Review: Unix Shells by Example


The ‘Unix Shells By Example’ is a well-known book in the field of shellscripting. It has about 640 pages with a CD-ROM included. The book is well edited, with good white-spacing and clarity in layout. Having taught the unix shells for over 15 years, the author really knows her stuff, and the text is factual and to the point.The index seems complete and one doesn’t have a difficulty in finding the right info one is looking for. These properties should be normal for books, but computer books seem often an exception.

The chapters deal about the central unix-commands for scripting (Grep, AWK,SED) and the big three shells (korn, bourne and C-shell). The author explains the subject in great detail by showing examplescripts. First you’re given the data or text to be edited, then the script or commandlines and finally a lenghty line-by-line explanation of the scriptsyntax. The subjects of the scripts range from explaining the basic unix-commands to complex intertwining regular expressions, functions, obscure nawk options etc. The author also touches the subject of shell-history, making comparisons of the three shells, giving ‘lab-exercises’ and some unix background about commandtypes,login and inheritance. The apparent subject that is missing in this book is the Bash shell, the preferred shell in the Linux community. However, a seperate book on this subject is available (Linux Shells By Example). As with all books that have an extensive coverage of the subject, this book too can be overwhelming for the absolute beginners in shellscripting. It takes some time before one writes sytax like:
nawk -F: ‘BEGIN{printf(“What vendor to check?”);\
getline ven <“/dev/tty”};$1 ~ ven\
{print”Found” ven “on record no” NR}’ vendor

Instead of searching the pages for the basics, beginners should consider buying an entrylevel book. Conclusion: For the intermediate scripter who visits shellsites like shelldorado and lurks newsgroups in search of advanced programming constructs to steal this book is a great find. You won’t be left with a feeling that you’ll outgrow this book. For newcomers in scripting this should however not be the first book to buy, they’re better of with titles like “learning shellscripting in 24 hours”. But once through these 24 hours, this book can only be warmly recommended.

Review: UNIX PowerTools


The Unix Power Tools has already established a reputation of being a classic. The behemoth has no less that 1073 pages and goes accompanied by a CD with a lot of small shellscripts that are described in the book. The authors show a thorough understanding of the subject and are able to explain the ways of Unix in a casual talkative way. Much work is devoted to the layout and the text edition. For example, the crossreferences are well done, greyed out in readable italics. The publisher seems to understand the importance of easy readable text. Many of us know how a good book can be spoiled by hasty and bad editing, and it’s a relief to see that O’Reilly takes this issue seriously. The text is divided into paragraphs of about 1/4 to 1 page in size. These paragraphs deal with the Unix commands, the shells, the history of unix or the included nifty shellscripts. One might think that the authors view Unix as a collection of structured trivia – a view I personally like. You won’t read this book `cover to cover’ (to use that awful cliche), but you’ll start joyreading for that bit of advice or for that handy tool they’ve written. (For example: the thing that got me up the wall was that filenames can have empty spaces at the end, so it seems you cannot delete them. I should have known that one way earlier :^( ) Sometimes the authors write down some very casual paragraphs: a flame from usenet (Why NOT to use the C-shell for programming), the history of a command ( grep is: g from global, RE is regular expression, and the P stands for print, hence g/RE/P) or other fun to read items. It will not be the book you’ll grab for serious studying or when the system goes down unexpectedly. The problems with big books are usually twofold and this one suffers rather badly from it. First of all it is written for the novice and expert alike – a concept that comes from a marketing and not from educational point of view. The authors repeat the man pages – did you know you can find files by name with the `find’ command? And they go on for every Find option. The novice who didn’t know about the find command will not try anything as fancy like to build a database with the filestructure in it in order to speed up his find command. Equally, experts won’t like the basics explained. The second problem with big books is that lots of the presented material is not relevant to your need or situation. You haven’t got the C-shell? Throw away a couple of pages. Don’t like the chapter ` vi tips & tricks’ , `Saving time at the commandline’ or `creating custom commands in vi’, then you can skip another 100 pages. Conclusion. Although lot’s of information isn’t relevant to your need, unix-implementation, shell or skill-level, this book is easy to read thanks to the good layout and small paragraphs. The authors truly have years of experience and have made many handy shellscripts. For those of you who want to like to master the commandline of Unix and like to skim for the golden hint, this book is a true find. But if you know what you want to learn then dedicated books present a better alternative to this somewhat unfocussed book.

Review: Solaris 2.6 Administrator Certification Training Guide, Part 1


This should be regarded as a single-purpose-book; make you a certified solaris admin. It’s not a good reference-book, not a book ‘great for beginners, usefull for guru’s alike’ nor a ‘explains all theorie, but has great practical value’ and other contradiction idea’s. No, it’s a certification book, training you to do the exam. I like the cd-rom very much, many questions (some are wrong answered ,though) and nice ‘flashcard questions’. Can one certify by reading a book alone? No, with this subject some experience is vital – but even a x86 with a free solaris 7 will do the job. This book will show you the way, but you have to work though the matter yourself, behind the keyboard. If that would not be the case, then the certification wouldn’t be valuable. This book is a good help, although we can’t compare many books on this subject, can we?