Author: Christopher Negus
Reviewed by: Dave Cross
I've never been much of a fan of large computer books and, to be honest, this one hasn't done much to change my opinion. These large books often seem a little confused about who their target audience. They often cover everything from very basic concepts through to very complex ones and I don't really believe that anyone really needs that breadth of coverage. Or, at least, not all at the same time and from the same book.
This book is a great example of that. It comes complete with three CDs containing Red Hat Linux (which, I assume, are the same as or very similar to the three that come with Red Hat's own shrink-wrapped product) and it therefore starts with installing Red Hat Linux. However, some thousand or so pages later, the same book is talking about some really quite advanced systems administration tasks. I'm really not sure that the same audience will need both of those ends of the spectrum.
Let's take a look at the contents in more detail.
Chapter 1 gives a useful review of Red Hat Linux. It pretty much assumes that the reader knows nothing about Linux and goes into some detail about what Linux is and where it comes from. It even takes time out at one point to explain what an operating system is. The book does score a few early points for knowing the difference bwtween "hackers" and "crackers" and using the terms correctly. This chapter ends with a more detailed look at Red Hat Linux and some of the changes that were introduced with version 8.0. Chapter 2 covers the installation of Red Hat Linux. It does a good job of explaining this in a way that would be clear to someone with no previous knowledge of how to do this.
Chapter 3 is the start of the second major section of the book which introduces the day-to-day use of Red Hat Linux. In chapter 3 we look at logging into the system and get an introduction to using Unix from the command line. Chapter 4 goes into a similar level of detail on using the two GUI environments - Gnome and KDE. For a beginner, it may have made more sense to have these chapters the other way round as most Red Hat installations will boot straight into a GUI environment and one of Red Hat's changes for version 8.0 was to make it far harder to work out how to get a shell window open.
Chapter 5 starts to look at at Linux applications. It begins with a table of common Windows applications and their Linux counterparts. It then goes on to discuss finding, downloading and installing new applications where, to my mind, it would have been more sensible to first look at using some of the pre-installed applications. The chapter also includes details on using the Red Hat Packager Manager (rpm) and running Windows applications using WINE.
Chapters 6 to 9 each look at a separate application area and present a very brief overview of the applications available in that area. Chapter 6 is about producing documents, chapter 7 about games, chapter 8 about multimedia and chapter 9 about the Internet. In all of these chapters the overviews are necessarily very short and it's hard to see how anyone could get much useful work done after reading them. It would be better if the chapters contained references to further reading, but they don't even mention the man pages.
Chapter 10 starts the next section of the book which is about system administration. It contains a useful overview of a number of the most common adminstrative tasks like mounting disk drives, monitoring system usage or setting the date and time. Chapter 11 is about administering users. Chapter 12 looks at automating system tasks. It includes an introduction to shell scripting and a useful description of the start-up and shutdown cycle. Chapter 13 covers backing up and restoring files. Chapter 14 is possibly the most useful chapter in the book for the complete Linux beginner as it contains an overview of security issues. This is particularly important with the increase in the number of people who leave their computers permanently attached to their broadband connections.
The forth and final section looks at networking with chapters on setting up a LAN, a print server, a file server, a mail server and many other shared resources. This section also includes a chapter on getting your network connected to the internet. As with much of the rest of the book, space constraints prevent these chapters from going into a great amount of depth and there are very few references to other material.
So what did I think overall? Well, as I said above, it's too big. But on the other hand it's too small. It's too big in that it covers too large a range of topics that very few people are likely to be interested in all of it. It's too small in that it just doesn't have the space to go into great depth about most of the topics is covers. I think that it would be far more useful if was three books - Red Hat 8 Linux Users Bible, Red Hat 8 Linux Admin Bible and Red Hat 8 Networking Bible. Each of them could be smaller than this volume, but still cover the material in more detail.
Having said that, the material all seems accurate. The few times I noticed something that I thought was wrong, on checking I found that I was mistaken. So if want you really want is a broad (but in places shallow) oeverview of Red Hat Linux then this could well be the book for you.
And it's also cheaper than the "official" Red Hat Linux products.