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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

This month's column includes reviews of a Solaris reference, a detailed hardware book, a book on XML, and one on Macromedia's Flash 5. Specifically, the books reviewed include: Solaris 8 Essential Reference by John P. Mulligan (New Riders); The Book of SCSI, Second Edition by Gary Field, Peter Ridge, et al. (No Starch Press); Learning XML by Erik T. Ray (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.); and Foundation Flash 5 by Sham Bhangal, Amanda Farr, and Patrick Rey (Friends of ED).

Solaris 8 Essential Reference
John P. Mulligan
New Riders
ISBN 0-7357-1007-4
346 Pages

A good command reference for any system can make the difference between a smoothly running system and an inefficient one. John Mulligan, author of the Solaris Essential Reference (New Riders, ISBN 0-7357-0023-0), has updated his excellent command resource to include Solaris 8 and its features. This newly expanded version not only covers Solaris 8, but also can be used for Solaris 2.2 through 2.6, plus Solaris 7. Mulligan features the information through four separate sections: a General Usage Reference, a Developer Reference, Administration and Maintenance Task Reference, and the Appendices.

The first section contains chapters on Text Utilities, Shell Scripting, Process Control, and Network Clients and Utilities. The following part addresses the particular needs of developers and includes information on Compilers/Interpreters, Programming Utilities, and Debugging. The central part of the book, Part III, Administration and Maintenance Task Reference, details Startup and Shutdown, User Management, Network Administration, Filesystems, Security, and System Configuration and Tuning. The final section, Appendices, references A) Solaris Version Changes, B) Common Startup Problems and Solutions, C) Linux Compatibility, D) GNU Public License, E) Web Resources, F) Signals, and G) TCP/UDP Port List.

Each chapter begins with an alphabetical listing of the commands within the chapter and their page numbers. The opening page also includes a listing of the order in which the topics are presented in the chapter. For most of the entries, the author provides a description, the command syntax, and its specific options, as well as an example. (The exceptions to this are in the third part, where the commands are a little more complex.)

Mulligan's Solaris 8 Essential Reference is a superb reference, resource, and utility. It qualifies as a reference due to the command entries, descriptions, and syntax. Its recommendations of other sources of information, such as Web sites and publications, also contribute to its usefulness. Mulligan also includes some analysis tools and third party utilities (including GNU tools within Solaris 8) to fulfill administration tasks, which make it a utility. The addition of an entire section (the Developer Reference) makes it a complete reference for users, programmers, and administrators.

Compiling a command reference requires a delicate balance; if the author is too concise, the commands become cryptic. If he is too verbose, he can quickly and easily defeat his purpose. Mulligan's reference is exceptionally good. The entries are well written, precise, and designed to help the user, programmer, or administrator discover what he or she needs to know and quickly apply the commands to their tasks. This is an exceptional book that any Solaris user or administrator will appreciate and frequently use.

The Book of SCSI
Second Edition
Gary Field, Peter Ridge, et al.
No Starch Press
ISBN 1-886411-10-7
397 Pages
CD-ROM Included

The mysteries and methods associated with the SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) can be confusing to the uninitiated. In contrast to an ATAPI-only interface system, SCSI installation involves separate interface cards, SCSI IDS (and perhaps LUNS), and terminators. There are also different types of SCSI connections, such as fast, wide, ultra, SCSI-2, and SCSI-3, to name a few of the variations. The advantages of using SCSI are numerous: portability, adaptability (for both Macs and PCs), speed, multi-tasking, and the ability to support multiple devices and types.

The second edition of The Book of SCSI demonstrates how to install and configure a SCSI adapter and details how SCSI hardware works, examines the software and device driver programs, and even discusses ASPI (Advanced SCSI Programming Interface) programming. The authors introduce the concepts of the SCSI interface with a Welcome To SCSI chapter. They present an overview of SCSI attributes, their advantages, and some of the different available SCSI types. Chapter 1.5 examines the various devices that SCSI supports, including hard disks, tape drives, CD-ROM, and DVD-ROM drives, printers, and scanners. The following chapters first address the hardware-related topics: A Look At SCSI-3, SCSI Anatomy, Adding SCSI to Your PC, How to Connect Your SCSI Hardware, Troubleshooting Your SCSI Installation, and How the Bus Works.

The software and driver-specific chapters highlight: Understanding Device Drivers, Performance Tuning Your SCSI Subsystem, RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks, A Profile of ASPI Programming, and the Future of SCSI and Storage In General. The Appendices includes: A) an All-Platform Technical Reference, B) a PC Technical Reference, C) A Look At SCSI Test Equipment, D) ATA/IDE Versus SCSI, E) A Small ASPI Demo Application, and a Glossary. The accompanying CD-ROM contains extensive information in HTML and text formats. The authors provide several ways to access the information: Netscape, Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and the Linux command prompt. (I did access the CD-ROM through Netscape, Opera, and the command prompt.) Some of the information on the CD-ROM features the SCSI FAQ, the SCSI Quick Start Guide, the Linux SCSI HowTo, The Linux SCSI Programming HowTo, the entire book in searchable format, and numerous SCSI Internet links.

