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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

This issue's reviews include a look at a compact book on the Internet by Tracy LaQuey and Jeanne C. Ryer, entitled The Internet Companion; an intriguing book, Modern UNIX, by Alan Southerton; and the first guide in the Prentice Hall Open Systems Library, the UNIX System V Print Service Administration, edited by Sally Browning.

The Internet Companion
A Beginner's Guide to Global Networking

by Tracy LaQuey with Jeanne C. Ryer
Foreword by Senator Al Gore

This new book by LaQuey and Ryer, written for the beginner as an introduction to the Internet, provides some information overlooked by other Internet books. The authors begin with a description of the Internet. After the description, they focus on the reasons for Internet's success and discuss how this particular network functions. They also identify concepts and acronyms that the user needs to know.

In addition to chapters on sending electronic mail, researching information, and some advanced Internet topics, there is also a chapter on different ways to get connected to the Internet. An excellent bibliography follows the text, along with an appendix that lists available resources.

I liked The Internet Companion for several reasons. It is a compact, almost pocket-sized, volume and it discusses several Internet commands, such as reply, that are not covered in many of the other Internet books available. It includes many historical asides that describe events related to the Internet and gives the reader a sense of how long contributors have been working on the Internet to have come this far. The Foreword by then-Senator, now Vice-President Al Gore is in itself a nice historical touch. In all, LaQuey and Ryer have produced a readable book which progresses in an orderly fashion.

Modern UNIX
by Alan Southerton
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Modern UNIX has evolved as a mixture of UNIX's original style and its newer applications. In this book, Alan Southerton traces the transition from early UNIX through the beginning of UNIX commands and on to the X Window System.

Southerton begins with an historical perspective on the development of UNIX drawn from several different sources. He includes a table which outlines the evolution of UNIX as well as the major UNIX vendors.

The author assumes that the reader has some knowledge of basic UNIX. To help the beginner, however, he covers several of the more complex subjects, such as startup files, file systems, and inodes. As he explains these topics, Southerton includes examples of the more recent developments in the UNIX world, such as the dfspace program, the OpenWindows file system, and X.desktop's File Properties Window.

The subject of shells often gives rise to some confusion, even at so basic a level as the proper name (in addition to the variation in shell terms, shell programs have also been called scripts). Southerton addresses both the types of shells and when the programmer might want to use which shell. He provides examples of each type of shell and includes excellent descriptions of the examples.

The author goes on to explain networking and X. He presents these topics in modules that allow the UNIX user without X to focus on networking and the X user on a standalone system to focus on X.

With UNIX, as with Apple and MS-DOS, the most modern look is windows. However, where Apple and MS-DOS have a standard for windows, UNIX does not. Whether the windowing environment is OpenWindows, Desqview/X, or OSF Motif does make a difference, depending on the user's purpose. In Modern UNIX, Southerton lists the different products that comprise the X market and explains the procedures used to customize the individual X product.

Still in the windows area, the UNIX user can choose from more than one interface. Southerton describes what he considers to be the basic components of a window manager. He clarifies the differences between Motif and Open Look GUIs by examining the basics of both. After reading this chapter, the user will know the strengths and weaknesses of OSF Motif and Open Look and which GUI he/she would prefer.

Southerton also raises the question of the "obsoleting" of previous UNIX knowledge. If the user updates to a new type of application in UNIX, does that necessarily void any previous knowledge? In other words, are the older shell scripts (and the manner in which they were coded) now extinct? Southerton maintains that older UNIX tools are needed in order to customize a desktop manager, and he lists the minimum tools required to become a "power desktop manager user."

Southerton also introduces the reader to MetaCard, a "scripting language," that is object-oriented, portable, and also supportive of GUI methods. The author illustrates MetaCard by providing several examples, and includes an email address for more information about it.

The last section of Modern UNIX covers system administration. While much of this material has been covered in other system administration texts, the advent of "modern UNIX" means that names and even procedures may have changed. In any case, different systems have different names for the same command. Southerton's chapter on system administration is well-written and comprehensive -- perhaps especially for the user who has never had to be a system administrator.

Southerton supplements Modern UNIX with five appendices. The first covers man and Xman pages; the second is a "Beginner's Guide to Perl," a mixture of "awk, sed and the C shell"; the third and fourth are references for vi and emacs, respectively; and the fifth is a collection of commands and their descriptions.

When I opened this book, I expected an introductory to intermediate book on UNIX. What I discovered was a unique guide to the variant types of UNIX available in the 90s. Southerton has written a superb book for all levels of UNIX users.

UNIX System V Print Service Administration
Prentice Hall Open Systems Library

Edited by Sally A. Browning
Prentice Hall

This book, the first volume in the Prentice Hall Open Systems Library, focuses on the "installation, configuration, and administration" of the UNIX System V LP print services. It addresses the novice administrator, as well as intermediate and advanced administrators and system programmers.

Browning begins with an overview of the LP print service, describing what the print service hardware and software are and what the software does. She also considers different types of printing configurations, such as distributed, print server, and network printing. She then provides installation information and tells how to support the varied configurations.

Particularly valuable is the section on printer configuration. This section defines both optional and required parameters, treating each individually in its introductory overview, which also tells where the full discussion of each parameter can be found. The definition for each parameter includes pertinent "Notes" intended to help you decide whether or not the parameter is needed. Related topics -- including how to enable and disable printers and further information about the lpadmin -- are also covered. Finally, Browning shows how to configure printers by using menus.

In most instances, the LP print service provides enough support for users' printing needs. In the cases where it is not sufficient, it is possible to customize the print service. Browning presents several ways to accomplish this, including altering the "printer port characteristics," using terminfo, creating an interface program, and using a filter. Her discussion of the different means of customizing the print service is complemented by an informative diagram explaining "How LP Processes the Print Request."

As with most software and hardware, there are related housekeeping chores and troubleshooting techniques. Browning explains when the LP print service may have to be disabled and why, and what the administrator can do in the meantime to avoid the wrath of users.

The book provides a comprehensive discussion of the use of preprinted forms with the LP print service. Topics include how to change or add a form, whether through commands or menu selection; how to remove a form; how to display the form description; and how to restrict access to the form, through either user or printer access.

Although the concept of filters is well-known in UNIX programming, it is not always defined in terms of printer faults. Browning focuses on three uses of filters -- data conversion, varied print options, and the detection of printer faults, plus the resulting alert -- providing examples, filter guidelines, and templates. She also devotes a section to displaying, modifying, removing, and creating filters.

With the increasing emphasis on fonts, PostScript printers are more in demand. And, since PostScript is a programming language, it permits the programmer to "specify the appearance of both text and graphics on a page." Browning describes the installation of a PostScript printer, what the administrator's responsibilities are, and how to use filters with PostScript printers to produce the optimum output.

The last chapter -- my favorite -- deals with troubleshooting. It describes a problem with the printer, then presents several possible solutions. The book doesn't answer every question, nor does it claim that it can. However, it does identify enough issues to start the administrator thinking in the right direction.

As I read this book, I realized that it was written in a sort of chronological order. A beginner could follow it from start to finish, while a more experienced user could use the chapter descriptions in the preface, along with the quick reference card at the end, to pick and choose. Browning's writing style is clear and very readable, and she documents her sources as she uses them. This book would be a worthwhile addition to any UNIX user's library and an excellent complement to the UNIX System Laboratories volumes.

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.