Linux Unleashed, Fourth Edition by Bill Ball, David Pitts, John Goerzen, et al; ISBN: 0-672-31688-9

Reviewed by: Doug Reed, send e-mail
Published by: Sams Publishing, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $49.99 US / $74.95 CAN

Looking for the reference to end all references on Linux? Linux Unleashed comes as close as any one book can possibly come. Linux Unleashed is now in it's fourth edition and that longevity has allowed the book to acquire considerable polish. The book covers a wide variety of topics, from installing and booting Linux to configuring your desktop, configuring services & servers for both intranet and internet computers, system administration and programming in Linux. A wide variety of topics fall under the auspices of these broad categories and Linux Unleashed manages to cover them all at least briefly, which is why the book measures in at 1468 pages. There is something here for everyone - even a chapter on playing games!

I said in my previous review of Peter Norton's Complete Guide to Linux that complete guides to anything tend to either forget to target an audience or have too broad a focus. The authors of Linux Unleashed have done their best to prove me wrong. Linux Unleashed is definitely for intermediate to advanced users, as the majority of topics will be well beyond the comprehension of newer computer users. However, Linux Unleashed does have chapters on installing and running Linux, and a number of chapters on basic topics like configuring the desktop and playing games. If you are new to Linux and trying to find a book to get you started, I would recommend that you instead get Sam's excellent Teach Yourself Linux in 24 Hours or O'Reilly's Learning Red Hat Linux. Not that you wouldn't find Linux Unleashed useful, and I do highly recommend it - but find a book that goes more in depth on installing and running Linux first. Then get Linux Unleashed.

The book is divided into six sections, each broken up into several chapters. The theme and quality of writing between chapters suggest that although the book was written "by committee" (i.e., a large number of contributing authors as well as the three listed above) they worked together to write the chapters rather than divide them up and write them individually. This helps the reader tremendously, as the style of writing, the depth, and the examples presented remain consistent. It also helps that these guys appear to know how to write to an audience who probably knows some but not all of what they are describing.

The first section of the book covers installing and configuring Linux. There is the obligatory but thankfully brief "Introduction to Linux" that all Linux books have. Chapter 2 Installing Linux covers installation of the three of the more popular versions of Linux (Red Hat, Debian, and Caldera). The enclosed CD that comes with the book includes the latest copies of these three versions as well.

The second section Configuring Services covers system tools, TCP/IP, DNS, SMTP (including configuring an Internet e-mail server), FTP, and the Apache web server - just to name a few of the chapters! Also included in the second section is a lengthy chapter on Samba & how to configure Samba so your Linux box can interact with desktops running Windows. Section three, System Administration, covers the topics near and dear to network administrators hearts like managing file systems, security, archiving & restoring, printing, kernel management, and how to automate tasks.

The fourth section covers programming in Linux and devotes separate chapters to shell programming, programming in C/C++, Motif, Perl, gawk, tcl/tk, & Python before wrapping up with chapters on network programming and - of course - Java, that most ubiquitous of programming languages these days. Section five, Advanced Topics, covers a wide range of subjects including graphics applications, multimedia, emulators, games and installing & configuring Linux on a laptop. Finally, section six is the appendices and includes the Linux Documentation Project & a list of Linux commands.

Pros: Well written, broad coverage of Linux. Knows its target audience but doesn't fail to include those new to Linux. Fourth edition really is beginning to show some polish.

Cons: At 1468 pages, this sucker is heavy!

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