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Linux Books Media Software Book Reviews

Review: The Linux Cookbook 126

Craig Maloney writes with this review of The Linux Cookbook, a hope-inspiring entrant in the still too-small category of generalized, readable references for non-programmers, as well as the even-smaller category of books with a complete free version online. Craig's found some flaws as well as bright spots, but it still sounds like a good book to check out for users who aren't sure which FM to R, no matter what their level of experience.
The LinuxCookbook
author Michael Stutz
pages 300
publisher No Starch Press
rating 7
reviewer Craig Maloney
ISBN 1-886411-48-4
summary Hundreds of answers (with a focus on the command-line) to commonand not-so common questions.

Allez Cuisine!

The Linux Cookbook is a collection of "recipes" for doing various tasks with your Linux machine. Where the Cookbook shines, though is the sheer number and variety of these recipes. There are plenty of varied tasks covered in the book, from the simple 'How do I copy a file?' to the more complex 'How do I archive a web site?', Six chapters deal with the various aspects of text: analyzing, searching and replacing, grammar checking, and formatting. There are even chapters dealing with the less-explored topics of customizing X, setting up reminders, and editing sound files.

Recipe Format:

The recipe format is both the book's strongest feature and its weakest point. The recipes make for a well-organized and logical structure to find information. Each point and sub-point is clearly marked, and makes for a very quick and enjoyable read. Unfortunately, topics that could benefit from a different approach are just not covered thoroughly. In the section for listing files, ls is well covered, while Midnight Commander is briefly introduced. This wouldn't bother me as much, except Midnight Commander and Mozilla URLs are given at the beginning of the section. This presentation could also lead people to think the material presented is the only way, or the best way to do these commands. There is only one method mentioned for shutting down a Linux machine; the venerable CTRL-ALT-DEL. No mention is made in the book of the shutdown command. Granted, CTRL-ALT-DEL will get the job done, but I'm not sure I would have presented it as the best, or only way to shut down a Linux machine. [T - Especially when on many distros, CTRL-ALT-DELETE is configured to restart rather than shut down the machine; this behavior, though, is configurable through /etc/inittab.]

Season to taste:

As I've mentioned in the previous section, some of the commands the author chose as his answers are quite curious to me. In the section to find hostnames from IP addresses, the author has chosen to use the command "dig" rather than the command I generally use "nslookup". Granted, "dig" gives other useful information aside from the IP and hostname, but the author doesn't seem to care about the additional information when presenting the output of the command.

This book also concentrates on using GNU and Open Source software for it's solutions. There is no mention of software that is not strictly Open Source. The only package information is for the Debian distribution by providing the apt name for retrieving the package. No other distribution is mentioned as having packages available. The author's reasoning is that Debian is the only "entirely committed to free software by design" distribution. URL's are provided only for packages that are not distributed by default with Debian, which might prove to be a nuisance for people using other distributions. I found myself trying some recipes, only to find my distribution didn't include that command by default.

Linux is a command-line operating system by default, and this book tries to work within those defaults by providing command-line methods rather than GUI methods. This gets around some of the various intricacies of the various distributions, but might prove confusing for the person who boots up the first time and can't find virtual console one because GDM is running. When appropriate, the book will defer to a GUI tool rather than a command-line tool. The GIMP is briefly discussed for several of the recipes, and GUI programs make up less than 10% of the answers to the recipe questions.

So, what's in it for me?:

It's tough for me to fully recommend this book to everyone. For the beginner, I recommend caution when starting off with this book. They may want to make this book their second book along with an installation and getting started tutorial. Beginners will find this book invaluable once they have a firm grasp on their distribution before being able to fully handle this book. For the seasoned Linux user, I recommend reading this book while putting your suppositions aside. There is plenty of good information to be had in these pages, and the author has tried painstakingly to make the answers in it as relevant to every Linux user as he can. The Linux Cookbook is a useful collection for those who don't mind getting comfortable with their shell prompt and a search engine.

There is also an electronic version of this book available at which is a living version of the printed book; for the sake of this review, only the printed book was reviewed.

You can purchase The Linux Cookbook from Fatbrain.

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Review: The Linux Cookbook

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  • by bfree ( 113420 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:16PM (#2798906)
    Do you know why they added the message to nslookup? The message they added explains that you can disable the message (and hell this is Debian, so unless you put the non-free stuff into your sources.list you can be sure that you can get the source ot any apps to do what you want). I presume there is a real reason why Debian made this choice. To compare this however to MS is insane, MS would simply have stripped nslookup so you could not use it (unless you installed it from elsewhere) and told everyone how great the replacement is. Debian tell you that they think you should change, but it's up to you. To your more serious comments, I like nslookup too, but I can see ways to improve it (type "next" or something to get it to select one of the eligable next nameserves along the chain to the result you require). If 90% of the planet decides they want to hack on dig, that means dig is probably the way to go, but as they are both GPL you can pick up nslookup and maintain/fork it one it is not "so hard to maintain".
  • Re:oh please (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dunstan ( 97493 ) <dvavasour@ i e e . org> on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:22PM (#2798929) Homepage
    Er, someone who wants to be able to look through a book rather than stare into a screen, to scribble in the margin, to read in the bath/loo. Or lend it to a friends, or leave it lying on the coffee table, or read it on the train.

    A lot of people will buy a boxed GNU/Linux distribution the first time, and then either download or use Cheapbytes from there on, but that's for something which needs to go on the computer anyway. A book, however, can be read away from the computer.

  • Re:oh please (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:52PM (#2799070) Homepage Journal
    Absolutely. Bruce Eckel [] is writing "Thinking In Patterns for Java" that is on his webpage, but the day it comes out in print, I'm buying a copy. Its just easier to read in book form, and easier to pick up for reference. Plus I want to put more money in his pocket, cause he writes the best coding books I've ever seen, and deserves the cash...
  • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:55PM (#2799087)
    Nslookup isn't exactly user-friendly either!
  • by Tet ( 2721 ) <slashdot@a s t r a> on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:58PM (#2799115) Homepage Journal
    Nslookup isn't exactly user-friendly either!

    Everything is relative. Compare the output of "nslookup" and "dig"...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2002 @02:44PM (#2799379)
    Nice. I'm convinced. I don't know what "average users" are and don't really care to know (ignorance being bliss and all ;). But having way too much info that's easily piped through other commands like this (nslookup vs. dig is way cool, IMHO. Go geek code!

    BTW, nslookup appears to have been dep'd for awhile (among various distros). And we can still flame M$ in good conscience because if you don't like alias'ing -sil then you can rewrite the bloody program yourself!


    -Mr. Davies

  • ease of use (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jmkaza ( 173878 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:11PM (#2799542)
    This cookbook demonstrates linux's most fundamental flaw. Seeing on slashdot that this book was both a great reference for users of any experience level and also freely downloadable, I proceeded to to get a copy. After downloading, I was able to unzip and untar it, but now have a folder full of 167 files I have no idea what to do with. I presume there's something that needs to be compiled or some install package of sorts, but why all the extra effort. Why can't the linux community pick up on the fact that 'Click here to download Cookbook.pdf or Cookbook.sxg' is what's needed to create a user base capable of putting a dent in Microsoft's market share.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"