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X Power Tools

Chris Tyler
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-10195-4
270 pages
£ 24.99
Published: 11th January 2008
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the March 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

I found this book very interesting while at the same time wondering exactly what the intended market for it is. One section in the book is entitled “The Unused Toolbox” and describes some of the command line tools that come with the standard xorg or XFree86 distributions. In a way that title would make quite a good slogan for the book as a whole: it provides a source of detailed information about X, but at the same time much of that information is rather obscure and specialised.

For instance, I vaguely knew that there was a key combination that enabled “mouse keys”, but I had no idea what it was (it's ). Similarly I knew that you could run multiple X servers at the same time, but I didn't know the magic to make kdm or another display manager always start more than one X server at startup time: I do now (and I like this one as I happen to have a good use for it).

There's some good information about detailed configuration, but I suspect (based on prior experience rather than testing the detailed information here) that some of the suggestions here will not always play well with automatically generated configuration files from particular Linux distributions.

The book contains some very good historical information about the development of X, and contrasts what the author calls “Old X” with the “New X” that has come about as a result of the explosion of new work in the Linux world since around the turn of the century.

There is useful information about VNC, including a “how to” on embedding an X application in a web page using VNC's java capabilities. There is also some good information about setting up a “kiosk” environment, but probably not enough to really get you to where you want to be if you really need to do this.

The omission of any discussion of FreeNX is a perhaps a pity, although it could be regarded as technically beyond the book's scope.

In general this is a technically well written book, which collects together a lot of good and useful information in one place (some of which is hard to find elsewhere), but perhaps does not quite reach the level required for the specialist readers who really need to buy a book about X.

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