Donning Red Hat 9

There is something odd about a book on a Linux distribution. Open source software and Linux are very much children of the internet age and, traditionally, that's where you would go to find up-to-date documentation on both.

Mastering Red Hat Linux 9 by Michael Jang (Sybex, $120)

There is something odd about a book on a Linux distribution. Open source software and Linux are very much children of the internet age and, traditionally, that’s where you would go to find up-to-date documentation on both.

Even without the internet connection, chances are your Linux distribution will come with an extensive collection of Unix-style “man” (manual) and “info” pages that cover the majority of software installed. Furthermore, these are supplemented by many how-tos and other online documents — /usr/share/doc on my Red Hat installation is some 217MB in size.

So do you need a book on top of all that? Maybe not if you have a good amount of experience with Linux, and know where to look for things. If you’re starting out with Linux, it’s not always obvious where to find answers, however. Some of the online help files that you come across can also be cryptic for those not up to speed on the jargon.

Under those circumstances, you could do a lot worse than buying Michael Jang’s Mastering Red Hat Linux 9, which gives you a boost up the learning ladder for one of the popular Linux distributions.

Jang is a certified Linux professional (who apparently has an MCSE as well) and writes with great enthusiasm about Linux. He sees it as the main alternative to Microsoft Windows, a sentiment that’s echoed in many places in the book.

Mastering Red Linux 9 is a hefty tome, weighing in at some 900 pages. It delves into the nooks and crannies of the Linux kernel and userland software, providing a pretty complete reference to both.

Using plenty of black-and-white screenshots and a concise writing style, Jang takes the reader through the installation of Red Hat Linux 9 to configuring the operating system as a server and/or desktop.

Some of the software bundled with RHL 9, like the sendmail mail and BIND DNS server, are complex enough to warrant books on their own. Jang manages to provide a good introduction to the function of these and how to get them up and running in a relatively small space, which is no mean feat.

Reinforcing learning through practice makes perfect, and a two-disk copy of RHL 9 accompanies Mastering Red Hat Linux 9; it will need security updates before connecting to the internet, of course.

A minor criticism of the book is that it doesn’t explore in detail some of the optional features of Linux, such as file system alternatives (for example, ReiserFS, XFS and JFS). That said, these are not installed by default, and only really of interest in specialised applications.

Saarinen is an Auckland IT consultant and IDG contributor

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