Review: Unix CD Bookshelf 3.0 (CD-ROM)
In a recent issue of ATPM I reviewed O’Reilly’s excellent book Unix Power Tools, by Powers, Peak, O’Reilly, Loukides, and others. I said the following about this heavy tome:
It is more like a Unix encyclopedia; the ultimate bathroom book about Unix. With its many hundreds of tips, this is the book to get once you are comfortable with the basics. You’ll learn about shell shortcuts, using grep and find, editing files, working with processes, shell scripting and managing your system. While not everything is applicable to Mac OS X, the vast majority of what this book contains applies to it.
That fine book is indeed heavy, and if you need to move around with your PowerBook or iBook, and want a Unix reference to take with you, it will certainly increase your load: it’s as heavy as my 14" iBook.
But O’Reilly has solved that problem by releasing the third version of its Unix CD Bookshelf. Not only does this CD include Unix Power Tools, but it comes with six other excellent books:
- Unix in a Nutshell (3rd ed.),
- Mac OS X for Unix Geeks,
- Learning the Korn Shell (2nd ed.),
- sed & awk (2nd ed.),
- Learning the vi Editor (6th ed.),
- Learning the Unix operating System (5th ed.).
It also contains a paper copy of Unix in a Nutshell; while this is not necessary, it is probably done so the purchaser has the feeling they are getting something consistent for their money. With almost 3,300 pages of text, and a retail price (for the paper editions) of some $330, this CD offers a lot of value.
Naturally, these books are most useful for full-time Unix users, but the wealth and breadth of information they contain is more than enough for any Mac user who frequently resorts to the command line. Sure, you might not use the Korn shell (it’s a shame that O’Reilly didn’t bow to Mac users a bit more and include Using csh & tcsh, since the tcsh shell is the default shell under Mac OS X), you might not need sed and awk yet, and you may use Mac text editors instead of vi, but even if all these are true, the remaining books are more than worth the cost of this CD.
You can “read” any of these books on-screen by selecting a chapter or section from their tables of contents, or by choosing a section from the master index, which is a huge index of all the books combined. You can also print out any of the sections. The HTML implementation of these texts is well done, though at times I would like the sections to be longer so I don’t have to click the “next” button so often. The breakdown for Unix Power Tools is probably the best, since the book itself is made up of short sections, and one of these per page fits perfectly.
The value of the books included on this CD is enhanced by the search capabilities available. A Java search engine lets you search in any or all of the books, though it is limited to searching in the body of the books; it would be very useful to be able to search only in chapter or section titles, because sometimes the number of results is overwhelming. Unfortunately, this search capability does not work with all browsers. My browser of choice is Camino, and the search function does not work at all. It works only partially, however, with Safari beta 2, and this means that I am stuck using Internet Explorer to view the contents of the CD. (I did not test it with OmniWeb, Netscape, or Opera.)
Using this CD on the Mac is very simple. You start by double-clicking the index.htm file at the root level of the CD-ROM, and the main page opens in your default browser. You can access each book from that page, clicking on a title, then clicking on chapters or sections in a table of contents. You can also access the search engine from a link on the CD’s home page.
If you plan to use it often, there’s a better way to work with the CD: after inserting the disk in your Mac, you can either just copy it to your hard disk, or open Disk Copy and create a disk image of it. (The disk image is about 62 MB; a compressed disk image is about 29 MB.) Then you can consult its contents without needing the CD in your drive, freeing it up for other CDs, and also using less battery power on portables.
This CD would be even more useful if there were a possibility of expanding its contents. O’Reilly already offers on-line access to many of its books through its Safari service. If users could purchase the entire texts of other books, and “install” them as modules with the CD, this would allow them to have an entire O’Reilly bookshelf on their computers. Naturally, this opens many doors to content pilfering, and O’Reilly should already be congratulated for making available the texts on this CD. But it does give a glimpse of how some types of texts may be distributed in the not-so-distant future.
This CD is naturally not for all Mac users; it will only interest those of us who use the command line regularly. But for power users this tool is invaluable, offering a wealth of information that you can take with you wherever you go.