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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

Second and subsequent editions pose a problem for a reviewer. The title, author, and the appearance of the book are familiar. However, recent editions are new, improved versions of the original volume, often with significant additions, deletions, and modifications. I have always considered them not only worth reading, but also essential reviewing material. Ideally, my reviews of subsequent editions assist the reader's evaluation of the latest release. I endeavor to balance both revised and new reviews within each column. This month's selections comprise Upgrading and Maintaining Your PC, Fourth Edition by Ulrich Schueller and Hans-Georg Veddeler (Abacus); Effective AWK Programming by Arnold Robbins (Specialized Systems Consultants, Inc. (SSC)); and sendmail, Second Edition by Bryan Costales with Eric Allman (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.).

Upgrading and Maintaining Your PC
Fourth Edition
by Ulrich Schueller and Hans-Georg Veddeler
Data Becker Edition
ISBN 1-55755-300-9
CD-ROM Included

The problems involved with computer maintenance can be simple or complex, depending on the user and the computer's initial configuration. Although the features of most major appliances change (ovens are now easier to clean and refrigerators automatically make ice cubes), their primary functions remain constant. A car ideally provides transportation, a furnace keeps our homes warm, and a lamp furnishes light. With a computer, a knowledgeable user can create brochures and newsletters, balance a checking account, invest wisely in the stock market (no one admits to investing unwisely), write and animate the Great American Novel, automate repetitive tasks, or enhance a search engine. However, whether the computer is primarily utilized for entertainment or business, it will eventually need improvements or maintenance. The fourth edition of Upgrading and Maintaining Your PC presents an excellent guide for the occasional computer technician. Schueller and Veddeler address the concepts of computer upkeep through four major sections: General Information, Components And Their Functions, Upgrading In Detail, and the Appendices. The introductory section presents Upgrading and Windows 95, System Configuration, Operating Systems, and Ergonomics And Your PC. The second part (Components And Their Functions) includes Processors And What They Do, Processing Data, Primary Storage Devices, and Input And Output: Communicating With Your PC. The third section (Upgrading In Detail) examines Your PC Workshop, Installing New Components, Building A Multimedia PC, CMOS Setup With AMI, Preventative Maintenance, Troubleshooting Problems, and What To Do With The Companion CD-ROM. The Appendices discuss (A) BIOS Hard Drive Parameters, (B) Hard Drive Parameters, (C) Pin Connections, (D) Standard Measurements, (E) Glossary Of Terms, and (F) Timeline Of Important Events. Note that the Table of Contents lists Appendix C as Operating Systems, which is actually covered in Chapter 3. Appendix C describes various pin connections.

Upgrading And Maintaining Your PC features an extremely informative and useful text. Schueller and Veddeler detail how a computer works and logically outline how to install new peripherals or replace them. They provide photographs and illustrations to assist the reader to understand the different procedures. This is an effective tool for anyone endeavoring to upgrade or troubleshoot his or her computer.

Effective AWK Programming
by Arnold Robbins
Specialized Systems Consultants, Inc. (SSC)
ISBN 0-916151-88-3

The UNIX awk utility essentially provides a pattern matching function. An awk program searches for a designated pattern and processes it according to the rules (or instructions) stated in the program. This design makes awk an ideal tool for report generation, small database management, validation, and assorted document manipulation tasks. Robbins presents the Introduction, Getting Started with awk, Useful One Line Programs, Regular Expressions, Reading Input Files, Printing Output, Expressions, Patterns and Actions, Control Statements in Actions, Built-In Functions, User-Defined Functions, Running awk, A Library of awk Functions, Practical awk Programs, and The Evolution of the awk Language. The Appendices describe (A) gawk Summary, (B) Installing gawk, (C) Implementation Notes, and (D) Glossary. The author begins with illustrations of the concepts of an awk program and how it works. Effective AWK Programming provides coverage of the POSIX standard for awk and also addresses most versions of awk, including the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) GNU implementation (gawk). Robbins often notes which versions follow the examples and cautions the reader about any exceptions.

