UNIX: Visual QuickStart Guide 2/e
by Mirko Zorz - Friday, 16 May 2003.
Authors: Deborah S. Ray and Eric J. Ray
Pages: 400
Publisher: Peachpit Press
ISBN: 0321170105


There's a myriad of online documentation and books out there that can help you get into UNIX. This book is different as it concentrates on teaching using a lot of screenshots which makes it one of the best resources for beginners. What does it offer exactly? Read on to find out.

About the authors

Deborah S. Ray and Eric J. Ray are syndicated columnists, consultants, and co-owners of RayComm, Inc., a consulting firm with clients like Compaq Computer Corporation's AltaVista Search Service. The authors of many books on computers and computing systems, the Rays are the recipients of several awards from the Society of Technical Communications, including an International Distinguished Technical Communication award and an International Excellence award.

Inside the book

As it's a custom to have a few pages dedicated to UNIX history in books of this kind I was expecting the same here. No history here though. The authors jump right into illustrating how to log into a UNIX system, change your password, redirect output, get help, etc. This is just fine as it saves space for more hands-on stuff. I see the targeted audience of this book to be people new to UNIX that want to learn how to work with the system without getting too much background information.

There was one thing that imprinted itself into my memory in the very first minutes of reading the book. I was delighted to see that the authors wisely note the insecurities of telnet and immediately teach you how to connect using SSH. This is what I call good practice.

As the book moves on you learn a whole lot about directories and files as the authors discuss creation, copying, moving, and so on. What you get here and throughout the book is many tips that teach you best practices and point out better ways of doing stuff. This is a great way to learn and adds a lot of value to the presented material.

The authors assume that you're working on a UNIX system from a command prompt and not from a GUI. This enables the authors to present the real power of UNIX and give you an opportunity to learn from the ground up. You will be able to work from a GUI quite easily at a later stage if you learn what this book has to offer. The authors provide all the information you need to start working with the shell.

The creation and editing of files are some of the most common tasks you can perform on a system. In order to work with files you can use several editors. In this book the authors introduce pico, vi and emacs and provide you with how-tos of using each one. As regards the manipulation of files you learn how to view specific parts of files, change files, compare files, format files, etc.

Now that you've learned how to work with files, it's time to get some information about the system. Some of the things you learn here are: how to determine disk usage, get information on your userid and view file systems. Getting information is not all though, the authors do their best to teach you how to configure your UNIX environment. Here you learn about variables, changing your (zsh, bash, ksh and chs) prompt, look at configuration files, etc.

On the topic of scripts, this book teaches you both how to run them and how to write them. You see how to schedule jobs with cron, run jobs in the foreground with fg, delete processes with kill, loop your scripts, debugging them, and much more. At some point you'll certainly want to access the Internet and send some e-mail. The authors show you how you can surf the web, share and download files, read news, send and receive e-mail, and so on.

While working on your UNIX system, you will encounter various types of files. The authors show you how to manipulate encoded and compressed files and then move forward to discuss software installations. You will not only learn how to install software but also where to find it and how to configure it.

To accomplish different tasks you are bound to use various utilities. The authors provide you with a look on utilities such as cal (calendar), bc (calculator), ispell (spell checking), lp (printing), etc.

In order to make sure that you don't mess up anything while working as root, the authors give you information on changing the system configuration, illustrate working with deamons and other interesting stuff. The last chapter of the book, "Sensational UNIX Tricks", points out some neat stuff you can accomplish with your system such as: generate reports, clean up HTML documents and make backups.

The appendixes provide a list of important UNIX files, directories and command flags. All of you out there that prefer hard copy insteal of a digital copy will be pleased.

What I think of it

The numerous screenshots and the structure of the book that reminds me of a tutorial is what makes this book extremely easy to follow. The formatting of the book is excellent so it's easy to find things when you need them - these are the qualities that make a good reference guide. Everything is written with language that is simple to understand and since the authors don't dwell in deep details about UNIX, this makes this book a perfect choice for all you beginners out there.

If you want to learn more about UNIX and you don't know where to start, get this book as it will give you what you need to get into this operating system in no time.


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