UNIX Review 94 Bookshelf

This is not quite what was ultimately published by UNIX Review. This was the draft I sent them, with some later revisions and cleanup. It also contains the original, uncut rating system, which wasn't deemed palatable (sic) to most readers' tastes (sic II).

Furthermore, one or more of these may not have made it into the final article; I don't have a hard copy close at hand...

You will see a few FOOs scattered around - these represented information (price, etc) I didn't have handy when I wrote this draft. The information was correct in the published version, and when I get a chance, I'll correct it here.

Finally, I have included the original bio information, since it was correct at the time the article was published but it is now out of date. -Miles

I have rated the books from 1 to 5:
  1. I wouldn't take it for free [ raw slugs in a bag of whole wheat ]
  2. use only in desperation [ cooked slugs on stale bread ]
  3. OK (not that good, not that bad) [ McDonalds ]
  4. very good book [ Fuddruckers ]
  5. excellence on paper [ perfect home-grilled burgers ]

(Sorry, but I don't have a comparable vegetarian scale yet. 8^)

1994 saw a variety of software books hit the market. Probably more UNIX-related books appeared this year than any single year previously. Happily, many of them are quite good! There were far too many to review them all; these are simply some of the books that sounded promising.
Title:          Best UNIX Tips Ever (System V and variants)
Author:         Kenneth H. Rosen, Richard R. Rosinski, Douglas A. Host
Publisher:      Osborne (McGraw Hill)
Tips:           1014 (no page numbers!)
Price:          US $29.95
ISBN:           0-07-881924-5
Level:          Everyone (claimed)
Rating:         3
Yet another collection of tips for those wishing to become Masters of UNIX. The organization of the various chapters is rather haphazard; uucp, for example, is stuck in the mist of TCP/IP-based commands when it should have been before or after those.

I think this one is overly ambitious. They try to cover a little of *everything* - from troff to the World Wide Web, and consequently coverage is shallow on most topics. While there are a few nuggets, I don't consider this quite the gold mine its cover proclaims it to be.

Title:          Voodoo UNIX
Author:         Charlie Russel & Sharon Crawford
Publisher:      Ventana
Pages:          350
Price:          US $27.95
ISBN:           1-56604-067-1
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         4
The magic schtick gets old pretty quickly, but otherwise this is a good effort. Clearly targeted towards beginners, but this longtime vi user found the answer to a long-standing vi question.

Russel and Crawford promise to cover UNIX generally, without letting versions get in the way, and they usually succeed. (There's just no generic print commands for BSD and System V!) There are a few problems (the .rhosts file description is complete, for instance), so if something doesn't work, check your man pages.

This book isn't as good as Power Tools (Sebastopol, CA; O'Reilly & Associates, 1992), but it's better than Best UNIX Tips Ever (reviewed above). If you can't afford the former, this one is OK, but I still prefer Power Tools.

Title:          Connecting to the Internet
Author:         Susan Estrada
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          188
Price:          US $15.95
ISBN:           1-56592-061-9
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         4.5
This book is an excellent overview of how to manage the process of getting attached to the Internet. It's not a technical book; rather it introduces you the net and its benefits, and walks you through the steps of choosing a provider, choosing connectivity, and preparing to connect. Other O'Reilly books may handle the technical side, depending upon your connectivity choices.

This is a good book for everyone from a manager charged with "getting us on the Information Highway" to your Aunt Meryl (assuming she isn't afraid of technology).

The only drawback is that the list of providers will always be out of date in the near future, regardless of update frequency, due to the growth rate of the Internet.

Title:          DOS<->UNIX Networking and Internetworking
Author:         Michael J. Burgard and Kenneth D. Phillips
Publisher:      Wiley
Pages:          526
Price:          US $24.95
ISBN:           0-471-59516-0
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         4.5
These guys thought they could cover all the issues involved in DOS/UNIX networking in 500 pages. What an absurd idea. Somehow, they managed.

This is a practical book. Its mission is to help you get your DOS and UNIX systems communicating with the least hassle, and it succeeds quite well. Coverage is more from the DOS standpoint than the UNIX standpoint, but that makes sense, given the natures of the typical DOS and UNIX users and administrators.

While there are a few spotty areas and a few typos, this is a very comprehensive volume. From printers to file transfers to NFS to filenames, it's all here. The product guides and comparisons are worth the price of the book. The only real hole from my perspective is that they barely mention PPP or SLIP.

