exciting trend involves small, independent publishers, such as No Starch Press, Apress, Pragmatic Programmers and Packt Publishing, that have sought their niche in publishing on Linux and open source topics. While the big publishers generally cling safely to distro guides and mainline applications, the independents seek niches within the niche by publishing, for example, guides to applications such as a guide to osCommerce, how do do GIS with open source applications or how to make a FreeBSD rootkit.

The Publishers At a Glance

When looking for a book on a specific topic, you may go to your favorite independent bookstore (we hope), or Barnes & Noble, and see what's on the shelf there. Or you may whip your browser over to Amazon, where you're likely to find most of the books you can acquire on the topic. But sometimes you want to know what books are published on new topics about which you are unaware. The guide below will give you some spots to check out to get a broader view of the publishing world. Please be advised that this listing focuses on publishers that have a collection of Linux or open-source titles worth exploring.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of English-language publishers of Linux and open source, complete with descriptions and a listing of cool sample books.


In my eternal quest to learn about the latest Linux and open-source book titles, Berkeley-based Apress amazes me perhaps more than any other by its volume and variety. This creates a challege for me. What book should I write about? While Apress has a partnership with the much more massive Springer-Verlag, its catalog is decidedly bold, eclectic and Linux-enthusastic. Their tagline is "Books for Professionals by Professionals." Note that Apress also publishes extensively on the Windows side, so yes they are tainted, but their sins are forgiven because their blood cells are clearly open source.

Some books that capture Apress' publishing philosophy include:
The Definitive Guide to Django
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days
Beginning Ubuntu Server Administration: From Novice to Professional
Scaling Rails: Building Giant Websites (coming in 2008)

Charles River Media

Charles River Media is a small IT publisher, a unit of Thomson Learning, whose motto is "Publisher of Game Development, Graphics, Programming and Networking Books." Though CRM is not gung ho about Linux and open source - OK, maybe their platelets are open source - they have a number of titles that get our ilk excited. Here are a few:

Game Developer's Open Source Handbook
Linux TCP/IP Networking for Embedded Systems
Open Source for Windows Administrators
Open Source Game Development: Qt Games for KDE, PDA's, and Windows
Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration

Elsevier - imprints include Digital Press, Morgan Kaufmann, Syngress

Elsevier is a name I encounter consistently when I'm searching for articles in academic journals. Their presence in the publishing of Linux and open-source books, however, is less worthy of my or your time. While Elsevier has scooped up respected publishers like Digital Press, Morgan Kaufmann, Syngress - all of which put out interesting computing titles - only Syngress is worth a look for open source, and less so Linux. Morgan Kaufmann has some older titles that unfortunately have not been updated. Linux and open source are not their passion. A transfusion (or some consulting from Apress) would do them wonders.

Despite the small collection of Linux and open-source titles, here are some noteworthy recent titles (well, um, nearly all of them):
How to Cheat at Securing Linux
Kismet Hacking
Scripting VMware Power Tools
Secure Your Network for Free
Wireshark & Ethereal

McGraw-Hill Professional - imprints include Oracle Press, Osborne Computing

McGraw-Hill is a company that is missing the boat with Linux and open source. With the publisher offering only a few certification books, some outdated academic books and Oracle books - they put out the official Oracle Press - your valuable time is better spent on nearly all other publishers in this article. Regardless, here are a few of McGraw-Hill's less-than-inspring titles in our space:

Fedora Core 7 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Linux+ Certification Study Guide
Linux: The Complete Reference
Oracle Database 11g Handbook
RHCE Red Hat Certified Engineer Linux Study Guide

Oracle Press, part of McGraw-Hill

Osborne Computing, part of McGraw-Hill

No Starch Press

Before chatting up No Starch, some journalistic ethics are in order - I hereby disclose that I used to work for the company in the late 1990s. Even if I had not worked there, I'd still tell you that No Starch is a scrappy independent publisher that will likely always remain so. That independent streak, which shows itself not only in ownership but in title selection, comes from No Starch's founder and publisher, Bill Pollock, an itinerant feature in the dot-org section of any Linux event. No Starch's tagline is "The finest in geek entertainment", which gives you an idea of the company's style in many of its books - respectfully cheeky. Here is a sampling of No Starch's many Linux and open-source titles, cheeky and not:

Artist's Guide to GIMP Effects
Designing BSD Rootkits
Essential Blender
Linux Appliance Design
Linux Enterprise Cluster
Steal This Computer Book 4.0

Although No Starch publishes a few non-Linux or open-source books, the publisher is among the most dedicated to providing books for our community.

In case you're interested in some history, No Starch used to collaborate with Linux Journal to publish a line of Linux-related books called "Linux Journal Press". The companies collaborated on finding authors, selecting topics and technical editing. Programming Linux Games is perhaps the only remaining series title in the catalog.

