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 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.
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 http://dsl.org/cookbook 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.