Red Hat Linux 8 Bible
by Mirko Zorz - Friday, 21 March 2003.
Author: Christopher Negus
Pages: 1104
Publisher: Wiley
ISBN: 0-7645-4968-5



Introduction

As Linux gains more and more popularity we have books on the subject being published frequently. This is one of the latest books on Red Hat Linux 8 that, as all books do, promises to give you a wealth of knowledge. Does it? Read on to find out.

About the author

Christopher Negus has been working with UNIX systems, the Internet, and (more recently) Linux systems for more than two decades. During that time, Chris worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories, UNIX Systems Laboratories, and Novell, helping to develop the UNIX operating system. Features from many of the UNIX projects Chris worked on at AT&T have found their way into Red Hat and other Linux systems.

An interview with Christopher Negus is available here.

Inside the book

As a book with this topic should begin with an overview of Red Hat Linux, this is exactly what happens here. Negus explains what Linux is and traces its roots back to the UNIX operating system. Illustrated here are the advantages of Linux and the new features present in Red Hat Linux 8. Since many readers will probably install the distribution from the three CD-ROMs attached to the book, the author proceeds by writing about the installation process. Presented here are detailed installation instructions, special installation topics and troubleshooting issues. It doesn't matter if you're installing from a CD-ROM or from another computer on the network, if you have partitioning problems or you don't know what boot loader to use, this chapter will have you up and running Red Hat Linux in no time.

After you've successfully installed your copy of Red Hat, grab chapter three of the book and continue with the learning process. Negus gives you an understanding of the Linux shell, the Red Hat Linux file system and using the vi editor. If you're new to Linux and familiar to MS-DOS and Windows, you'll be happy to know that the author provides a list of differences to help you understand the file system.

You're probably be going to be using a GUI (Graphical User Interface), so the chapter dealing with the desktop will be pretty interesting. The author will aid you with the dilemma of choosing a desktop environment by giving an overview of both KDE and Gnome. You'll see the differences and similarities between the two desktops and you'll get an understanding of the X Window System.

In order to get work done on your computer you use applications. The author shows you where to get applications for your system and how to install them. If you're moving from a Windows system and don't know where to start, you can use a table which notes Windows-equivalent applications in Linux to see what's available. Negus provides a list of websites where you can obtain Linux applications; he shows you how to download the software and explains package names and formats. Naturally, you'll also learn how to start applications and use emulators to run applications from other operating systems.

Red Hat Linux includes tools for producing documents, manipulating images, scanning and printing. The author shows you how to create documents with several software titles, how to print files and use your scanner. Some of the applications covered here are: the OpenOffice.org suite, StarOffice, KOffice, LaTeX and Ghostscript. Many of you are certainly interested in playing games. Basic Linux gaming information and other related topics can be fond in chapter 7. Negus proceeds to write about multimedia and describes how you can create music CDs, listen to music and radio, and use digital cameras, covert audio files, and so on.

Many tools are available for your Linux system if you want to use the Internet. The author provides an overview of various software titles you can use to surf the web, communicate with e-mail, participate in newsgroups, copy files with ftp, etc. Negus recommends the use of ssh instead of telnet since it provides encrypted communication and he also shows you how to set up rhosts security.

We're getting into some juicy material starting from chapter 10 that describes general principles of Red Hat Linux system administration. Negus describes how to become the Super User, illustrates the administrative commands, configuration and log files. If you're not keen on using the command line for all administration tasks, you can use several graphic administrative utilities. The author provides a list that describes many of the GUI-based windows you can use to administer your system. Moving forward you'll learn how to reconfigure hardware with kudzu, mount file systems, monitor system performance and use the Red Hat Network to update your system.

If you want to have multiple user accounts on your system you have to learn how to set them up and support them. Negus will show you how. You'll also see what tools you can use for your administration chores. You can save time while you work by learning how to automate system tasks. The author explains what shell scripts are and gives some examples of simple shell scripting. He also writes about system start-up and shutdown related scripts, and the scheduling of system tasks using at and cron.

I'm obsessed with backup. If you ever suffered a hard drive crash and you lost important files that you haven't backed up, you know how stressful that can be. This is why I was happy to see that Negus dedicated a fair amount of space to this topic. You'll learn how to create a backup strategy, backup to various mediums and restore the backups you made. Illustrated here are ways to backup with dump as well as backing up over the network.

The book continues by dealing with various computer security issues. The author underlines the importance of using passwords, changing them periodically and shows you how to test them by trying to crack them. Another way of protecting your system is by filtering network access. Here you'll read about securing remote shells and logins, disabling network services and using TCP wrappers. When discussing firewalls, among other things, we find information on ipchains, iptables and on configuring Red Hat Linux as a proxy firewall. To make your life easier in checking the security of your box, Negus introduces the Tiger tool and also shows you how to check your log files. Before moving on to discuss protection from Denial of Service attacks and encryption techniques, we can read about the Tripwire tool.

Chapter 15 introduces Local Area Networks (LANs). The author provides a basic overview of LANs and shows how to set up both an Ethernet and wireless LAN. In order to get a more in-depth understanding of the coming and going of information on your LAN, you need a tool like Ethereal to analyze network traffic. Here you'll learn how to use this useful tool.

You will certainly want to connect to the Internet. This book will give you information on how to use a dial-up connection or connecting using LAN. The rest of the book is closely connected to the Internet and deals with topics that are more complex than the first part of the book. Negus distances himself from the beginners' audience and dwells into setting up different types of servers: print, web, FTP, mail, etc. Everything described here is clear but there's not an extensive amount of details which is logical since the author covers so much ground. If you want to deploy a web server with the help of this book you will get it up and running, but for some serious work you'll have to get yourself more reading material.

My 2 cents

As I was going through this book I thought it was intended for novice users. However, in certain topics the author gets into information that beginners don't really need, or care about for that matter. I mean, if you don't know what Linux is at all, would you even think about analyzing network traffic of setting up a MySQL database server? You certainly don't get enough information in this book to get from a novice user to a good news server administrator. You can't get that amount of knowledge in just one book.

However, this book has a myriad of excellent information; I just believe that topics should have been chosen differently to address just one type of audience. It's difficult to recommend a book to a group of people if it contains topics that are so far from each other. Is this book good for novice users? Yes, half of it. Is it interesting to an intermediate audience? Yes, the other half.

I believe that the best way to use this book is as a reference guide. If you're an intermediate user you can always use a book to refresh your memory on some topics and if you're a novice user looking to expand your knowledge, you can learn the basics of some advanced topics.

What I would like to see the author do with this book is take half of it and expand it with in-depth details relevant to novice users and to the same thing with the other half for intermediate users. As a result we would have two excellent books that you could use to build your way up in the Linux world.



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