I found it amusing that the authors seemed to prefer ed to vi as their UNIX editor, but at least they hardly mentioned emacs.

Title:          Handbook of Usability Testing
                How to Plan, Design and Conduct Effective Tests
Author:         Jeffrey Rubin
Publisher:      Wiley
Pages:          330
Price:          US $34.95
ISBN:           0-471-59403-2
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         5
Everyone in the product business needs this book. While most obvious, perhaps, in the VCR business, many user interface designers need it as well.

Beginning with an overview of testing for usability, the author then goes on to take you step by step through the whole process, answering all the basic questions (What, When, Where, Which, Who, Why and How). He wraps up with strategies and tactics. He includes lots of examples, sample forms, and a plethora of practical tips.

I especially appreciated the material on how to deal with the test participants - I've certainly come up short here before.

Title:          Software Portability with Imake
Author:         Paul DuBois
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          390
Price:          $27.95
ISBN:           1-56592-055-4
Level:          all
Rating:         5
I don't recall encountering a more readable book on any technical subject. Paul manages to explain beautifully what this often misunderstood configuration/portability tool does and is capable of doing, and why it is beneficial regardless of whether you deal with X. Using his book configuration files, I converted production of a book I'm writing from make to imake in under an hour, resulting in much easier maintenance. This may be the perfect technical book. It's certainly the definitive book on imake.
Title:          Learning the Korn Shell
Author:         Bill Rosenblatt
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          363
Price:          $27.95
ISBN:           1-56592-054-6
Level:          Beginner/Intermediate
Rating:         4.5
Many "learning" books are either too simplistic, or simply don't work as teaching aids. O'Reilly, however, comes through again with a book that is both truly helpful to someone new to the subject, and thorough enough to keep for reference. My copy keeps wandering off.

This is not a reference manual. The index could use a few more entries; for instance, 'meta-characters' and 'special characters' both appear, and both seem to be related, but it's not clear what the relationship is.

A quick reference card would be handy, too.

Title:          Learning the UNIX Operating System (3rd edition)
Author:         Todino/Strang/Peek
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          108
Price:          $9.95
ISBN:           1-56592-060-0
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         5
Targeted at a different niche than "Unix for Dummies", this book is short enough to be totally unintimidating while still covering the basics thoroughly. This is the perfect introduction to the UNIX operating system for someone suddenly saddled with adding UNIX to their everyday tasks - such as a Mac user gaining Internet access, or a manager or co-worker with little or no computer experience.

My copy gets borrowed a lot, and this is what my wife and children will be using soon.

Title:          The Magic Garden Explained
                The Internals of
                UNIX System V Release 4
                An Open Systems Design
Author:         Berny Goodheart & James Cox
Publisher:      Prentice Hall
Pages:          664
Price:          FOO
ISBN:           0-13-098138-9
Level:          Any
Rating:         5
What kind of title is this? Have the authors lost their minds? Yes, and they freely admit it in the earliest pages. However, this has not impaired their ability to produce an exquisite book on the internals of UNIX SVR4.

Beginning with a history of UNIX, they proceed to an overview of how the system works, gradually drawing you in deeper and deeper like a well-crafted mystery, until you think, "Aha! So that is how it is done." Whether you need to write a device driver tomorrow, wonder just what the heck this STREAMS stuff is, need to choose between RFS and NFS for a job, or just want to know how an atomic open call works, this is the book for you.

I expect to have to chain this book down at work.

Title:          Mosaic User's Guide
Author:         Bryan Pfaffenberger
Publisher:      MIS: Press
Pages:          288
Price:          US $24.95 / Can. $32.95
ISBN:           1-55828-409-5
Level:          Beginner/Intermediate
Rating:         3.5
This book is a decent introduction to Mosaic and the World Wide Web, but it's somewhat lacking on the UNIX/X side. As an introduction to Mosaic it's pretty complete, especially for the Windows and Mac user. It comes with a diskette with a list of "hot URLs", a Web game, and a sampler of Chameleon software for Windows.

From the UNIX/X perspective, the author does a few strange things, such as explaining how you don't have to use FTP once you have Mosaic, then making you use FTP to get the helper apps after you have Mosaic. There are a few major omissions such as the fact that Mosaic doesn't handle the mailto: HTML keyword, which is why many comment/feedback URLs on the Web don't work with Mosaic. He ignores some important helper apps such as xanim. Finally, tips on working around some of the problems he mentions (such as helper apps not saving files) would add a lot.

