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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

UNIX system administrators possess (we hope) a knowledge of the UNIX operating system, problem-solving abilities, and attention to details. The latter is the most difficult to maintain, due to evolving implementations and procedures. Fortunately, there are several excellent authors who not only know the essentials of the different implementations, but can also impart them clearly to readers. I recently reviewed books by two of them: Marty Poniatowski (HP-UX) and Janice Winsor (Solaris). The specific reviews include: The HP-UX System Administration Handbook and Toolkit by Marty Poniatowski (Hewlett-Packard Professional Books, Prentice Hall PTR, Prentice-Hall, Inc.); Dictionary of the World Wide Web by Cynthia B. Leshin (Prentice Hall); Solaris System Administrator's Guide, Second Edition by Janice Winsor (Sun Microsystems Press, Macmillan Technical Publishing); and Learning the UNIX Operating System, Fourth Edition by Jerry Peek, Grace Todino, and John Strang (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.)

The HP-UX System Administration Handbook and Toolkit
by Marty Poniatowski
Hewlett-Packard Professional Books
Prentice Hall PTR Prentice-Hall, Inc.
ISBN 0-13-905571-1
2 CD-ROMS and Reference Card Included

The art of system administration is not always predictable; its practitioners occasionally encounter problems that shouldn't occur and employ solutions that shouldn't work. Those who excel as administrators continually discover additional techniques for those unique situations. Most systems vary by several factors: location, size, resources, performance, etc. However, the underlying concepts and procedures utilized in systems installation and administration are similar for related systems. In The HP-UX System Administration Handbook and Toolkit, Poniatowski illustrates methods specific to HP-UX administration through the following chapters: Setting Up Your HP-UX System; The HP-UX File System and Related Commands; Networking; System Administration Manager (SAM); The Art of System Administration; Common Desktop Environment; Shell Programming for System Administrators; HP-UX System Auditing; Windows NT and HP-UX Interoperability Topics; and The vi Editor. The two CD-ROMs contain trial performance and integration software, including HP GlancePlus, HP MeasureWare Agent, HP PerfView, Exceed, NFS Maestra 5.1.1, plus auditing tools and programs. The four-sided reference card addresses the Logical Volume Manager (LVM), Creating an HP-UX Kernel, the System Administration Manager (SAM), and the Software Distributor HP-UX (SD-UX) through commands, diagrams, and examples in an easy-to-read format. These essential concepts merit particular attention, as emphasized by the author in the Preface:

"I selected these four topics because every HP-UX system administrator needs to know them. In fact, that is one of the objectives of all of my books - to cover the topics every system administrator needs to know." [Page xx]

Poniatowski demonstrates the varied procedures through examples on a workstation (Series 700), a server (Series 800), or both (individual descriptions for Series 700 and Series 800 implementations). He also includes some notations for HP-UX 9.x administrators. Although system administration interfaces (such as SAM, The System Administration Manager) have simplified most tasks, the author discusses the importance of knowing the manual implementation of the shell's automated procedures. Troubleshooting becomes much easier when the administrator can detect the problem without software assistance. Poniatowski presents helpful visual and textual aids, including a Setup Flow Diagram and its accompanying discussion for installation procedures, helpful workarounds for unintentional entries, a software distributor hierarchy, and a kernel creation checklist. He also describes when and why an administrator may need to create a new kernel (and how to do it). The author identifies the advantages of the Logical Volume Manager (LVM), examines what you need to know about it, and demonstrates how to implement it. Prior to the section on auditing, Poniatowski illustrates shell programming, its capabilities, and its simplicity for both Bourne and C shells. He then provides some auditing shell script examples.

The HP-UX System Administration Handbook and Toolkit is the most detailed of Poniatowski's books. He discusses the topics every HP-UX system administrator needs and uses in logical order and precedence. The author examines the practices and concepts in an understandable way so that the reader/administrator remembers them. If a definition, practice, or theory applies to more than one section, Poniatowski reiterates it, eliminating time-consuming and distracting searches for the previous discussion. Poniatowski is my favorite author on the HP-UX operating system; he describes the concepts clearly and provides guidelines in an intelligent and comprehensible manner. He writes FOR system administrators, not only in the material he covers, but also in its organization and format. This is an outstanding, valuable, and essential book for all current and future HP-UX administrators.

Dictionary of the World Wide Web
by Cynthia B. Leshin
Prentice Hall
ISBN 0-13-758319-2

The casual Internet and Web user can often feel adrift in a sea of unfamiliar and unpronounceable terms without a translator or subtitles. The uninitiated explorer can easily be overwhelmed by new vocabulary, acronyms, and concepts. In the Dictionary of the World Wide Web, Leshin clearly defines essential terms and frequently referenced acronyms. She also provides a historical perspective of the Internet through biographical entries, such as Andreeson and Gates, a "History of the Internet" chronology, and other past events that are still referenced. The author additionally demonstrates fundamental procedures, including Telnet, FTP, and Dial-Up Networking implementation. Leshin addresses some issues seldom discussed, such as "Evaluating Internet Information," "Referencing Internet Information," and presents Tips and Notes throughout the text. Some of the entries reflect a sense of humor, as in "mouse potato" (the couch potato's online cousin) and "Easter eggs" (undocumented, hidden elements displayed when the correct key sequence or action is taken.)

