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Teach Yourself Linux Robert Billing
Published by Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN:0-340-81204-4
226 pages
£ 8.99
Published: 30th January 2004
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the March 2004 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

I remember the ``Teach Yourself'' series from long ago -- books with yellow covers which tended to be simply introductory textbooks which were sometimes a little disappointing in their scope, but cheap to buy and reasonable cheerful.

The current list has certainly changed since the days when I had a few of these on my shelves, but the aim of the series seems to be the same as ever -- to provide cheap introductory books on popular subjects.

The fact that the series now includes ``Teach Yourself Linux" is therefore an interesting sign of the times -- it's yet another sign that Linux has ``arrived'' and has established itself in the consciousness of the wider public.

There are some introductory Linux books for beginners which don't really tell the reader anything at all -- I've seen books which are mostly filled with screenshots of KDE showing you how to launch a program from the KDE menus and how to create a spreadsheet with OpenOffice.org. This is definitely not such a book: it packs a very large amount into its 226 pages and might well be a little intimidating to a reader whose only exposure to computers had been through using Windows.

The book is well written and has been carefully proof-read: because of its size, depth has had to be sacrificed to breadth, but I was impressed with the way in which quite difficult ideas are at least introduced: the reader can then go off and find out more elsewhere.

The book recommends and discusses RedHat, SUSE, Debian, Gentoo and Knoppix: most of the discussion is distribution-neutral, and the specific setup tools peculiar to particular distributions are not discussed in any detail. In the few cases where it makes a difference, there is a leaning towards RedHat.

The emphasis throughout is on understanding as well as doing: after a chapter of background information and a general overview of the installation process, there is an introduction to using the bash shell (which comes before any discussion of GUIs).

There is a good chapter on basic networking, which goes on to give enough information to get a new user started with NFS, samba and mounting shares from Windows machines. There is even a brief introduction to firewalling using iptables with a sample iptables script.

As well as a very brief survey of the programming and scripting languages available on Linux (the author seems to have a particular liking for TCL/Tk), there is a section on ``Advanced topics'' which covers building custom kernels, as well as an ``Inside Linux'' section which explains the init scripts and discusses kernel modules and hardware drivers.

I would recommend this book to an intelligent new user of Linux with an interest in understanding the system -- it would make a good supplement to the two books I usually recommend in such cases: ``Running Linux'' and ``Linux in a Nutshell'' from O'Reilly.

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