The Windows coverage was a bit better.

The biggest problem any books on Mosaic or other Web-related topics will have is staying current. At the rate the Web is evolving, the most useful book would be one available interactively over the web.

As a beginner book, it's OK, but it doesn't do much for an intermediate user. I found the game boring, and the list of URLs about average.

Title:          The Mosaic Handbooks for the Macintosh
Title:          The Mosaic Handbooks for Windows
Title:          The Mosaic Handbooks for the X Window System
Author:         Dale Dougherty & David Koman
                (with Paula Ferguson on X)
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          180 (Macintosh) 220 (Windows) 280 (X)
Price:          US $29.95 (includes CD-ROM or diskette[s])
ISBN:           1-56592-096-1 (Macintosh)
                1-56592-096-2 (Windows)
                1-56592-096-3 (X)
Level:          Everyone
Rating:         4.5
I think O'Reilly took the correct approach in creating different Mosaic books for different platforms. While the user interface is similar between platforms, there are substantial differences in both functionality and usage.

These are *very* good books. They cover most of what you will need to know, and include useful material for everyone from corporate executives to receptionists to engineers well off the geekmeter.

There are a couple of omissions (such as the fact that Mosaic doesn't handle mailto: URLs) and some mention of more complex HTML such as forms. I'm not as enamored with HoTMetaL (a web page editor) as the authors, but these books are the best on the topic so far.

Hopefully they will add a package price for those who need all 3 versions. Meanwhile, these are bestsellers at Austin technical bookstores.

Title:          Practical Applications of Object-Oriented
                Techniques to Relational Databases
Author:         Donald Keith Burleson
Publisher:      Wiley-QED
Pages:          250
Price:          US $49.95
ISBN:           0-471-61225-1
Level:          All
Rating:         4.5
I am not a database guru, nor do I play one on the net. I have yet to dive deeply into the OO world because none of the available products seem to really satisfy the promise of OO. Consequently I approached this book as I might a plate of liver in beet sauce - fighting my gag reflex.

Burleson, however, has written a thoroughly practical introduction to the marriage of these two technologies. He covers the promises and pitfalls of both, complete with an evolutionary overview. He then moves on to address the basics of how the two can best be integrated, and why they will (and should) also continue as separate, useful technologies for some applications.

My only regret is that he didn't go just a bit deeper; however, to go much deeper is best left for another volume. Hopefully that volume is forthcoming soon.

[I forgot to get the FOO info for several books. If you don't have it handy somewhere, let me know and I will go get it. -Miles]
Title:          Programming Under Mach
Author:         Boykin, Kirschen, Langerman, LoVerso
Publisher:      Addison-Wesley
Pages:          FOO
Price:          FOO
ISBN:           FOO
Level:          FOO
Rating:         4.5
Programmers working with OSF/1, NEXTSTEP, and other Mach-based systems will find this an excellent introduction to programming under Mach. Using a fast paced textbook format, the authors jump right into threads and forge through what appears to be all the major (and many minor) portions of Mach, with plenty of example code.
Title:          sendmail
Author:         Costales/Allman/Rickert
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          830
Price:          $32.95
ISBN:           1-56592-056-2
Level:          Intermediate/Expert
Rating:         5
"The nightmare is over," proclaims the O'Reilly advertisement, as well it might. One of the longest awaited and most needed books in all of UNIXdom, _sendmail_ lives up to its expectations. Coverage is thorough. The book would be worth its list price for the coverage of sendmail's hitherto undocumented diagnostic levels and messages alone - the excellent macro explanations and sample configuration files are almost merely bonuses - albeit golden ones.

And it comes at a great price/page ratio.

Title:          Building a Successful Software Business
Author:         Dave Radin
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          394
Price:          US $19.95
ISBN:           1-56592-064-1
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         4.5
Once again, ORA wanders off the beaten path and returns with a treasure. Dave Radin concentrates on the areas least understood (and cared about) by most software professionals, but most important to business success: S&M (Sales & Marketing) and finances.

Having run a not very satisfying consulting and contracting business in the past, I can attest that this book is as useful to people involved in that area of software as to those wishing to develop and sell software.

This book is extremely readable. It gets a bit redundant in places, but I'm sure some of us need to be reminded of some key issues. About all that's missing is a list of good references on legal and accounting issues. While Radin refers us to lawyers and accountants (most excellent advice, take it from me!) there are still a number of areas you can read up on to accelerate your learning curve. This is the best book of its type I have seen.

