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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

Documentation for the Internet has been available online for some time. Now, however, several new books explain the Internet and how it works, at levels suitable for both the experienced user and the beginner. This month I look at four such books.

The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog
by Ed Krol
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.

Unlike most O'Reilly books, which are intended for computer professionals, Ed Krol's text addresses a more general professional audience. For Krol's purposes, the reader may be a teacher, lawyer, or an auditor so long as he/she possesses the following three prerequisites: 1) a "desire for information"; 2) the ability to use a computer; and 3) access to the Internet.

The author provides a short history of personal computers that covers the development of networking and the expansion of power due to networking. He also stresses that although most of the examples in the book are implemented in UNIX, neither the book nor Internet should be seen as a UNIX utility.

In several sections, Krol gives the reader the option of skipping over the more technical content. He does, however, include the technical information for those who are interested in it. When discussing TCP/IP, for example, the author fully describes protocols, packet switching, and circuit switching, but allows the reader the choice of bypassing these discussions.

Some of the issues addressed seem more properly the concern of the business world than of the technical realm, but in fact both communities must deal with such matters as "Legal Implications," patents, and copyrights. Krol also examines politics and the Internet, network ethics, and security. In the security section, he not only points out what issues to monitor, but also explains how to resolve problems arising from these issues.

The most important chapters for the user describe telnet, File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Electronic Mail, and USENET. For system administrators, there are chapters that include gopher, the Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS), archie, plus a section on the X Window System.

The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog provides information for the user, not just the beginner or the system administrator. The documentation on the Internet has often been either too simple or too difficult. If you have been browsing around the Internet for some time, an introductory book is too easy -- on the other hand, you may not want to set up your own Internet node. For an experienced user who wants to know more about the Internet, this book is just right. The examples presented are thoroughly explained, occasionally in a different operating system. Despite the fact that Krol uses UNIX most of the time, he often presents examples in both UNIX and DOS, or even for the MAC. Krol's analogies are well-chosen and very easy to comprehend, and his sense of humor shines through -- even the footnotes are well worth reading. Put this book on the shelf by your computer. It will make the Internet a lot simpler to use.

Zen and the Art of the Internet
A Beginner's Guide
by Brendan P. Kehoe
Prentice Hall

Brendan Kehoe's book explains what the Internet is, what information it contains, and how to access it in terms that a novice can easily understand. The author describes email addresses, domain names, and Internet numbers, as well as how to communicate using electronic mail. In the latter section, Kehoe discusses the correct layout of an email message and "netiquette," the accepted etiquette for the Internet.

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is the normal method used for transferring files from one geographic location on the Internet to another, but it often requires either logins on both systems or a privileged configuration initiated by the system administrator. A simple method of accessing files uses the anonymous FTP. In his discussion, Kehoe presents examples of the anonymous FTP and the responses to the logins.

One of the divisions of the Internet, Usenet, remains widely misunderstood. To clear up the confusion, the author not only defines Usenet, but also describes what it isn't. He also discusses telnet, the primary Internet protocol that uses a connection with a remote machine or system.

Various tools available to the Internet user provide information about the user (finger), another system (ping), and an easier way to provide email messages (talk or ntalk). The author lists the tools and also examines the different uses of the WHOIS database.

Kehoe devotes the rest of the book to "Commercial Services," "Things You'll Hear About," and "Finding Out More." "Commercial Services" provides information about some of the organizations available through the Internet plus their addresses. "Things You'll Hear About" includes some of the historical events and anecdotes that have occurred on the Internet, as well as the names and addresses of some of the groups that have been on the Internet for some time. The final chapter, "Finding Out More," identifies three primary sources and tells where to expand your network education.

The author also presents five appendices, including one on newsgroup creation, one on items available for FTP, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

This small book contains a lot of information. Kehoe's writing style is clear, and he assumes that his readers have no prior knowledge of the Internet. I particularly enjoyed the author's presentations concerning the Cleveland Freenet, a Net Mail Sites database, and the Internet Society. I would recommend this book for any beginner who wants to learn about the Internet.

Internet: Getting Started
The Internet Information Series

April Marine, Editor
Susan Kirkpatrick, Vivian Niou, Carol Ward, Contributors
SRI International
Network Information Systems Center

This book introduces the Internet to both the beginning and the intermediate user. In Part 1 of Internet: Getting Started, the staff presents Internet basics: definition, types of access, and costs. Particularly useful information includes an explanation of how to join the Internet, a discussion of the costs of joining, and a list of service providers, both alphabetically and by area. A small but valuable section lists several questions, entitled "Factors to Consider," that help you to select a provider who is right for your needs.

The staff of SRI addresses both ways of joining the Internet. Whether you are becoming a member through site access and need a dedicated line or connecting as an individual through dialup mode, you'll find information that you need. Part 1 also includes a chapter devoted to non-U.S. sites and their addresses.

Part 2 of Internet: Getting Started discusses the Internet itself: its history, security, protocol, addressing, and applications. As the book recounts, Internet's history and its security are linked closely together. The very thing that tested the security of the Internet brought its members closer together in their attempts to solve the problem.

One of the most important services of the Internet is electronic mail (email). The staff of SRI describes the format of a message header and the body as it will appear, the ethics of email, and some examples of address formats that different networks use. This chapter also includes news groups and File Transfer Protocol (FTP). The book concludes with a Bibliography and References, along with ten appendices, including an acronym list, a Request For Comments (RFC) Table of Contents, and an RFC Index.

The structure of the book follows the evolution of the Internet. It introduces each subject simply, so that any novice can understand it, then addresses the same subject two paragraphs later in intermediate terms. New and archaic acronyms are gradually intertwined with explanations. In this way, the reader encounters the problems that the Internet faced and learns how they were resolved. One of the best features of the book, though, is its documentation; when the text mentions contacting someone or someplace, the complete address always follows immediately.

This book is an excellent resource for either an individual or a network user. The levels escalate from beginner to intermediate, and even the advanced user will find something useful. I would recommend this book for anyone using the Internet.

Internet: Mailing Lists
The Internet Information Series

Edward T. L. Hardie, Vivian Neou, Editors
SRI International
Network Information Systems Center

Mailing lists enable those with a common interest to share news, problems, and answers with one another. Internet, BITNET, and USENET have become the three major networks for these mailing lists. In this book, the types of mailing lists are examined, as well as the etiquette for using mailing lists. There are also intructions for creating your own list. However, the majority of the book is devoted to the descriptions of over 800 Internet mailing lists and their formats (one could get lost for days perusing these lists). Anyone who belongs to the Internet will certainly enjoy this book.

About the Author

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environments for the past 10 years. She is currently a UNIX and C consultant, and one of her specialities is UNIX education. In addition to her computer science background, she also has a degree in English.