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Keywords: Red Hat Linux/Fedora Core, Linux system admin
Title: Practical Guide to Red Hat Linux: Fedora Core and Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Author: Mark G. Sobell
Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR
Verdict: A good single-volume introduction and reference for Red Hat Linux/Fedora Core
This is one of those mammoth books that's sure to build up your biceps if nothing else - either that or it'll induce a hernia. Fortunately there's a lot more to commend here than sheer bulk. Mark Sobell's 'Practical Guide To Red Hat Linux' is exactly what it says it is: a very practical and comprehensive guide to Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the Fedora Core.
The book assumes no prior exposure to Linux or Unix, though it's also clearly not designed for somebody who has no experience of installing and configuring an operating system. The focus is on arming the reader with the skills, knowledge and background to get the most out of Linux as a complete solution rather than as a simple slot-in replacement for Windows (it's not in the same space as Marcel Gagne's books for example).
After an opening chapter that introduces the Linux and open source landscape, the book launches into a two chapter section on installation. The first of these is on planning the install, including a section on downloading and burning CDs. Note that a full set of four Fedora Core CDs is included, not just the publishers edition which most books seem to include. The second installation chapter is a walk-through of a complete installation.
Post-installation the book has four chapters of getting started material, with chapters on logging in, Linux utilities, the file system and an introduction to the shell. Most of this stuff is generic and not especially specify to Red Hat/Fedora, or even to Linux come to that. The material is well covered and the explanations are clear and well-explained without being overly pedantic or hard to follow. The design of the book helps, and it's easy to use the book as a reference as well as to read it sequentially.
The next section of the book goes into more detail, particularly with respect to X, KDE and GNOME. What's especially useful is that Sobell covers both GNOME desktop, the default for Red Hat, and the alternative of KDE, showing both how to use each of them and also how to switch between them. Another chapter on the shell focuses this time on bash (the Bourne Again Shell), before finishing this section with a high-level introduction to networking.
System admin tasks take up the next section of the book, which is by now moving into ever more detailed and technical activities. Material covered in this part of the book includes details on how to install software using RPM, printing with CUPS, configuring user and group accounts, creating rescue disks, rebuilding the kernel and so on. All essential tasks that form core admin tasks and which are handled clearly in the text.
Using Linux as a server gets more focus in the fifth section of the book. This includes chapters on FTP, Web serving (using Apache), mail using sendmail, NFS, using Samba for Windows file serving, DNS/bind, setting up firewalls using iptables and more. It's networking in the widest sense, and covers all of the typical services that you'd want to provide on a LAN.
The final section of the book, before you hit the numerous appendices, provides an introduction to Linux programming. One chapter looks at programming in C, with coverage of CVS for version control as well as coverage of gcc and gdb. The next second chapter covers programming the Bourne shell.
Appendices include a good introduction to regular expressions, security, and coverage of the 2.6 kernel.
As should be clear from this description the book gets to 1200 pages because of the depth and breadth of the coverage. It's not just the scope, however, it's the clear exposition that makes this an easy book to recommend. There are plenty of block-buster volumes on Linux weighing down the shelves of any book store, but a good few of them are just hard-copies of Linux documentation, not so this one. If you want a good introduction to Red Hat/Fedora that is also going to provide long-term reference material then this is definitely one to consider. Whether you can carry it home from the store is another question (unless you're the vicious type who'll place a web order so that some poor mail carrier suffers the strain …).