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Linux Annoyances for Geeks

Michael Jang
Published by O'Reilly Media
502 pages
£ 24.99
Published: 21 April 2006
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the September 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

This book has some good content which will be useful to quite a few people. But I find it slightly odd, as it doesn't really have a unifying concept.

The title indicates that it is a part of O'Reilly's ``Annoyances'' series. I'd never really looked at any of these before, because they seemed to concern things that I would only find annoying if I ever actually used them (``Windows XP Annoyances'', ``Excel Annoyances'' and the like).

The idea is supposed to be that there are a number of aspects of the system under consideration which people generally find particularly annoying. These are examined and workarounds or solutions are given.

In the case of this book, it isn't quite like that. Each item is (annoyingly!) called an ``Annoyance'', but most of them are not aspects of using a Linux system that are particularly annoying: it's really just a series of howtos grouped roughly into types. I suppose if you don't know how to do a particular thing on your system, that in itself is annoying, but only in the sense that it's annoying to be ignorant of anything and to need a book to learn from.

If the book's title had included the word ``recipes'' or ``hacks'', it would have been much the same, without the annoying terminology.

All that being said, there is some good material here, though quite a lot of it is rather humdrum and some of it is out of date. For instance the section on locking down the Gnome desktop does not mention Sabayon. I like the fact that the book tries to be distribution-neutral, but unfortunately the way it does this is to repeat already compressed information three or four times, for Fedora, SUSE and Debian, for instance.

There are quite good sections on disk and booting problems. Other sections (including the one on the real annoyance of Winmodems) are far too short to actually help anyone solve their problem. The same goes for the Kickstart and AutoYaST sections: just about enough to tell you that these things exist, but not enough to really learn to use them.

There is also some advice that is frankly eccentric to say the least. In this category I would probably include the recommendation of djbdns, and certainly the bizarre advice to readers to apply White Box updates to a RHEL system.

One or two sections address things that are genuinely annoying for beginners (particularly for instance ``My CD/DVD is locked''). But the author succumbs to the temptation to include long lists of options (for instance of all the possible configuration options for SUSE's default cron setup) or file contents (parts of an xorg.conf file that will almost certainly be useless in practice to readers).

Overall, I think the usefulness of the book is fairly limited. If the author had set out with a clearer idea of his audience and what he was trying to achieve, it might have worked much better.

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