The Dictionary of the World Wide Web offers excellent assistance for the new or occasional user. Leshin's combination of necessary vocabulary and acronyms, step-by-step directions, historical perspectives, and quality issues make this a worthwhile and diverting book. The author includes numerous figures, diagrams, and screen images to augment the text. She also features many Web sites as examples that the reader may access. The Dictionary of the World Wide Web provides a valuable reference for the Internet novice and is a fun book to read.

Solaris System Administrator's Guide
Second Edition
by Janice Winsor
Sun Microsystems Press
Macmillan Technical Publishing
ISBN 1-57870-040-X

Successful system administration is invisible. It only becomes the center of attention when a problem (or several) arises. Administrators generally derive most of their expertise through experience, rather than through a structured learning environment. (This is usually attributed to a lack of available materials, time, or a combination of the two.) In the second edition of the Solaris System Administrator's Guide, Janice Winsor presents a clear, well-written alternative. The Introduction to the book provides a brief chapter summary and two tables: Sparc and x86 System Administration Differences and Solaris System Software Evolution. The latter illustrates when each feature became an integral segment of the Solaris software. Winsor details Solaris administration through 10 chapters: Introducing Solaris System Administration, Using Basic OS Commands, Administering Devices, Administering File Systems, Administering Network Services, Administering Printing, Administering User Accounts and Groups, Understanding Shells, Administering Systems, and Recognizing File Access Problems. The Appendix describes Major Differences: SunOS 4.x Versus SunOS 5.x Operating Systems. The author also includes a Glossary.

In the first chapter, Winsor discusses the possible tasks of a system administrator, depending upon the installation and the company's organization. She also clarifies various shutdown options, their attributes, and which situation demands which procedure. The author illustrates process monitoring and how to implement its options. This is an excellent chapter for any user who wants to better understand the nuances of system administration.

In the second chapter, Winsor discusses some types of user information and how to access them through simple commands. The following chapters examine devices (tapes, diskettes, disks, and modems) and their maintenance, file systems, virtual file systems, mounting and unmounting file systems and backup/restore procedures. The author illustrates remote system processes, printer administration, and how to add, modify, and delete user accounts and entries in the group database. Chapter Eight, Understanding Shells, demonstrates the three shells used in the Solaris 2.x environments, along with their respective configurations and options. The concluding chapters describe how to verify system information and how to recognize search path, permissions, and ownership difficulties.

Winsor's approach is precise, logical, and straightforward. Each command entry includes a brief description of the command's use, an example, and an explanation of the example. The book's design and format permits its use either as a reference guide or as a resource. Both the Table of Contents and the Index are exceptionally detailed and complete. The Solaris System Administrator's Guide, Second Edition will provide a superior utility for any Solaris administrator.

Learning the UNIX Operating System
Fourth Edition
by Jerry Peek, Grace Todino, and John Strang
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 1-56592-390-1
Quick Reference Card Included

This slender volume provides a fundamental introduction to UNIX. For many readers and now proficient UNIX users, its earlier editions also provided an introduction to the O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. publications and associated menagerie. The latest edition contains a detachable quick reference card (the same commands are listed in an appendix), and its most recent modifications include references to the Linux operating system, specifically where command names differ (i.e., chattr and info). Peek, Todino, and Strang also address the following topics: Getting Started, Using Windows Systems, Your UNIX Account, File Management, Redirecting I/O, Multitasking, and Where to Go from Here. The Appendices present a Reading List and a command Reference. The authors demonstrate how to begin and end a session utilizing various scenarios, including access to X Window Systems. They also illustrate the directory structure, detailing not only with how to navigate it, but also how to organize it. The authors survey the mail program, input and output redirection, the uses of pipes and filters, elementary pattern matching, and process information and techniques (such as background, foreground, status, and cancellation procedures).

Subtitled a "Single Session Overview," Learning the UNIX Operating System features an effective survey of essential UNIX utilities. The authors provide recommendations for further information and suggestions for preferred methods to accomplish given tasks throughout the book. Peek, Todino, and Strang address beginners and make no assumptions of prior knowledge or experience. The contents establish a solid foundation for the reader and user. This remains a superb little book, an excellent resource for the beginner or Internet navigator, or a superior review for the occasional user. Learning the UNIX Operating System proves that good things do come in small packages.

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 (