Degunking Linux

It may seem like this is all I’ve been doing for the past few months, but I have yet another book review that has made it on to the ‘free’ area of Free Software Magazine. This time it is Degunking Linux by Roderick W Smith. At its heart, this book is about trying to get the best performance – from CPU speed, to application performance and even disk space – out of your machine by doing some regular maintenance. This includes removing old applications, keeping your system up to date, flushing out the old caches and keeping your system spick and span. This book has a rather interesting layout, in that it not only covers the mechanicss, but also provides multi-step programs for what to do on your machine when you have a few spare minutes right up to days to spend spring cleaning your machine. If you use Linux regularly on your server or desktop, this book is well worth a read.

Linux Server Security

Frequently you will hear about how secure Linux is as an operating system. Although a lot of the security of the OS comes from the many eyes examining the code and the strong developer spirit that means software is frequently updated and improved, it doesn’t automatically mean that Linux is automatically secure out of the box. You still need to ensure some good basic security practices and principles. If you are securing specific applications and services then there are still steps to follow, other software to install and some tricks and traps for the unware. All of this is covered in detail in Linux Server Security, by Michael D Bauer. A review of the book that I did for Free Software Magazine has just reached the Free Software Magazine website.

Regular Expression Recipes, by Nathan Good

I’m a regular expression junkie – I think one of the main reasons I love Perl so much is because it’s just so darn easy to go ahead and regexp either with a substitution or match to get the information I want. It certainly makes certain parts of my job easier. Getting them right though can be difficult, so it’s great to see this book using regular expressions by Nathan Good, which I reviewed recently for Free Software Magazine.The book is excellent and well worth buying if you use regular expressions frquently in your applications. You can read the full review on this link, or simply buy the book on Amazon.com.The review recently made it to the front page of the magazine, and is now free to be read by non-subscribers.

Interview with Arnold Robbins, Maintainer of Gawk

I interview Arnold Robbins, maintainer of Gawk and author of Linux Programming by Example: The Fundamentals about his book, Gawk and how maintainers like me are kept in check. Here’s an extract:

LP: Do you think there’s a need for such low-level programming guides?Robbins: Yes, I do. It’s wonderful to program at a higher level of abstraction, such as what Java and Python give you, or in a different way, what the shell gives you.But there are times when you’ve got to get as close to the metal as you can, and that calls for C or C++ and direct system calls. Besides, I think it’s kind of neat to see the clear relationship between the way the Unix system calls work and the semantics made available at the shell level (I/O redirection, piping), and that in fact it’s not really such difficult dark magic after all.

Read the full article

Rickford Grant, Linux Made Easy

Getting users to try Linux is only half the battle. The other half is showing them what they can achieve when using it. Linux Made Easy by Rickford Grant uses a task based approach to show how you can use Linux to perform your daily tasks; email, browsing, letter writing, even scanning and printing are covered in detail. I spoke to Rickford Grant about the book, why he chose Xandros and how the look and feel of the computing environment are more important to acceptance than the name on the box.

The book highlights how easy it is to do your everyday tasks – email, writing letters, scanning documents – using Linux. How key do you think this is to the wider adoption of Linux? I can’t help but think that it is extremely important. Until now, the image of Linux has been of a system for people on the geekier side of the compu-user spectrum, and I’d say the majority of books out there on the subject bear this out with their focus on networks, commands, and so on.One of the reasons I wrote my first book, ‘Linux for Non-Geeks,’ and now ‘Linux Made Easy,’ was that most of the Linux books out there are so focused on that more geekish facet of Linux that it was hard to imagine a mere mortal having any reason to use Linux, let alone being able to do so. They certainly had that effect on me when I first got started.

Linux Made Easy, Rickford Grant

Linux Made Easy by Rickford Grant is a companion to his original Linux for Non-geeks. Where the two differ is that this book is about how easy Linux can be for performing a myriad of tasks using a simple, skill-based approach. In this book, Rickford describes how to use Linux to do what you need to do: web browsing, sending email, basic document creation and using external peripherals like your printer, USB flash drive and scanner. In short, this book is about using Linux, from the perspective of ‘Your Average Joe’.The book covers, and indeed includes, Xandros Open Circulation Edition, a Debian based distribution that just happens to include a number of key components for the target market, including OpenOffice, a key part of the toolkit required by many users to provide word processing and spreadsheet facilities.

The contentsIn consideration of the target audience the book is a meaty, but not imposing, 450 pages making it look both substantial enough to keep potential readers interested and yet not so large as to make them think twice about buying a ‘professional’ book.

