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The Best of Linux Distributions is based on Matt Welsh's cult classic Linux Installation & Getting Started. Revised, expanded, and updated, The Best of Linux Distributions includes a general introduction to Linux; detailed explanations of drive partitioning, filesystems, and software package installation; distribution-specific instructions for installing Debian GNU/Linux, Slackware, Caldera OpenLinux, and Red Hat Linux; a complete, low-stress Linux tutorial; system administration under Linux; X Window; and Networking. Also included are 4 CD-ROMs containing the latest Linux operating system for Red Hat Linux, Caldera OpenLinux, Debian GNU/Linux, and Slackware.
Among actual Linux users, Matt Welsh is the second-best-known member of the Linux community--after Linus Torvalds. Welsh has greeted a generation of Linux newbies with his eminently useful Linux Installation and Getting Started. Packaged with four CD-ROMs, Linux Press has issued the updated book as The Best of Linux Distributions. It is still the most accessible source for overcoming the technological (and psychological) barriers to installing the OS.
Welsh et al. are at their best when they face problems from the neophyte installer's point of view. How should I partition the hard disk? What strategy should I use? What kind of mouse do I have, and how do I get the serial port to recognize it? In particular, the infinitely deep X11 configuration information is elegantly abstracted.
Disappointingly, the "best" Linux distributions in the book are truly only the four oldest and most popular in North America: Red Hat, Caldera, Slackware, and Debian. SUSE, the wildly popular German distribution, which is available in English, is notably absent. More significantly, the specialty distributions, such as the KRUD distribution (which is updated monthly) and the Pentium-optimized Mandrake distribution, are not even mentioned.
Which is best? Welsh demurs and disingenuously suggests that users load all four distributions "in an afternoon" to test them against each other. A more practical strategy would be to choose one and upgrade it every 6 to 12 months. Dubiously, the CD-ROMs are marked "non-official," (sic) a point left unexplained by the text. Distribution version numbers were not provided, although the README file on the Red Hat disk suggests that the distribution is 6.1. Are we to believe it?
If the CD-ROMs are of doubtful utility--as the publisher itself seems to indicate--and the text is available in HTML and .pdf format from www.linuxdocs.org under the "Getting Started" title, what value does this volume add besides printing and binding? The answer is not obvious. Regardless, Matt Welsh et al. provide a time-tested protocol for a successful Linux installation whose worth is measured more in hours saved and goodwill maintained than in dollars spent. --Peter Leopold
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