Book Review: Practical Linux for the Enterprise

Stephen Asbury's book is filled with real-world approaches and code for building enterprise Linux applications. But there's one hitch: Not all the code may be free of copyright restrictions.
Posted January 9, 2001
By

David Fisco


Book Information
Enterprise Linux at Work: How to Build 10 Distributed Applications for Your Organization
By Stephen Asbury

Published March 2000, by Wiley Computer Publishing/John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; ISBN 0471363499
448 pages, softbound; $49.99 USA/$77.50 Canada

To buy this book, click here.

Too many books try to teach application building in a sterile, academic way. Code is frequently presented in the form of snippets, instead of complete, ready-to-compile entities. Enterprise Linux at Work: How to Build 10 Distributed Applications for Your Organization, on the other hand, approaches application building in a refreshing and productive manner. Author Stephen Asbury arranged the book as a series of 10 projects. Each project comes with a code base, which makes them a kind of hands-on approach to learning.

Asbury is an accomplished technologist and author. Formerly the CTO of Paradigm Research Inc., a training company in Silicon Valley, he is now a senior manager at TIBCO Software Inc., a worldwide software developer with an emphasis on real-time e-business infrastructure software.

The selection of projects in Enterprise Linux at Work is excellent. Beginning with such an ubiquitous endeavor as an online catalog and ending with something as esoteric as parallel programming, Asbury touches on techniques including distributed programming with CORBA, tapping into the powers of LDAP, developing a messaging system, and performance monitoring.

Asbury divides each of the 10 projects into two sections: an introduction and a code walk-through. The introductions are aimed to serve the technical evaluator audience, while the walk-throughs are designed for experienced programmers. Technical evaluators might want to explore their sections with programmers nearby.

Although Asbury does his best to provide references to additional information, the introductions tend to toggle between beginning and advanced information and could leave some evaluators with questions. The programming audience should have experience in Java (including such packages as JMS, JDBC, and JNDI), Perl, C++, and MySQL. Other skills that will come in handy include CORBA, LDAP, XML, and experience with the Apache Web server.

Enterprise Linux at Work comes with a CD that includes the source code for the projects and the tools referenced in the book. Unfortunately, it seems to have been written sometime in 1999, and many of the technologies have progressed since then. For example, Project 2, a "Java-based Web Page Scripting Engine," doesn't use Java Server Pages (JSP), but rather builds the JHTML engine from scratch. While this is a useful learning experience in advanced servlets, many readers will be more interested in JSP.

At this time, Asbury is not planning a second edition of the book, but states, "I think the techniques in Enterprise Linux at Work are very valid and useful, even with new releases. There are certainly some new things to learn, and we may update the book if there is sufficient interest. If we do a new edition, I will change the examples to JSP and replace the JHTML engine example with something more relevant."

Additional Resources
Books:
Red Hat Linux System Administration Unleashed by Derek Murphy, Tom Addelstein, Derek Barber, Neil Brown, Aaron Crane, Ido Dubrawski, Jay Fink, Robert Haig, Raphael Mankin, Ivan McDonaugh, Jaron Rubenstien, Thomas Schenk, Elliot Turner, and Gene Wilburn
Shows readers how to configure and manage Linux systems to keep them running optimally in a 24x7 environment. Includes such advanced topics as customizing the kernel, hacker security, and RAID.

Practical Linux, by Michael Turner, William Ball, Tony Guntharp, and Drew Streib
A tutorial-style reference manual for common and not-so-common tasks involving Linux.

Linux System Administrator's Survival Guide, Second Edition, by Timothy Parker
Offers practical guidance to beginning Linux administrators.

Linux Network Servers 24seven, by Craig Hunt
Explains how to run Linux on PC hardware.

Just One Hitch?

Many people will pick up Enterprise Linux at Work with the intention of using the project code as a starting point for developing custom applications. But there's a hitch: With the exception of Project 2, which Asbury originally designed at Paradigm Research and released under the GNU Public License, all of the code is protected by copyright. Anyone who reproduces or stores the code could face criminal punishment.

I approached the author about this dilemma, and Asbury replied: "As far as copyright issues, I am not totally clear on those myself. I did mark the JHTML stuff as GNU Public License, but the other code is fuzzy. I think that it is fine for people to use it in their own projects, since that was my intention from the beginning. Perhaps there is some issue with reselling it directly, but I would have to check with Wiley & Sons about that."

So I contacted a representative from the publisher and received a terse and enigmatic response: "Code can be reused and customized." Dissatisfied with Wiley's failure to address the legal issues, I responded, "Is the claim Code can be reused and customized' now a standard Wiley copyright waiver for the code it publishes? Code can be reused and customized' is ambiguous. Of course code can be reused and customized, but can the reader freely and legally reuse and customize the code for whatever purpose, without violating any copyright restrictions?"

At the time of this writing, Wiley has not responded. Without releasing the code to the public domain, the publisher severely limits the book's audience: Readers can use the book only for academic purposes. In other words, they can learn from the code but cannot build on it.

In my opinion, in addition to releasing the copyright, Wiley should build a Web presence around each project, which would include code updates and mailing lists for developers who want to participate in open-source projects based on the book's code. Such an effort could even provide free advertising for the book as developers create a buzz around their projects.

The open-source movement has demonstrated that relaxing the grip on copyright restrictions creates new benefits and business opportunities. Let's hope the publishing community gets on the bandwagon soon! //

David Fisco is an Internet media consultant and developer. He can be reached at feedback@davidfisco.com.






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