Will we see any more Linux System Administration books in the future?

by Tom Adelstein

A reliable source says the days of Linux sysadmin books have ended. If you can barely sell 5,000 copies, then why bother? Programming books continue to sell at a fast pace, so you can guess where job demand in IT has gone.

"Linux System Administration" LSA (ISBN-10: 0596009526) written by me and Bill Lubanovic took a monumental effort. I signed the first contract in the fall of 2004 and O'Reilly released it in March 2007. Granted it’s a high level admin book and not another command line collection of man pages. With the growing number of Linux power users wanting to make the leap to administering servers, shouldn't the demand translate to sales?

Fortunately, LSA isn't another book jammed full of man pages and the reviews are good. My reliable source thinks we might have published one of the last commercial books of its kind.

If you remember "The Whole Internet Users Guide" published in 1992, then you know it was one of the largest selling technical books of all time. Its appeal has also waned. System administration books may suffer the same fate. Who wants to buy a book when people believe they can find everything they need by doing a search on the Internet?

The end of sysadmin books lies in the myth that you can get everything you want by searching the Internet. From an author's experience, I can say it's not true. If you could put Linux servers together and create an enterprise then why did it take Bill and I so long?

Linux sysadmin documentation is incomplete in all areas. If you wish to argue against that, then you can write your own sysadmin book and see if you can get what you need to build out a Linux infrastructure.

When O'Reilly finally released LSA, I needed to return to the real job market. I did the usual thing people do when they start to look for a job. I posted my resume on Monster and Dice. I put up a sysadmin resume and just for curiosity, I put up a technical writer's vitae. I got four hits on the sysadmin resume and 83 on the tech writer resume.

Guess what I'm doing today. I'm a tech writer/business analyst for a division of a global Fortune 1000 company. I thought writing the book on Linux Administration would have caught someone's eye. Instead, the need for documentation caught more eyes.

Now, if you wonder why my reliable source says the days of sysadmin books has ended, my experience says maybe it has. Build servers and learn to use and administer them, please. But remember the importance of good and timely documentation.