Effective AWK Programming fulfills two purposes: it provides a clear, readable tutorial for the beginner, and it also furnishes a reference guide for the more experienced programmer. Robbins also illuminates awk's "dark corners" (previously undocumented or unclearly defined features), explicitly referring to them throughout the text with a "(d.c.)" notation, and includes a "dark corner" entry in the index. The author mentions that most of this information is also available online. However, when most programmers or administrators are researching a topic, learning a new utility, or writing a program, they prefer a book that has the information. Robbins and SSC have produced a book with sample programs and easily referenced awk programming concepts, procedures, and syntax. Effective AWK Programming is an excellent reference for both the novice and the experienced awk programmer.

Second Edition
by Bryan Costales with Eric Allman
O'Reilly and Associates, Inc.
ISBN 1-56592-222-0

When the original edition of the sendmail book appeared in 1993, it was the first book completely devoted to this topic. A few of the existing system administration books briefly explained it, but sendmail required a more detailed analysis. System administrators needed an in-depth description of installation procedures and configuration examples. The original release, by Bryan Costales with Eric Allman and Neil Rickert, presented a tutorial that built a configuration file step-by-step, selecting options and testing each new modification. The second section examined practical sendmail administration issues, including DNS (Domain Naming System), security, and queue management. The third part featured a reference section, and the final section displayed the complete configuration file (developed in the tutorial), error messages, and other references.

The second edition contains all of the original information plus some new considerations and a reorganization of the material. The new release is noticeably larger. (The 6" x 8 3/4" size has yielded to a 7" x 9" size and is also longer.) The release of version 8.8 of the sendmail program prompted the book's changes. The new edition contains five parts: A Tutorial, Build And Install, Administration, Reference, and the Appendices. The tutorial presents the following chapters: Introduction, Have a V8, The Roles of sendmail, How to Run sendmail, The File, The Mail Hub and Delivery Agents, Macros, Addresses and Rules, Rule Set 0, Rule Set 3, Rule Sets 1 and S=, Class, Setting Options, Headers, Precedence, and Trust, Install and Test the File, The File and m4, and The Hub's Complex Rules. Build and Install addresses how to Compile and Install sendmail, the V8m4 Configuration, and the checkcompat() Cookbook. The Administration section discusses DNS and sendmail, Security, The Queue, Aliases, Making Lists and ~/.forward, and Logging and Statistics. The Reference section (Part IV) contains The Configuration File, Rules, Rule Sets, Delivery Agents, Defined Macros, Class Macros, Database Macros, Options, Headers, The Command Line, Debugging with -d, and Rule-Set Testing with -bt. The Appendices detail (A) The File, (B) Host Status File Intervals, (C) The Berkeley DB Database, (D) Sun Enhancements, and (E) the Bibliography.

Although the sendmail book has been substantially modified, the fundamental ideas have remained intact. The tutorial introduces the concept of email, and more specifically, the design of sendmail. As the tutorial progresses, an example configuration file is built, tested, modified, and retested. (The final product is presented in Appendix A.) The second section specializes in the compilation of sendmail from its source code, its installation, and a configuration file. The administration segment demonstrates the practical issues that system administrators routinely experience. The Reference section of the book could be an independent resource as a quick reference guide. The authors address the details of the configuration file and what each part of it means.

The sendmail, Second Edition, book is an excellent addition to every UNIX system administrator's book shelf. Costales and Allman describe the most current sendmail developments and also document its previous versions. The authors have addressed every level of administrator, from beginner to guru, and have demonstrated how to tailor the text to the reader's specific experience or expertise. Their writing style is clear and their approach is straightforward. Combined with the authors' expertise, this book is unsurpassed in its content and format. It is an essential resource for every UNIX system administrator.

About the Author

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 12 years. She is currently a UNIX and C consultant, and one of her specialties is UNIX education. In addition to her computer science background, she also has a degree in English. Elizabeth can be reached via America Online (