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Review: Linux in a Nutshell

By Jem Matzan on October 20, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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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 It's not that the book is out of date -- the point of having updated editions is to include new commands, tools, and methodologies that have been introduced or modified since the previous release.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

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on Review: Linux in a Nutshell

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Jem "doesn't see the usefulness"?

Posted by: Rob Bochan on October 20, 2005 09:00 PM
Apprently jem has never been to a library, aka bathroom.

That's the perfect place for this book... to pick up and peruse while you're just sitting there for a few minutes. It's a great way to discover some commands you might not have been aware of before, or interesting switches for commands you have used. This book is the reason I got so fond of many commands that I'd never have known about otherwise.

It's not often that a person would just start going through a list of manpages, but to leaf through a physical book is a tangible way to discover what exists on your machine.

I've always recommended this book, especially to newbies, and will continue to do so.

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Re:Jem "doesn't see the usefulness"?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 21, 2005 12:07 PM
Here's a quick and dirty way to view a random man page:
<tt>import glob, os, random
section = random.choice(glob.glob('/usr/share/man/man*'))
<nobr>p<wbr></nobr> age = random.choice(glob.glob(section + '/*'))
title = os.path.split(page)[1][:-5]
n = os.path.split(page)[1][-4:-3]
os.system('man %s %s' % (n, title))</tt>
(tested on Debian Sarge, ugly, inefficient)

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Re:Jem "doesn't see the usefulness"?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 24, 2005 11:29 AM
I changed this a bit, now it can handle pages like<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/usr/share/man/man1/otags-2.1.69.1.gz.
<tt>#!/usr/bin/python
import glob, os, random
fullpath = random.choice(glob.glob('/usr/share/man/man*/*'))

  page = os.path.split(fullpath)[1]
title = '.'.join(page.split('.')[:-2])
section = page.split('.')[-2]
os.system('man %s %s' % (section, title))</tt>
The line starting with "page =" shouldn't be indented. I don't know what's up with that.

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Linux in a Nutshell

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 25, 2005 08:31 PM
There's another good review of it on techbookreport (<a href="http://www.techbookreport.com/tbr0197.html" title="techbookreport.com">http://www.techbookreport.com/tbr0197.html</a techbookreport.com>). To be honest though it's not the sort of book you'd recommend to the absolute beginner. Something like 'moving to linux', which comes bundled with knoppix is probably a better bet.

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Expensive

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 21, 2005 12:14 AM
All computer books are so expensive!
And if this is just a hard-copy of the 'man' pages then it is very expensive and not worth it.

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Re:Expensive

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 25, 2005 08:31 PM
Truly true.

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