Book Review – Unix Power Tools, 3rd Edition

Unix Power Tools, 3rd Edition
Shelley Powers, Jerry Peek, Tim O’Reilly and Mike Loukides
O’Reilly & Associates, Inc.

ISBN 1-596-00330-7
US $69.95 CA $108.95
1,036 pages not including index

Unix Power Tools, an apt title not meant to be redundant (Unix is THE power-user’s operating system, after all) has been the ShopSmith manual or the Unix Almanac since it first appeared in the early 1990s. The second edition appeared in 1999, and with the amazing, if not predicted, growth of Unix and expansion into many flavors; it’s fitting that a 3rd edition should appear now. Over half of the articles have been revised since that last edition to include information pertaining to many of the smaller but ground-gaining Unix’s such as Linux, freeBSD, and Mac OS X’s Darwin.

This is a huge book; thus the need for four authors! For a network administrator who understands Unix, and who is contemplating the merging of Mac OS X Server and Client systems into their network, this book should pay for itself in dividends. I was impressed with how thoroughly this book covers the multitude of topics contained within. Everything from mastering the various editors to learning to write shell scripts to detailed instructions for maintaining and backing up a network is included.

I found the book organized logically according to various services. The O’Reilly web site has a complete list of the contents, the index, and user reviews. O’Reilly also has an online fee-based service called MySafari (cool name) which allows subscribers the ability to build virtual bookshelves of O’Reilly books to have at their beck and call whenever they are online. It’s free to explore and there’s a 14-day demo period as well. You may see a lot for detail of this book by visiting their site.

With more than 50 chapters detailing nearly every nook and cranny of the most common Unix distributions, there’s something here for every Unix power user. The updated and expanded sections on security and Windows access are welcome indeed. Every topic is explained with examples and illustrated richly with screen captures. Common problems, mistakes, and real-world examples are distributed liberally throughout the book. If any one book could help a Unix administrator, developer, or power user come to Ôgrep’ with the full capabilities of Unix, it would be this book.

Just a few high lights for me included the extensive section on the vi editor, detailing many functions I had no idea existed, such as running scripts within vi as shortcuts for oft-repeated commands. The section on eMacs got me excited about exploring that powerful editor to the extent that I downloaded one of the more extensive distributions for Mac OS X so I could try it out. For a Unix text editor, it is really a good one; however, coming from the Mac background I appreciate BBEdit more and more. Still, every Unix power user will find that some basic knowledge of vi or eMacs will come in very handy when they find themselves with console access and no local text editor other than these.

The closing chapters covering many security issues have captured my attention at this time, as I contemplate moving a few of my domains from a remote dedicated server to one directly under my control running Mac OS X. I think I understand a little better what my host providers have been doing for me all these years!

Make space near your workstation now for this book. If you are a mobile laptop user, like myself, consider becoming a user of MySafari services at O’Reilly, which would allow you to have a book like this available online when it is not convenient to carry the extra weight with you. Bottom line: no serious Unix user and no serious newcomer intending to become proficient in Unix should be without this book!

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

Jeffrey McPheeters

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