Cover V08, I01


Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

In this traditionally Linux issue and column, I have included a Perl reference, as well as some Linux reviews. Since the popular surge toward the Linux operating system first became apparent, I have endeavored to review Linux books as frequently as possible. The Perl reference is a small one and worthwhile due to its coverage of version 5.005. Specifically, I reviewed the Perl 5 Pocket Reference, Second Edition by Johan Vromans (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.); UNIX & Linux Answers! Certified Tech Support by Charlie Russel and Sharon Crawford (Osborne McGraw-Hill); Linux Undercover, Linux Secrets as Revealed by the Linux Documentation Project, Edited by Eric S. Raymond (Red Hat Software); and PC Hardware FAT FAQs: Troubleshooting, Upgrading, Maintaining, and Repairing by Stephen J. Bigelow (McGraw-Hill).

Perl 5 Pocket Reference
Second Edition
By Johan Vromans
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 1-56592-495-9
67 Pages

This compact guide to the Perl language provides the user with instant access to its syntax plus a brief description of each entry. The second edition references Perl version 5.005 and is considerably longer than the previous version. Vromans reorganized and revised the second edition to include the latest features. The author addresses the following concepts: Command-Line Options, Syntax, Embedded Documentation, Data Types, Literal Values, Variables, Context, Operators and Precedence, Statements, Subroutines, Packages and Modules, Object-Oriented Programming, Standard Methods, Pragmatic Modules, Arithmetic Functions, Conversion Functions, Structure Conversion, String Functions, Array and Hash Functions, Regular Expressions, Search and Replace Functions, File Test Operators, and File Operations. He also describes Input/Output, Formatted Printing, Formats, Tying Variables, Directory Reading Routines, System Interaction, Networking, System V IPC, Miscellaneous, Information from System Databases, Special Variables, Special Arrays, Special Hashes, Standard Modules, Environment Variables, Multithreading, the Perl Compiler, and the Perl Debugger.

The Perl 5 Pocket Reference was designed to complement more detailed and comprehensive Perl texts or to be used as a portable reference for the experienced Perl programmer. It is an invaluable tool as an easily accessible quick reference guide and an excellent general resource for any Perl novice, programmer, or system administrator.

UNIX & Linux Answers! Certified Tech Support
By Charlie Russel and Sharon Crawford
Osborne McGraw-Hill
ISBN 0-07-882446-X
308 Pages

The concept of a book containing questions and answers usually exchanged through technical support or customer service calls is both attractive and intriguing. Anyone who has reluctantly dialed a service number realizes the final cost not only includes the call's expense, but also the amount of time spent on hold ("Thank you for calling. We're sorry, but all of our representatives are currently helping other customers.") and listening to preprogrammed menus ("Press 1..., Press 22..."). The cumulative investments of time, phone charges, and the technical support costs become minimal if you happen to talk with two or more representatives with different answers. The Osborne "Answers! Certified Tech Support" series (including Internet and Web Answers!, Windows 95 Answers!, Upgrading and Repairing Your PC Answers!, and Webmaster Answers!) provide an excellent alternative to frequently asked support questions.

In UNIX & Linux Answers! Certified Tech Support, authors Russel and Crawford begin with a quick reference card, titled Instant Answers! UNIX & Linux. This features some of the most frequently used commands, with proper syntax and brief descriptions. Each chapter begins with a listing of the topics and the individual questions (and answers). Russel and Crawford address the various topics through the following chapters: Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions, Getting A Grip on UNIX, Files and Directories, vi, Customizations and Profiles, Printing, Running Programs, X Windows, The UNIX Toolbox, Connecting to the World, Windows NT and UNIX Interoperability, Disaster Avoidance and Recovery, The Korn Shell, Linux, and awk, perl, and sed. The Appendices contain: (A) Command Reference, (B) Error Messages, (C) Glossary, and (D) a Resource Guide.

Each chapter begins with an outline of the Answer Topics! within that chapter with entries for each question and answer combination. Russel and Crawford also present an overview of the topic and the chapter's sections. Notes and Tips are scattered throughout the text in addition to important and interesting shaded sidebars. The authors discuss questions about UNIX commands, problems with general UNIX customization, and Linux configuration queries. They furnish the information in a straightforward, logical, and well-written style. UNIX & Linux Answers! Certified Tech Support is an interesting and enlightening book to read before, during, and after a problem occurs.

Linux Undercover
Linux Secrets as Revealed by the Linux Documentation Project
Edited by Eric S. Raymond
Red Hat Software
ISBN 1-888-17205-3
2,019 Pages

The Linux Documentation Project addresses questions, problems, solutions, topics, and information about the Linux operating system, whether it refers to Caldera, Debian, S.u.S.E., Red Hat, or another Linux system. It provides an exceptionally complete reference to Linux policies and procedures in addition to its installation, configuration, and administration methods. The first chapter, appropriately entitled Guides, reprints "Linux Installation and Getting Started" by Matt Welsh and Eric S. Raymond and the "Linux System Administrators' Guide" by Lars Wirzenius. Following this excellent beginning, Linux Undercover discusses Linux Basics, Booting and Building Kernels, General Hardware and Peripheral Interfacing, CD-ROM and Multimedia Hardware, Laptops and PDAs, Networking and Network Administration, and Connecting to The Internet. The following chapters describe The World Wide Web, Configuring Your Windowing System, Development Under Linux, Applications, Benchmarking, Foreign Operating Systems, Access for the Handicapped, Culture and Context, and Resources for Further Learning. These chapters contain the Linux HOWTOs and detail the necessary information for a complete and knowledgeable installation. Linux Undercover identifies why type A soundcard needs a specific driver or when a modem requires a particular initialization string. This information begins where most Linux books end.

Linux Undercover presents the facts, descriptions, tables, and details that most administrators require and want during the system installation and configuration processes. This book's organization is superb, allowing the reader to access particular topics and select details easily and quickly. This is a superior addition to the increasing amount of Linux documentation. Any and every Linux administrator should be able to reference this book during installation. Linux Undercover features an outstanding collection of topics and techniques that every Linux administrator and user will appreciate. I use it and highly recommend it.

PC Hardware FAT FAQs: Troubleshooting, Upgrading, Maintaining, and Repairing
By Stephen J. Bigelow
ISBN 0-07-036939-9
685 Pages

Part of the installation of any operating system involves using the right drivers for the existing computer. A related issue evaluates the existing hardware and its capabilities, diagnoses any performance issues, and troubleshoots any incompatibilities. In PC Hardware FAT FAQs, Bigelow presents questions that he has been asked and provides their answers. In the Introduction, he also lists a few simple principles to ensure a more successful computing environment. The author divided the question topics into the following categories: System Questions, Video Questions, Drive Questions, Communication Questions, Motherboard Questions, Sound Questions, Input Devices, Installation and Upgrade Questions, Configuration CMOS Questions, Windows 95 Questions, DOS and Windows Questions, and Peripheral Questions.

This is a wonderful book, particularly for someone with a busy schedule. It's possible to peruse entire segments at one time, or to read a few answers here and there. I found it interesting, enlightening, entertaining at times, and, above all, extremely useful. I have used it as a reference to find a specific answer, and have also strolled through some of the material, learning a little bit here and there. Problems are seldom original; someone else has most likely experienced them and, luckily, will readily share the solutions. I really have enjoyed this book and will probably continue to carry it with me when I think I may have a few spare moments to browse. Bigelow's approach to problem solving demonstrates his expertise and proficiency. PC Hardware FAT FAQs provides an effective troubleshooting tool for both software and hardware issues.

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 (