The Book of SCSI, Second Edition, is a clearly written and useful reference. The authors demonstrate superb coverage of every facet of SCSI use and configuration. The inclusion of the programming features is particularly valuable in the light of the Adaptec program to encourage and support Open Source driver development for RAID and SCSI controllers. The CD-ROM is a cohesive creation; it addresses the reader with an introduction, instead of merely collecting the information on a disc. The selection of data included on the CD-ROM makes a neatly portable troubleshooting reference. This is a book that every systems administrator, network administrator, system programmer, and hardware technician needs. It is not only a SCSI reference, but is also interesting reading for anyone who likes to know how a system works.

Learning XML
Erik T. Ray
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 0-596-00046-4
354 Pages

Regular readers of computer magazines, whether online or traditional print versions, have seen an increasing number of feature articles on XML. The Extensible Markup Language (XML) can perform a wide variety of tasks, depending on the user's needs and the specific requirements of their computing environment. Its versatility has made it a popular choice (as evidenced by the amount of articles and books on the topic) and also reflects the dynamic character of the Internet community. In Learning XML, author Erik Ray first describes XML and some of its capabilities and proceeds to define it. The description provides the opening sentence of the book:

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a data storage toolkit, a configurable vehicle for any kind of information, an evolving and open standard embraced by everyone from bankers to webmasters. [Page 1.]

Following a list of some of XML's features, Ray provides a multi-level definition of XML:

On one level, XML is a protocol for containing and managing information. On another level, it's a family of technologies that can do everything from formatting documents to filtering data. And on the highest level, it's a philosophy for information handling that seeks maximum usefulness and flexibility for data by refining it to its purest and most structured form. [Page 2.]

After Ray establishes these precepts, he examines XML's most popular uses and concepts. Following the Introduction, the author addresses: Markup and Core Concepts, Connecting Resources with Links, Presentation: Creating the End Product, Document Models: A Higher Level of Control, Transformation: Repurposing Documents, Internationalization, and Programming for XML. The Appendices include: A) Resources, B) A Taxonomy of Standards, and a Glossary. The second chapter features the essential syntax for a basic XML document and illustrates examples of some possible presentations (depending on the stylesheet utilized). This is the basis for the procedures discussed throughout the rest of the book. Chapter 2, Markup and Core Concepts, is also available at:
Succeeding chapters demonstrate adding resources (such as pictures or dynamic lists), using stylesheets, modeling documents, and transforming documents through XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language for Transformation.)

Learning XML clarifies the design and procedures of XML. Ray describes what it is, what it isn't, what it can do, and how to implement it. He addresses the varied uses of XML according to the levels defined in the beginning chapter. He also provides practical notes and helpful tips throughout the book in addition to the excellent glossary at the back of the book. Learning XML is a well-written and helpful approach to understanding and using XML. It is also an ideal learning tool and also references ways to become part of the XML community.

Foundation Flash 5
Sham Bhangal, Amanda Farr, and Patrick Rey
Friends of ED
Distributed by WROX Press
ISBN 1-903450-31-4
624 Pages

Anyone who has spent time surfing the Web, whether for research or pleasure, has encountered site notes. Two of the most common directives advise "This site best viewed at 800 x 600 resolution" and "XYZ plug-in required to view this page." One of the most frequently required plug-ins is for Macromedia's Flash Player; its latest version requests the Flash 5 Player. Macromedia recently announced the Macromedia Flash Player 5 for Linux and Solaris platforms in addition to the versions already available for Windows and Macintosh systems. The Linux and Solaris versions can be accessed at:
The Friends of ED "Designer to Designer" series of Web design books utilize three levels (Foundation, Studio, and Masters) to address practical Web design. (According to one explanation, ED is Extra Dimension, Exceptional Design, and Every Designer.) The Foundation titles demonstrate the fundamentals; the Studio books illustrate skill and craft improvements, and the Masters books show how the best of designers have created effects and solved problems, complete with the code they used.

Foundation Flash 5 features the capabilities of Flash 5 and describes how to implement various facets of the program. Bhangal, Farr, and Rey introduce the book with a section called Flash 5 and this Book: the Truth. The chapters describe how to use the Flash tools to create and refine a Web-page interface. The authors present the topics in the following order: Flash Movie Essentials, The Flash Toolbox, Flash Symbols and Libraries, Managing Content on the Stage, Enhancing Your Appearance, Motion Tweening, Shape Tweening, Masks and Masking, Actions and Interactions, Intelligent Actions, Sound, Optimizing, Publishing, Intermediate ActionScript 1, Intermediate ActionScript 2, High-Level Site Design, and Futurescape. The Appendices include: A) Sound Sampling, B) HTML and Flash, and C) Glossary.

Foundation Flash 5 provides a clear and ordered description of the procedures for Flash 5 use. Each chapter begins with an outline of the chapter contents followed by a brief introduction; each chapter concludes with a case study and a summary. The case studies build toward a Flash movie that interfaces with a Web page. The authors detail the individual procedures through a discussion of the concepts, when you may want to use them, their effects, and benefits, plus step-by-step guidelines for the respective implementations. In Foundation Flash 5, authors Bhangal, Farr, and Rey furnish effective and valuable descriptions of essential Flash 5 processes and techniques. Any programmer interested in graphic design and its implementation will find this book intriguing; Web designers will find it indispensable.

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 15 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: