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Debian admin handbook is a labour of love Featured

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When Raphaël Hertzog and Roland Mas wrote and published the Debian Administrator's Handbook in 2004, it was in French, their native language.

In the decade since, the book has been translated into English - and from English into several other languages - and grown to be what few other GNU/Linux distributions have: a comprehensive manual for those who want to learn all about the distro, written by people at heart of the action.

Above all, anyone who reads the book will quickly realise that it is written by developers who care deeply about what they are doing.

Hertzog has been a Debian developer since 1998 and Mas since 2000. The new edition of the book, that came out in December last year, with the sub-title "Debian Wheezy from discovery to mastery", covers the last release, Wheezy. With every new release, the book is being updated and serves as both a primer and an excellent resource for a Debian user.

The book can be read on the web, downloaded as an e-book or obtained as a hard copy. Buying a copy gives one the opportunity to contribute to a very worthy cause.

In many ways, the book is unusual because it does contain a fair degree of philosophy and politics. It is not just a technical manual.

The Debian GNU/Linux Project, set up in 1993, has always been different: it is the only community distribution to elect a leader, have a software policy, and worry itself silly about things that other projects just do not bother about. Issues are debated and dissected to the bone, and there are opinions aplenty from the nearly 1000-strong developer community.

The book takes a novel approach in that it presents a case study for IT needs and then seeks to fulfil the needs of that case with Debian. As the chapter on the case study begins "In the context of this book, you are the system administrator of a growing small business. The time has come for you to redefine the information systems master plan for the coming year in collaboration with your directors. You choose to progressively migrate to Debian, both for practical and economical reasons. Let's see into more detail what's in store for you..."

And so the book continues. There are chapters about analysing an existing set-up before migrating, installation, the Debian packaging system, maintenance and updates, networking, printing and so on. Everything is well organised and well explained. The writers have taken pains to ensure that they share what they know; the book is designed to teach a person to fish, not to provide him or her with a fish everyday.

One thing: this book is not meant for the casual user. Go through the book, chapter by chapter, and you will become a power user, someone who's best placed to appreciate the Debian distribution and what it can do for you. As a Debian user for the last 14 years, I can assure you that it will not be a waste of time.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.