Title:          Unix For Dummies
Author:         Jon R. Levine & Margaret Levine Young
Publisher:      IDG Books
Pages:          370
Price:          $19.95
ISBN:           1-878058-58-4
Level:          Beginner
Rating:         5
This is a fairly thorough introduction to UNIX. It is not, like many others, merely "UNIX for DOS Weenies" or a disguised "Introduction to Hardware 101." By the time you finish this book, you should be able to do pretty much everything you can do in any other OS at the command line level, and more besides.

Coverage is good. Both the writing style and cartoons are entertaining. The authors make it clear when they are editorializing (something many computer authors need to learn). And, instead of droning on and on and *on* about the cat command as do the authors of many introductory unix books, they simply explain it and get on with something else.

Title:          UNIX Developer's Tool Kit
Author:         Kevin Leininger
Publisher:      McGraw Hill (J. Ranade Workstation Series)
Pages:          569
Price:          US $65 (hardcover) US $49.95 (paperback)
ISBN:           0-07-911836-4 (hardcover) 0-07-911690-6 (paperback)
Level:          Beginner/Intermediate
Rating:         1
At first, I thought, "Oh, great. Yet Another Tools Book." Then as I skimmed it, I got excited. This looked like an excellent overview of tools for unix developers, beginning with the bundled tools, and going through the range of what's freely available over the net.

It's a great idea. But the execution fails rather badly. For starters, there are too many typos. But worse, there is an abominable number of errors, both of omission and commission, within the various tool descriptions. The introductory discussion about X11 (R4 vs R5, OpenLook vs Motif) is out of date. Examples are wrong. Some explanations are unclear. Comments come out of nowhere, leaving one to wonder what one missed. Inconsistencies abound, nay, flourish (and perhaps multiply in the dark when one isn't looking).

This should have been a great book, but I would be afraid to trust it on anything.

Title:          UNIX Systems for Modern Architectures
                Symmetric Multiprocessing and
                Caching for Kernel Programmers
Author:         Curt Schimmel
Publisher:      Addison Wesley
Pages:          400
Price:          US $47.50
ISBN:           0-201-63338-8
Level:          Advanced
Rating:         4.5
This book for the systems programmer covers pretty much everything you wanted to know about caches, multiprocessor systems, and cached MP systems, especially as related to UNIX.

It begins with a brief overview of how unix processes work, but rapidly proceeds to a very deep level. It's a bit dry, but it is, after all, a textbook covering complex material. Lots of diagrams and code fragments are included to make that material as easy to digest as possible.

Answers to many of the exercises are included. Each chapter has an extensive selection of further reading suggestions. Examples are related to current chip architectures.

Title:          Unix User's Handbook
Author:         Tim Parker
Publisher:      Microtrend
Pages:          FOO
Price:          $29.95
ISBN:           FOO
Level:          All
Rating:         2
This is basically a comparison of some commands from various versions of UNIX (aside from SVR3.2 and SVR4, not even the most popular ones). It consists of sometimes enhanced, usually stripped-down man pages. The coverage is fair at best. More attention should have been paid to BSD, SunOS, and Solaris, and less to OSF/1 and X/Open.
Title:          The X Window System in a Nutshell (2nd Edition)
Author:         Cutler/Gilly/O'Reilly
Publisher:      O'Reilly & Associates
Pages:          424
Price:          $9.95 !!!
ISBN:           1-56592-017-1
Level:          All
Rating:         5
O'Reilly continuously refines and updates their books based on reader feedback, in-house reaction, and the changing software environment. This newest edition corrects nearly all the defects of previous versions, adding new coverage and better organization. This is an invaluable reference for both experienced and novice X programmers and users.

The newest feature, however, is the price. At under ten dollars, you can have one at home and at work.

I also recommend that you check out O'Reilly's _X Window System Administrator's Guide (X Window System series Volume 8). Since I reviewed this book in its draft stages, we felt a review would not be proper; however if you need such a book, consider this one.
Miles O'Neal is a senior software engineer at Pencom Software (Austin, TX). He specializes in X, user interfaces, and the World Wide Web. You can reach him via email at meo@rru.com .
Last updated: 16 May 1997

Copyright 1994, 1997 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

Miles O'Neal <roadkills.r.us@XYZZY.gmail.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514