Novell Press

In addition to making SUSE Linux and other software, Novell is a dynamic book publisher in its own right. Naturally, Novell Press focuses on Novell's own applications and tools. Here are some Novell Press titles:

Linux Firewalls
Novell Cluster Services for Linux and NetWare
Novell Open Enterprise Server Administrator's Handbook SUSE Linux Edition
Novell ZENworks 7 Linux Management Administrator's Handbook

O'Reilly Media

Love them or hate them, it's impossible to dismiss the immense effect that O'Reilly Media has had on publishing, not only in Linux and open source but all of IT. If O'Reilly has a book on the subject, it typically a signal that the technology is real - at least for the moment. In addition, the fact that O'Reilly has published books like Eric S. Raymond's Cathedral & the Bazaar gives it eternal street cred among the faithful. And oh, those cover critters!

Here are some Linux and open-source titles that make O'Reilly shine:
Free As In Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
FreeBSD 6.2 Crash Course
Head Rush Ajax
Linux in a Nutshell
Linux Annoyances for Geeks

Packt Publishing

Packt Publishing is one of the best-kept secrets in Linux and open-source publishing, focusing almost solely in these two areas. Perhaps better than anyone else nowadays, Packt is producing a wide variety of guides to underpublished open-source applications. Here are some of those books:

Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation
Building Online Stores With osCommerce
Implementing SugarCRM
Moodle E-Learning Course Design

Despite Packt's excellent catalog, I must add one caveat. Based on the handful of print titles I have seen, while the content is comprehansive and acceptable, their execution is less professional than most book publishers today. They have more of a 'home published' sort of feel, which doesn't come across as strongly in the PDF versions. Therefore, if you are picky about the layout of your books, I suggest you stick to the PDFs.

Pearson Education - imprints include Addison-Wesley, IBM Press, Prentice Hall, Que, Sams

If you're not sure of the ultimate owner of a book publisher, it's probably Pearson. In spite of its massiveness, Pearson is an excellent place to find a predictable yet interesting range of Linux and open-source titles for users of all levels. For instance, our own columnist and Linux Chef, Marcel Gagne, has published six titles with Addison-Wesley. Here is a small sampling of the many Linux and open-source books offered by Pearson's imprints:

Code Quality: The Open-Source Perspective
Cross-Platform Development in C++: Building Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows Applications
DB2 9 for Linux, UNIX, and Windows: DBA Guide, Reference, and Exam Prep
Joomla! A User's Guide: Building a Successful Joomla! Powered Website
Linux Phrase Book
Linux Application Development
Official Ubuntu Book
Rapid Web Applications with TurboGears: Using Python to Create Ajax-Powered Sites

Pragmatic Programmers

Given its independence, non-corporate attitude and great titles, Pragmatic Programmers is bound to appeal to many of us. There are lots of clues that tell you PP is different from most publishers. First, the motto is inspirational, i.e. "Guiding you from journeyman to master". Second, here's how PP talks about the book-development process: "...none of this 'write it in Word' crap. You'll use programmer's tools to write books for programmers." Touché! Third PP doesn't include DRM in the PDF versions of its books.

PP was founded by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, who wrote the books The Pragmatic Programmer and Manifesto for Agile Development.

There's much to feast on at Pragmatic Programmers. Here's a taste:

Desktop GIS: Mapping the Planet With Open Source (coming in 2008)
From Java to Ruby
Programming Erlang
Rails for Java Developers
Rails for PHP Developers

Springer Verlag

Since Springer is such an important publisher, they are worth mentioning. Nevertheless, Springer focuses more on esoteric scientific books that might be peripherally related to Linux. For instance, the book More Math Into LaTeX is of interest to only a subset of the LaTeX community.

Wiley - imprints include For Dummies, Sybex, Wrox

Except for its Wrox imprint, Wiley does Linux and open source half-heartedly. Clearly the company sees Windows as its major profit center and therefore places its eggs in Mr. Gates' basket. This is fine, but the point is that Wiley does not eat, sleep and breathe Linux and open source like an Apress, No Starch or Packt.

Despite this fact, Wiley, which has been in the business since 1807, is a reputable publisher worthy of notice. Of course I must mention the Wiley company Sybex since it helped me make such a 'racy' title. Unfortunately Sybex's commitment to Linux has waned over the years. Most of the companies mentioned in this article put out Linux or open-source books monthly if not weekly. However, Sybex's last pure Linux title was in October 2006. Despite this handicap, Sybex has one exceptional strength: Maya Press, an imprint in collaboration with Alias, Maya's producer. Maya, is a 3D animation and effects software that also runs on Linux. This imprint includes a broad range of titles on using Maya. Below are some of Sybex's Maya Press books, as well as some of the firm's Linux/open-source bright spots:

Art of Maya: An Introduction to 3D Computer Graphics
Bounce, Tumble, and Splash! : Simulating the Physical World with Blender 3D
(coming in 2008)
Game Animator's Guide to Maya
Windows and Linux Integration: Hands-on Solutions for a Mixed Environment

A few of the interesting titles from Wrox and For Dummies include:

Professional Apache Tomcat 6
Professional Python Frameworks: Web 2.0 Programming with Django and Turbogears
Virtualization for Dummies

Sybex, part of Wiley

Wiley Computing

Wrox, part of Wiley

I hope that this guide to publishers of Linux and open-source books comes in handy to help you find the books you need for work and play. I suggest that you visit some of the sites to understand just how many amazing books are out there today. I can nearly guarantee that you will encounter books about tools and applications that you never knew existed.

If you are aware of any important publisher of Linux or open-source books that I have missed, please add a comment below.

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