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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

This month's column includes a computer-related philosophical book, a Solaris systems administration book, a Linux networking book, and a surprising visual Linux book. Specifically, the books include: In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson (Avon Books); Solaris Solutions for System Administrators by Sandra Henry-Stocker and Evan R. Marks (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.); Linux Network Servers 24seven by Craig Hunt (Sybex Inc.); and Setting Up a Linux Intranet Server Visual Black Book by Hidenor Tsuji and Takashi Watanabe (Coriolis OpenPress).

In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line
Neal Stephenson
Avon Books
ISBN 0-380-81593-1
151 Pages

Stephenson provides an absorbing, entertaining, and philosophical journey through some computer history. Any reader who fortunately stumbles across this book will experience the exhilaration and frustration of the computer operating systems evolution. Stephenson recounts the progress and personalities of the MacOS, Microsoft's parallel development of Windows, the emergence of Linux, and the advent of BeOS. His encounters with each system's interface and support illustrates a unique and often humorous perspective of user choices. Microsoft doesn't own 90% of the book, BeOS is given more than an introduction, the MacOS appears first, and Debian represents the Linux community. (In other words, this book is an obvious departure from the norm.) In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line shows an amusing glimpse at computer users and the operating systems that they love, hate, or try to ignore.

Solaris Solutions for System Administrators
Sandra Henry-Stocker and Evan R. Marks
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
ISBN 0-471-34810-4
467 Pages

A systems administrator's position typically encompasses two major areas: system installation and maintenance. Installation may only be required (depending on the specific situation) when a system is changed or upgraded. Maintenance includes everything else from daily routine tasks such as monitoring disk space, through shell programming and documentation, to backup and recovery. Additionally, today's systems administrators may also become network administrators, Webmasters, and security experts. Each operating system employs a unique set of procedures and most administrators utilize their own mixture of techniques and shortcuts for similar tasks. In Solaris Solutions for System Administrators, authors Sandra Henry-Stocker and Evan R. Marks provide essential information about the tasks, concepts, and corresponding implementations required for a Solaris system administrator. The topics are separated into four major parts: Setting Up Your Solaris Infrastructure, Managing Your Systems, Looking After Your Hardware, and Surviving in the Real World. The first section is also the most comprehensive, as the authors illustrate how to customize a manageable network. They define what a manageable network is in the introduction:

“A manageable network is not one that runs flawlessly, but one in which there is time and capacity enough to resolve each problem without major disruption.” [Page 1]

Beginning with that realistic goal, Henry-Stocker and Marks detail the Solaris infrastructure through the following eight chapters: Making Smart Decisions about File Systems, Planning Backups and Restores, Booting and Hardware Diagnostics, Configuring Run States, Installing and Patching Your Solaris System, Exploiting JumpStart, Setting Up Name Services, and Network Information Services: NIS+ and NIS. These chapters not only discuss the elementary Solaris configuration, but also describe the basic tenets of networking design.

The second section, Managing Your Systems, features: Monitoring Your Environment, Understanding File Systems -- So That's What Those Are!, Automating Everything...Well, Almost!, Keeping Your Solaris Systems Secure, and Implementing High Availability: Eliminating Single Points of Failure. This section reviews the factors that affect system performance and demonstrates how to customize the data for your individual setup, whether through a commercial package or Solaris utilities. The authors document the locations of log files and other pertinent information, discuss scripting choices, security alternatives, and high-availability theory and practices. The following section, Looking After Your Hardware, analyzes Maintaining Your Sun Hardware, Peripheral Vision: Understanding and Configuring Other Hardware, and the E10000 (Starfire) -- Not Just A Big UNIX Box! Henry-Stocker and Marks discuss problems that can interrupt service, how to configure printers and modems, and procedures for Sun's E10000 computer.

The concluding section, Surviving in the Real World, examines Running an Internet Site and Coexisting with the Evil Empire. Running an Internet Site explores the additional concerns that accompany Internet access, including the dangers of TCP/IP, the Internet's popularity and corresponding growth, and the ever present threat of hackers. The authors also describe firewalls, packets, protocols, DNS and email configuration, Sendmail, and ftp services. The title of the last chapter (Coexisting with the Evil Empire) alludes to Microsoft Windows, specifically Windows NT. Through a variety of tools available online, the authors demonstrate how to successfully access the computers from a remote location without too much difficulty. Henry-Stocker and Marks also provide additional information through Appendix A) Index of Useful Web Sites, Appendix B) NIS+ Resources and Notes, a Glossary, and Bibliography and Recommended Reading.

Solaris Solutions for System Administrators is an outstanding book, filled with useful techniques, examples, tips, figures, and definitions. The authors demonstrate a relaxed writing style, which is easily understood and often humorous. The text also reflects Henry-Stocker's and Marks's extensive and thorough knowledge of the Solaris environment. Every Solaris administrator needs this extraordinary reference book and anyone interested in Solaris and administration will appreciate its coverage.

