Learning Red Hat Linux

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: O'Reilly & Associates Inc., go to the web site
Requires: About 10 hours of free time
MSRP: US$34.95, Cdn$48.95

Learning Red Hat Linux is meant to guide new Linux users through the detailed data preparation, installation and use of this 'free' operating system that is causing so much stir in the software business these days. The book attempts to describe and teach Linux in terms familiar to Windows users and is supplied with a recent CD-ROM release of the Red Hat Linux distribution. Built around the supplied CD-ROM, the book takes the reader step-by-step through the process of installing and setting up the Linux version which is supplied. The reader needs nothing else to get started. Author Bill McCarty is associate professor of management information systems in the School of Business and Management of Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

Windows and MacOS users the world over are experimenting with Linux by the hundreds of thousands. The problem with learning Linux however is that it does not rely on the familiar Microsoft Windows(R) design paradigm. Linux, according to many of its adherents, is a user friendly version of Unix. As such, it is unfamiliar to most typical computer users. In fact, Linux is nowhere near the mainstream of computer desktop operating systems. For typical desktop use in home, SOHO, and small business environments, the lack of such niceties as drivers for most desktop printers and other popular hardware devices will prevent anyone from taking Linux too seriously. But Learning Red Hat Linux is designed for people who've already made the decision to try Linux.

Walking through the preparation and installation of the Red Hat Linux version supplied on CD-ROM was a reasonably uneventful task right up to the moment our test PC locked up. The book had suggested staying away from some AMD Pentium-class processors. We started over using a PC with a Intel Pentium II/266 processor and actually got excited about the whole process (again) when a configuration error was discovered. Once again, we were locked out of the PC and had to restart the whole process from scratch. Between hardware incompatibilities and Dumb User Errors, we managed to achieve success on the fourth try. The book was never at fault though.

I should mention that we also blew an older monitor after configuring the X Window System. We inadvertently set the refresh rate unusually high and burned the guts out of the poor thing. A Linux experience, proper instructions or not, can sometimes turn out to be an expensive experience.

The book's coverage of the Linux subject is impressive. It covers preparation, installation, configuration, the X Window System, the X and GNOME desktops, finding and installing Linux software, networking with Linux, Internet access using Linux, Linux- based servers, and understanding and writing shell scripts. Keep one thing in mind though - the book is recommended for new Linux users, not new computer users, so the instructions and references in the book assume at least an intermediate level of general computer hardware and software experience.

Cons: Being an instructional text, we hoped for perfectly worded instructions as we moved through the preparation and installation process. We tried to put ourselves in the place of a genuine new Linux user. Unfortunately, the instruction on page 38 to place the "Linux CD-ROM diskette in your CD-ROM drive" is likely to leave at least a few new users baffled. The book does not contain any flow charts or diagrams, things which really help explain processes far more clearly than the reams of text presented by the author (Windows and Mac users have to be transitioned to the text- based traditions of Linux, rather than dragged there). In other words, the author (and the O'Reilly copy editor) have failed to fully define exactly who their target readers are. Witness the following paragraph: "The Linux printer driver claims all available parallel ports. If you want to access a device other than a printer attached to a parallel port, you must instruct the printer driver to reserve only the ports associated with printers. To do so, use the 'lp' boot argument which takes as its options a list of ports and IRQs use to support printers." A command line argument then follows (which is useful). It's just too bad the initial instruction is confusing.

Pros: Somebody had to write this type of book. With Red Hat's wildly successful IPO and shares still a hot commodity, O'Reilly is smart to capitalize with this publication. The book is well organized and contains more than enough information for a potential Linux enthusiast to get rolling. If you're experienced enough to install and configure Windows NT, this book will be a worthwhile Linux guide for you. You'll need it too, because Linux is anything but intuitive.

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