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General Linux 1 Exam Prep

Amazon Order (or just read more about) General Linux 1 Exam Prep- Dee-Ann LeBlanc

This is a book I wanted to like. It has all the right features: a hands on lab after every chapter, a review test after every chapter (and an appendix with answers) and a CD with more test questions. The intended audience is people seeking Linux certification, but I am afraid that this book might do them more harm than good.

It's not just the typo's (though there are plenty of those). There's also an astonishing amount of misleading, poorly explained and even unfortunately just downright wrong material.

An example of misleading or worse might be one of the questions in the review test from the very first chapter which asks which answer most accurately describes how Linux handles users. The choices are "single user", "single sequential users", "multi-user", and "multiple simultaneous users". The supposed answer is the last, which of course is incorrect: multi-user systems give the appearance of multiple simultaneous users by process switching. I'm sure (or I hope!) the author understands that, but that sort of poorly chosen answer is quite common throughout the review tests.

The text itself has some amazing errors. The description of the "dump" field of /etc/fstab is just incredible- I can't imagine where it came from. Less serious, but still amusing, is a warning about setuid shell scripts:

Do not set shell scripts to run SUID root.  Not only is this
dangerous from a security point of view, but it actually will
not work.  The kernel will not allow it.

Isn't that rather like saying that it's dangerous to walk around being invisible because people will bump into you?

Later on, the author repeats the old saw that fgrep is faster than grep- this hasn't been true in general Unix for many a year, and in every Linux I've seen grep, fgrep and egrep are exactly the same binary and run just as fast for the same task. She also warns you that:

If you had to boot with boot and rescue disks and then even
mount the root file system, you must type sync-sometimes more
than once- before unmounting the drives to be sure that
everything is handled properly.

I don't know whether that's just carelessness or lack of comprehension, but it could certainly lead someone to a bad understanding of both mount and sync. Another example of that comes up in a discussion of "su":

One of the biggest problems you may encounter is trying to
find the programs you want to run.  Using this method does
not assign you root's path.

You'd expect that to be followed with a discussion of "su -", but it isn't. So is Dee-Anne ignorant of that or is it just that trying to cram so much material into one book causes these kind of problems? I suspect the latter. Unfortunately, there's just too much of it- if you already know Linux or Unix you can easily spot the problems, but the point of this book is to help the more neophyte folks prepare for certification and I'm just afraid it would confuse them and leave them with too many half-baked or totally wrong ideas. Not that EVERYTHING is wrong- there is a lot of useful stuff here- in fact, this might very well be a good book (in spite of it's imperfections) for a beginning administrator- as long as that administrator is smart enough to check other sources, too.

I did enjoy the enclosed CD, however. It has a very nice Java based test program. Not only is it cross-platform (I really expected to find a Windows test!), but it's actually done very well- much better than the review tests in the book itself- the questions are of a higher caliber and while I didn't spend a tremendous amount of time with it, I didn't immediately notice any bad questions or wrong answers. There aren't very many questions, however, so the CD certainly wouldn't justify the cost of the book (the book has a similar sample test as chapter 14 that is also pretty good).

Note that my opinion matches the Amazon review, but a number of Amazon customers had high praise. If any of the folks reading this review have read this, I'd appreciate their opinions, too.

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