Peter Wainwright, Pro Apache

Apache has been a stalwart of the Internet for some time. Not only is it well known as a web serving platform, but it also forms a key part of the LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-Perl/Python/PHP) and is one of the best known open source projects. Getting an Apache installation right though can be tricky. In Pro Apache, Peter Wainwright hopes to help readers by using a task, rather than feature based, approach. I spoke to Peter about Apache, its supported platforms, the competition from IIS and his approach to writing such a mammoth tome.

Inflammatory questions first – Unix or Windows for Apache?Unix. To be more precise, BSD, then Linux, then almost anything else (e.g., commercial Unixes), then Windows — if you must.The usual technical arguments and security statistics against using Windows are readily available from a number of sources, so let me give a rather different perspective: it seems Microsoft was in discussion to buy Claria, creators of Gator (one of the more annoying strains of adware that infest Windows desktops). Coincidentally, Microsoft’s beta ‘AntiSpyware’ tool recently downgraded Claria’s products from quarantine to ignore. It seems that the deal fell through, but for reasons of bad PR rather than any concern for the customer. Call me cynical if you like, but I see little reason to place my faith in a closed-source operating system when the vendor is apparently willing to compromise the security of its customers for its own business purposes. Yes, plenty of us already knew that, but this is an example even non-technical business managers can grasp.

From Bash to Z Shell by Oliver Kiddle, Jerry Peek and Peter Stephenson

Note: This review was originally published in Free Software Magazine

If you use a free software operating system or environment, chances are one of your key interfaces will be through some kind of shell. Most people assume the bulk of the power of shells comes from the commands available within them, but some shells are actually powerful in their own right. Many of the more recent releases being more like a command line programming environment than a command line interface. “From Bash to Z Shell” published by Apress, provides a guide to using various aspects of the shell. From the basic command line interaction through to the more complex processes of programming, it touches on file pattern matching and command line completion along the way.The contentsShells are complicated – how do you start describing working with a shell without first describing how the shell works, and don’t you show them how to use it by doing so? The book neatly covers this problem in the first chapter with what must be the best description of a shell and how the interaction works that I’ve ever read.

Eric S Raymond, Deb Cameron, Bill Rosenblatt, Marc Loy, Jim Elliott, Learning GNU Emacs 3ed

GNU Emacs has been the editor of choice for many users for many years. Despite new operating systems, environments and applications, emacs still has a place in the toolbox for both new and old users. I talked to the authors of Learning GNU Emacs, Third Edition: Eric S Raymond, Deb Cameron, Bill Rosenblatt, Marc Loy, and Jim Elliott about the emacs religion, nervous keyboard twitches and whether emacs has a future in an increasingly IDE driven world.

Well, I guess the answer to the age-old geek question of ’emacs’ or ‘vi’ is pretty much covered with this book?Jim Elliott (JJE): We pretty much start with the assumption that people picking up the book want to know about Emacs. I had fun following the flame wars for a while a decade ago, but we’ve moved on. Some of my best friends and brightest colleagues swear by vi.Bill Rosenblatt (BR): I try not to get involved in theological arguments.Deb Cameron (DC): Like all religious questions, you can only answer that for yourself.Eric S. Raymond (ESR): Oh, I dunno. I think we sidestepped that argument rather neatly.Marc Loy (ML): I think the other authors have chimed in here, but this book “preaches to the choir.” We don’t aim to answer that religious debate. We just want to help existing converts! Of course I think emacs! but I’m a bit biased.Could you tell me how you (all) got into using emacs?ESR: I go back to Gosling Emacs circa 1982 — it was distributed with the variant of 4.1BSD (yes, that was 4.*1*) we were using on our VAX. I was ready for it, having been a LISP-head from way back.

Linux in a Windows World by Roderick Smith

Note: This review was originally published in Free Software Magazine

Linux in Windows World aims to solve the problems experienced by many system administrators when it comes to using Linux servers (and to a lesser extent clients) within an existing Windows environment. Overall the book is meaty and a quick flick through shows an amazing amount of information has been crammed between the covers. There are though some immediately obvious omissions, given the books title and description, but I’m hoping this won’t detract from the rest of the content.The contentsThe book starts off with a look at where Linux fits into a Windows network, covering its use both as a server and desktop platform. Roderick makes some salient points and arguments here, primarily for, rather than against, Linux but he’s not afraid to point out the limitations either. This first section leads on to a more in depth discussion of deploying a Linux system into your network, promoting Linux in a series of target areas – email serving, databases and so on – as well as some strategies for migrating existing Windows desktops to Linux.