Joined: 19 Dec 2003
|Posted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 8:26 am Post subject: Book Review - Absolute OpenBSD
Absolute OpenBSD: UNIX for the Practical Paranoid
Author(s): Michael W. Lucas
Publisher: No Starch
Date Published: 2003
Book Specifications: Softcover, 489 of pages
Category: System Administration, OpenBSD
Publisher's Suggested User Level: Not Rated
Reviewer's Recommended User Level: Intermediate
Suggested Publisher Price: $39.95 US
Amazon.com: Absolute OpenBSD US
Amazon.co.uk: Absolute OpenBSD UK
Blurb from back cover:
OpenBSD is the most secure operating system in the world, with fewer security holes than any variety of Linux or Windows. Developed with rigorous attention to correctness, security and reliability, OpenBSD is free for any use, for any purpose, by anyone, anywhere. OpenBSD runs on a wide variety of computer hardware, from ten-year-old personal computers to high-end servers.
Absolute OpenBSD is a straightforward, practical, and complete guide to mastering this powerful and complex operating system. Developed with the support of the OpenBSD community, this book takes you through the intricacies of the platform and teaches you how to manage every aspect of your system.
One of OpenBSD's best qualities is its wealth of quality documentation, so a book about OpenBSD might seem redundant. Absolute OpenBSD fills many gaps that the OpenBSD documentation leaves open, the documentation might tell you everything you want to know about the packet filter, but it doesn't tell you that it's there in the first place. Overall, the book reads like a giant tutorial, it shows you were everything is, what you can do with these things, and, most importantly, where you can get more detailed information.
All too often, books of this type are overly-long and boring to read. You can be presented with the basic concepts of a particular program, shown one or two uses, and then a list of command-line arguments are thrown at you. Since this book intends to supplement already top-notch documentation, you get none of this in Absolute OpenBSD. Raw information is almost never presented in favor of referring you to the manual pages. Also, each chapter begins with a highly amusing haiku, this alone tends to lighten the mood.
Absolute OpenBSD is organized to tackle the problems you'll encounter when installing and running OpenBSD in the order they generally appear. The first chapters are on installation, booting, basic system administration and other setup tasks. Next are several chapters on OpenBSD's security features, how to install and update software, and a very useful chapter called simply "/etc", which tells the uses of most of the files found in /etc. The last section of this book is the most useful, the final three chapters and an entire appendix is dedicated to PF, OpenBSD's packet filter. Special attention was payed to these last chapters, and it shows.
Most sections cover their subjects well, leaving you with few "But what if.." questions. The chapter on managing users, for example, covers everything from adding a user to methods for controlling root access and includes a detailed section on sudo. Other chapters, however, feel stretched and some of the content feels like filler. Chapter eight, Networking, goes out of its way to teach you the OSI model and the basics of TCP/IP networking, giving far more background knowledge than any other chapter in the book. The next chapter, Internet Connections, is needlessly short and many of the topics covered would be better covered in the Networking chapter.
Style and Detail
The output of many commands are shown in a monospace font with important sections labeled with white numbers in black circles. In the following discussion, these reference points help to make sense out of otherwise confusing charts of numbers, addresses and often cryptic abbreviations or acronyms. However, on several occasions, this leads to confusion as there are labeled parts that are not discussed and discussions sometimes refer sections in the section before last.
The book doesn't weigh you down with a million command-line options. The only options presented are those for the sake of discussion. One thing this book makes perfectly clear is that this is not a replacement for the OpenBSD documentation and probably shouldn't be used as a reference manual. There are a few charts, diagrams and lists to take care of the gritty details they do need to cover. They stay short and to the point and only appear in key places.
The book lacks polish. There are several places in which I read a sentence, I read it again, and it takes me a moment to figure out that the sentence just doesn't make much sense. The page numbers in the table of contents are inaccurate in places and there are the aforementioned slight problems with the command output sections and chapter organization. All these things detract from the overall feel of the book.
If you're new to OpenBSD and you're not a veteran systems administrator or Linux guru, then you'll be very happy with this book. As I said before, it reads like a long tutorial, showing you where everything is and what you can do with it and complements the OpenBSD documentation surprisingly well. This book doesn't teach you how to become a systems administrator and leaves out a large amount of background knowledge. For that reason, it's not the best choice if you're new to BSD or UNIX-like systems.
Absolute OpenBSD sits in an odd place. OpenBSD is a difficult operating system to use. The documentation is great, but there are no pretty GUIs and no canned scripts you can run to do all your work for you, you have to write them yourself. In order to get the most out of this book, you're going to have to be rather self-sufficient already, in which case you might not need the book at all. That said, the audience for this book is quite small. Since OpenBSD is not as heavily advocated as most other Free and Open Source operating systems, many don't even know about it until they're already quite knowledgeable, and by that point, again, they might not need the book at all. The people that will get the most out of this book are Linux users who are not used to doing things for themselves and are looking to run OpenBSD.
Seeing how I found the haiku in the book so entertaining, I end with a few myself:
Gurus should skip it,
A newbie wouldn't like it.
It appeals to few.
It's showing its age,
Now a few versions behind.
Still, a worthy book.
This book receives an honored SFDC Rating of 7/10.
- Michael Morin
Keywords: Michael W. Lucas, OpenBSD
This review is copyright 2004 by the author and Security-Forums Dot Com, and may not be reproduced in any form in any media without the express permission of the author, or Security-Forums Dot Com.
Last edited by UziMonkey on Sat May 08, 2004 4:59 am; edited 2 times in total