October 20, 2005

Review: <em>Linux in a Nutshell</em>

Author: Jem Matzan

There are many kinds of Linux-related books. Some instruct readers on design philosophies and programming principles, others are "beginner" books written in layman's terms, and then there are administration and security guides. Linux in a Nutshell, 5th Edition is a desk reference -- not something you'd read cover-to-cover, and you wouldn't want it to be your only source of Linux-related information, but it's handy to have around if you use the GNU/Linux operating system on a regular basis.

If you're one of those people who still keeps a "dead tree" dictionary around in spite of computer programs and Web sites that provide more up-to-date definitions, you'll probably enjoy having Linux in a Nutshell around. It's not that the book is out of date -- the point of having updated editions is to include new commands, tools, and methodologies that have been introduced or modified since the previous release. I found all of the material in this fifth edition to be modern and viable. I did not find it all useful, however.

The bulk of Linux in a Nutshell, 5th Edition is the Linux command reference. It is more or less a basic restatement of every man page for userland utilities common among popular GNU/Linux distributions. Since we already have the man and info command reference tools, I don't see the usefulness of a paper list.

The best parts of Linux in a Nutshell, 5th Edition are the sections on boot loaders (GRUB, LILO, and Windows' boot.ini); the package management section (RPM information, APT and its related commands and switches, package utilities like YUM and Synaptic); the section on shell scripting with bash and KSH; and the vi, sed, and GAWK crash course sections. A significant portion of the book is dedicated to version control systems -- specifically CVS and Subversion. As these two programs have little to do with GNU/Linux use and administration, I thought they were a little out of place.

Overall I found this book to be useful, but perhaps only to a limited number of readers. Anyone who is studying to become a Linux system administrator should have Linux in a Nutshell, but existing sysadmins (and desktop users) probably won't see much value in it.

Title Linux in a Nutshell, 5th Edition
Publisher O'Reilly
Author Ellen Siever, Aaron Weber, Stephen Figgins, Robert Love, and Arnold Robbins
ISBN 0596009305
Pages 925
Rating 7/10
Summary A desktop quick reference for GNU/Linux
Price (retail) $45 Buy it from Barnes and Noble