Linux Network Servers 24seven
Craig Hunt
Sybex Inc.
ISBN 0-7821-2506-9
626 Pages
$34.99 USD

The concept of 24/7 has become a popular practice as well as a catch phrase. It refers to 24 hours, seven days a week availability and was primarily the domain of convenience stores and gas stations. However, its realm now includes many computer-related businesses and more specifically, their customer service departments. This can be welcome news when you need product information or assistance at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning. However, what if it is your business that is receiving the calls? How do you keep a server up and running on that type of schedule? In Linux Network Servers 24seven, author Craig Hunt answers that question (and many others) as he discusses Linux servers -- from choosing the hardware and the distribution, through installation and configuration, to troubleshooting techniques. Hunt's expertise and writing skills are well known from his previous books, including TCP/IP Network Administration (Second Edition, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., ISBN 1-56592-322-7, $32.95) and Networking Personal Computers with TCP/IP (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., ISBN 1-56592-123-2, $29.95). In his latest book, Hunt describes the concepts and implementations required for a Linux network server in four sections: Planning and Installation, Internet Server Operations, Departmental Server Operations, and Security and Troubleshooting.

In the introduction, Hunt logically presents the benefits of using the Linux operating system by highlighting features such as its minimal cost and Open Source availability. The initial section, Planning and Installation, addresses Getting Started, Basic Installation, and The Boot Process. These topics examine the variety of options an administrator will need to select: the type of installation (i.e., server, workstation, custom), the hardware that the system possesses, the packages he or she wishes to install, the disk partitions, the root password, user accounts and passwords, and the desktop environment, if any are installed. The second section, Internet Server Operations, examines The Network Interface, Login Services, Linux Name Services, Configuring A Mail Server, The Apache Web Server, and Network Gateway Services. These chapters detail how the network, login services, DNS and BIND, Sendmail and mail aliases, the Apache Web server, and routing are set up so that they work as expected. In Departmental Server Operations, Hunt describes Desktop Configuration Servers, including DHCP, File Sharing, Printer Services, and More Mail Services.

The File Sharing chapter describes the Linux file system, NFS clients and servers, and Samba clients and servers. Printer Services demonstrates printer configuration, printcap, sharing printers with the line printer daemon (lpd), and sharing printers with Samba. The More Mail Service chapter describes the POP and IMAP protocols and filtering spam. The final section investigates Security and Troubleshooting and illustrates security through the use of wrappers, firewalls, authentication, and monitoring. Troubleshooting shows how to successfully configure the Linux Kernel and also how to test the network server, the network interface, routing, and protocols. The Appendices contain A) X Window Configuration, B) BIND Reference, and C) The m4 Macros for Sendmail. The inside front and back covers list how-to references as well as problems and the chapters in which the answers appear. (For example, “Read and understand the Apache Web server configuration files” is located in Chapter 8.)

Linux Network Servers 24seven by Craig Hunt provides an excellent guide for assembling and configuring a Linux server. It is also a superb reference for adding or modifying the server's hardware or configuration at a later date. Both experienced users and beginners will appreciate Hunt's easily understood writing style combined with abundant examples. His introductory chapters show the user how to select hardware and a Linux distribution and his final chapters illustrate how to determine if something doesn't work right and the procedures to correct it. Most of the book demonstrates how to implement the software and hardware correctly. Hunt effectively explains both the administration concepts and processes utilized throughout the book. Linux Network Servers 24seven by Craig Hunt is an outstanding book by a superior author.

Setting Up a Linux Intranet Server Visual Black Book
Hidenor Tsuji and Takashi Watanabe
Coriolis OpenPress
ISBN 1-57610-568-7
247 Pages
$24.99 USD

As more computer users turn to Linux as their operating system, the need for references and directions increases. Varied backgrounds and experiences require a different approach from the usual systems administration books. Setting Up a Linux Intranet Server Visual Black Book by Hidenori Tsuji and Takashi Watanabe is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Outwardly, the book looks like any of the other Coriolis Black Books, although it is thinner. However, the reader will discover that it is a visual guide for a variety of users and contains an immense amount of information in a small volume. Tsuji and Watanabe begin with Linux essentials, describe Linux and its advantages, what a distribution is, and include pictures of the hardware a server uses. The authors present information through the following chapters: Linux Basics, Installing Linux, Mastering the Basic Operations of Linux, Registering as a Linux User, Using Linux from a Client PC, Using Linux as a Windows File Server, Using Linux as a Macintosh File Server, Using Printers in Windows and Macintosh, Making Web Pages for Intranet Use, Creating a Mail Server for Intranet Use, and Managing Linux. The Appendices contain A) How to Set Up a Windows Client PC, B) How to Set Up a Macintosh Client, C) How to Install a SCSI Card, D) Command Reference, and E) GNU General Public License. A Glossary follows the Appendices.

This is a pleasantly surprising book in many ways. Although it was designed as a quick reference book, it addresses users of Linux, Windows, and MacOS and also includes some unusual sections, such as “Understanding the Role of the User”. Additionally, it explains the major configuration issues, including sendmail, Apache, Samba, shared printer services, telnet, netatalk, qpopper, plus the basic Linux commands. The authors explain the commands so that they are equally clear to a Mac user or a Windows user. This is an ideal book for anyone from a Macintosh background. It is also an excellent quick reference for any administrator who has a mixture of Macintosh, Windows, and Linux/UNIX computers on his or her network.

About the Author

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 13 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. Her writing has also appeared in Linux Magazine, Performance Computing, and Network Administrator. Elizabeth can be reached at: