Just as Unix was haunted by a litany of complaints related to its shortcomings, Linux seems to have inherited the legacy of those complaints. Inside Linux, a new book by Michael Tobler, attempts to deal with many of those complaints and set the record straight.
This author attempts to harmonize the various distributions and their configuration files. For example, every Linux distribution contains a hodge-podge of different configuration files and each runs a number of different scripts during its initialization phase. These differences often make the concept of portability between distributions laughable. The author makes a noble effort to resolve these issues, offering up alternatives for many common distribution problems.
Linux can appear confusing at first, even to those who are experienced with other non-Unix operating systems. Issues such as TCP/IP and Samba configuration, as well as the infamous XFree86 set-up (especially on unknown or unsupported video cards), can appear quite daunting to those who are approaching the system for the first time.
Actually, XFree86 is a topic that Inside Linux addresses extremely well, providing the reader with plenty of examples related to the X Window configuration tools (both GUI and text based). In fact, the book is full of useful examples, often illustrating difficult or complex concepts. Although perhaps Tobler centers his examples a tad too much around a Red Hat distribution, most of them are applicable to any distro.
Curiously, although the book is newly published, some of the text concentrates on older releases of SuSE, Red Hat, and other distributions. For instance, even though SuSE 7.0 has recently been released, the book often references SuSE 6.3. Readers need to be careful in order to avoid confusion. Likewise, Red Hat 6.1 is the version used throughout the book. In the author’ defense however, the differences between the versions are relatively minor, and there is no way to keep current on all different distributions covered.
Thorough, But Concise
Tobler does a good job of performing a tough balancing act; Inside Linux is a thorough book, covering some rather esoteric topics (NNTP server commands, for example, or GNOME-RPM configuration) but it covers these topics in a concise manner, not taking needless excursions into details better left for a HOW-TO.
Take, for example, Tobler’s treatment of NFS. The chapter provides an overview and brief history of this ubiquitous service, then succinctly covers its design and architecture and finally discusses configuration options for each piece and sub-system of NFS. The NFS chapter finishes off with a brief exposition into NFS bandwidth issues and some of the commonly used fine-tuning information. These are topics upon which entire books have been written, and, to Tobler’s credit, he manages to compress much of the essential information into a page or two.
As a stand-alone Linux system administration reference, Inside Linux might not be enough. Fine-tuning a reference collection is a rather meticulous process, taking quite a bit of time and careful consideration. That said, this book is a good step towards building such a library.
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