September 15, 2006

Book review: <em>Linux Smart Homes for Dummies</em>

Author: Lee Schlesinger

It's nice to see a yellow and black "For Dummies" book with "Linux" in the title -- namely Wiley's Linux Smart Homes for Dummies. Author and home automation expert Neil Cherry has put together 364 pages and a CD-ROM that cover not only the typical X10 hardware and software characteristic of home automation, but also networking, video, audio, and even heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) control that can make your house the envy of your neighborhood.

Cherry is clearly an expert in both Linux and home automation. His Web site is the most comprehensive online forum on the topic.

"For Dummies" might not be an apt description of any work that includes a section on compiling a custom Linux kernel, but it demonstrates how much handholding readers get with the book. Many readers will already be way past the level where they need information on how to get a wireless network working, but the information is available for raw beginners.

I was familiar beforehand with Heyu, a command-line X10 control program, but from the book I learned about alternatives such as MisterHouse and BlueLava. The same chapter includes information about several other driver and interface software projects.

By contrast, the information on building a Linux-based personal video recorder concentrates on MythTV. There is mention of KnoppMyth, but no information about SageTV, Freevo, or Video Disk Recorder.

While the book touches on motion detection with software such as Motion, it goes into very little detail. But by following the provided URLs, a reader who likes to tinker (which is the kind of reader who would buy the book) can learn enough to do some fancy things, such as turning on lights or recording video when motion is detected.

Speaking of video, Cherry devotes a chapter to applications like CamStream, for doing tasks with a webcam such as putting streaming video on a Web page, and Ekiga, for videoconferencing.

There is plenty more inside, including chapters on setting up Asterisk for telephony, monitoring the weather, and several other cool project ideas.

The CD inside the back cover contains all of the software mentioned in the book, including open source scripts and product configuration files.

If the book has a flaw, it is that it might be a little light on hands-on tips and tricks for getting out of trouble when things go wrong. But the text provides enough online references that readers can probably track down the answers themselves.

At $25, Linux Smart Homes for Dummies is an excellent introduction for novices, but even experienced Linux users and home automation fans will find something in the book that will expand their horizons.

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