Peter Norton's Complete Guide to Linux, by Arthur Griffith and Peter Norton; ISBN: 0-672-31573-4

Reviewed by: Doug Reed, send e-mail
Published by: Sams Publishing, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $29.99 US / $44.95 CAN

No doubt about it these days: Linux is hot. Everybody and their brothers are experts on Linux and they are cranking out the books by the ton. Okay, maybe I'm just a tad cynical - but then the 'flavor of the month' has really become the thing in computer books these days. Remember all the Java books back when Java was the hot ticket? The tough part about being in such a herd is distinguishing yourself from the rest of the crowd to ensure that people will want to buy your book instead of the others. One tactic is to attach the name of someone famous in the computer business - Lynda Weinman's books, Laura Lemay's books and of course Peter Norton's books. You remember Mr. Norton - we've certainly reviewed plenty of his products over the years. I've reviewed many of them myself - and I've always liked what I saw. And we have a long- standing policy not to rant about or trash a product unmercilessly. We always try to look for the golden lining in an otherwise dark cloud. All of which makes this one tough review to write.

Complete guides to anything always have an initial problem in identifying their audience and deciding whether to brush over all the material scantly or cover just a few subjects in great depth (thereby invalidating any use in the title of the word "Complete"). Right from the start I could tell that this book's biggest problem is in identifying it's audience. If it is a guide for beginners, it should be written so anyone could pick up and install the versions of Linux included with the book (Red Hat, Caldera and SuSE, in case you wondered). But instead the book barely covers the topic of installation. This is interesting because the book's back cover bears a bold claim - "Install your version of Linux correctly on the first try". Now anybody who has anything to do with Linux knows that this is a ludicrous claim, especially when the book provides coverage of only three versions of Linux and at last count there were more than a dozen available for download on the Internet.

But this book is not intended for experts either. Experts want a lot more detail than this book offers. Yes, it does cover system administration and networking, but where is the discussion of programming in Linux? The 4th edition of Linux Unleashed, which I am also reviewing, covers shell programming, C, Perl, Motif, gawk, tcl/tk, and even Python - none of which are covered in Peter Norton's Guide. No the only programming language mentioned in Peter Norton's Complete Guide to Linux is Java, not exactly on the front- burner when it comes to Linux. While the intended audience of the book may seem at odds in the choice of topics covered the language and tone of the book is strictly that for intermediate to advanced users. But I can't really imagine them being satisfied with the list of topics covered here.

The book does have one nice chapter for which I could almost recommend it. Of all the Linux books I have read, this is the only to have a separate chapter devoted to the issue of installing hardware in Linux. Linux Unleashed provides no such coverage, and a quick scan of books available at Borders found no other Linux books that offer coverage of hardware installation. So kudos to Griffith and Norton for providing one new topic that no one else seems to have noticed might be important to Linux users.

Cons: Target audience? Hello? Definitely not for beginners and hard to recommend for experts who will be looking for more meat. Summary: If you need information on installing new hardware or just want the latest version of Red Hat or Caldera on CD, well, this is your book. Those looking for an introductory text should look elsewhere. Those looking for meat won't be satisfied.

Pros: Concise coverage of the major topics of interest to Linux users. Great chapter on installation of new hardware in Linux systems. My overall recommendation: Pass

(Ed. Note: reviewed in 2000)

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