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Learning Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora Bill McCarty
Published by O'Reilly Media
352 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 7th May 2004
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the September 2004 issue (pdf), (html)

This is actually the fourth edition of this book, which was previously called ``Learning Red Hat Linux''.

Aimed largely at the new Linux users and home/desktop users, it is a good general introduction to Linux of a certain type. It is a ``how-to'' book: the emphasis is on telling the reader what to click and how to use the GUI tools that come with Red Hat / Fedora. It doesn't neglect the command line altogether, but there is very little discussion of configuration files and what is going on behind the scenes.

When I was teaching Mathematics, I often became involved in discussions about whether it was enough (or right) to teach students ``how to'' get the right answer without teaching an understanding of the underlying concepts. It's easy to take a high-minded view on this in theory, but in practice there is always pressure to take the easy way out.

This type of introductory Linux book bothers me for the same sort of reasons. There are plenty of them around, and this is one of the best of them, but they leave me feeling disappointed because I feel that they take an easy way out which in some way doesn't help the reader as much as it appears to.

However, I know from recent bitter experience as junior joint author of a somewhat similar book (different publisher, different distribution... ) how difficult it is to get the balance right between explanation and description, and how hard to decide what to include. But I do feel that most buyers of the book will find that it exhausts its usefulness fairly early on, even if they are total Linux beginners.

Clearly the publishers had to include the words ``Red Hat Enterprise'' in the title, but in practice the book is not really aimed at, or useful for, people who want to use Red Hat's Enterprise versions for the first time for any serious purpose.

The book includes two CDs (containg Fedora Core 1). Although published in April this year, that's almost two versions out of date. But that's the way of the world.

The book is accurate in its information, well produced and has plenty of good screenshots and examples. I would recommend it to a Linux beginner, but on the undestanding that the information it imparts needs to be supplemented from other sources and that it won't answer any of those nagging questions about how things really work.

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