Learning Windows Server 2003, 2nd Edition, by Jonathan Hassell, ISBN: 0-596-10123-6

Reviewed by: Jim Huddle, May 2006
Published by: O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Requires: Beginner through intermediate system administrators
MSRP: US$44.99

I believe that most Network Operating System Administrators (sysadmins), from the ultra-green newbie to the curmudgeonly veteran, want and need practical information on how to get things done. Most sysadmins don't have time to enjoy poring over a thousand page tome that details the history of their particular network operating system (NOS). They need to get something set up, installed, working or secured. While there is a multitude of texts detailing the history and underlying theory of operating systems, there are too few practical guides.

Oddly enough, I don't count on the NOS producer for much in the way of practical help. I've found that the normal documentation included with their systems consists of little more than glossy, almost giggly procedures. They will tell you how to get some aspect of your system installed, but usually ignore the details that make the NOS or part thereof operate in a stable or consistent manner.


Remarkably, producers appear to be completely unaware that some of their products need more attention than just running the Wizard can provide. Perhaps the most annoying thing about producer documentation is that it seldom tells you about the product limitations, and goodness knows, there are never any bugs or problems you should be aware of.

Sarcasm aside, normally the sysadmin in need of specific information has a few useful, but time consuming ways to get it. First he or she can search forums. These are great and I've been helped more than once using them. Then there is the producer's online Knowledge Base, which is also good if you are lucky enough to be able to assemble just the right search string. The other way is to pound on the issue until it's figured out. Usually, solving a problem requires a combination of all three and several days.

Jeez, there's a lot of whining and complaining here, and for that I apologize. On the other hand, I'll bet most of you in the network trenches can empathize with at least some of this rant. What prompted all this wailing is a surprisingly good book about Windows 2003 Server. To be honest, what I had expected was a primer on the NOS and a bunch of 'yeah, yeah, who cares' stuff. However, upon going through the book I found good, clear and practical information on setting up and configuring the system and its major components. This is the first book by author Jonathan Hassel that I have read and I've been pleasantly surprised. There's some detail about the underlying processes that make a particular component work, but it's not overdone. The focus is to give you the way to get that component working and to provide a bit of understanding about how and why. After all, you can get all the theory later, in all of your spare time, right?

The author has done a decent job of balancing the sysadmin's need for How-To's with enough background to help you avoid blindly implementing services. The book is well organized and the chapter set allows you to quickly get to the information needed to implement the component of Windows 2003 you need. At over 700 pages it's hefty, but the author includes limitations and gotchas of each service so you can begin to be aware of what can and can't be done. Alsop contributing to the page count is Hassell's inclusion of a good set of command line alternatives to using the GUI. Windows 2003 has very good command line tools, and I appreciate their inclusion, both in the NOS and in the book. Additionally, they are not provided as an afterthought at the end of the book but integrated into the Services chapter where they can be easily referenced. While this may be shocking to you GUI babies, you need these utilities.

I have a feeling this will be a well thumbed book. It already has a number of torn sticky note strips sticking out of it and of course, spilled coffee. Highly recommended.

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