Think Unix

Jon Lasser

Que 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
In a world full of volumes like Linux: The Complete Reference, Debian GNU/Linux 2.1 Unleashed, Corel Linux for Dummies and so forth, Lasser's Think Unix is a breath of fresh air. Rather than trying to be a detailed guide to a particular system, a comprehensive reference work, or a source of answers to particular problems, Lasser tries to teach the fundamental concepts of Unix and the Unix way of thinking. He also captures something of the way in which Unix is a way of life and a culture, not just an operating system, with a good leavening of humour, history, and hackish lore. One consequence of this approach is that Think Unix will date far less quickly than most operating system books. I recommend it to computer science students, techies coming from non-Unix backgrounds, or anyone more interested in understanding the underlying philosophy of Unix than solving particular problems.

Lasser starts with a chapter on documentation, explaining how to use "man" to read manual entries and touching on other forms of documentation. He then introduces the building blocks of Unix — files and processes and redirection and pipes. A brief look at TCP/IP networking, showing how to interact directly with some common network services using telnet, is followed by an introduction to vi and sed and basic regular expressions. Four chapters then deal with shell scripting in more detail, touching on differences between shells, variables and quoting, control structures, and aliases, functions, and scripts. A quick look at X explains its general design, something of the variety of window managers and desktops available, and basic configuration of startup, resources, and fonts.

Obviously a lot is left out of this (there is nothing about system administration, for example), but it provides solid foundations for further learning. And a number of topics sneak in "in passing": a mention of ssh (and associated legal issues) and a little bit about termcap and terminfo, among other things. Some practice problems are included, simple exercises to test understanding and help learning; answers to these are provided in the appendices, along with a short glossary (which includes pointers to other resources).

Think Unix has an unfortunate number of typos, including a few in code examples. And there are a few things I might have done differently — I'd have ditched most of the grainy greyscale half-page screenshots of different window managers and desktop environments, for example. Overall, however, it's a great book and the biggest problem it poses me is working out which of my "cluefull but not Unix-literate" friends to pass my review copy on to.

September 2000

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%T Think Unix
%A Lasser, Jon
%I Que
%D 2000
%O paperback, exercises, index
%G ISBN 078972376X
%P viii,290pp