pmuellr is Patrick Mueller, Senior Node Engineer at NodeSource.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Unix Power Tools circa 1993

So as I was reading some of the textmate manual last night, I happened to think ... 'I really don't know the bash shell scripting language at all!'. And that I really should make an effort. Since I use it everywhere (except Windows, but I try not to use Windows). So I went looking through my bookshelf ... have I ever bought a book on shell programming? Like Bill, I suffer from a problem of buying too many books. * I figured I probably had bought one at one point. And sure enough, I found a book on the Korn shell book from O'Reilly. But I didn't want to try to figure out what the difference between the Korn shell and Bash were. So I kept looking.

And then I found some buried treasure. "Unix Power Tools", First Edition published by O'Reilly in 1993. Huge book. 1100 pages. No longer in print, but here's the modern version. What's so cool about this book is the peek it gives us on what the 'unix' world was like back then. Here are some reminders:

  • There are no references to Linux, anywhere. Nor BSD (by itself). A CD of utilities is provided with the book, with precompiled binaries for "seven of the most common Unix platforms":
    • Sun4 SunOS 4.1.1
    • Sun3 SunOS 4.1.1 (is Sun3 vs Sun4 a hardware statement?)
    • DEC Ultrix 4.1
    • IBM AIX 3.2
    • HP-UX 8.07 (what a big version number!)
    • SCO XENIX 2.3.2 (shudder)
    • SCO UNIX 3.2.x
  • For word processing, use nroff / groff
  • For version control, use sccs or rcs (aside: I have a funny story about Walter Tichy, a prof of mine at Purdue, who wrote RCS; it will cost you one measily beer to hear it!)
  • "A summary of common UNIX networking and communications utilities:
    • The Internet (I will spare you the description)
    • mail
    • ftp
    • uucp
    • telnet
    • other usual stuff rlogin, rcp, rsh, NFS
  • Number of pages describing these common UNIX networking and communications utilities: 1
  • Number of pages spent on vi: 52
  • Number of pages spent on emacs: 14
  • Number of pages spent on awk: 36
  • Number of pages spent on perl: 10

No Linux, no BSD, no python or php. No web, no http. Not even gopher. No ssh.

My god ... the dark ages.

It's easy to poke fun at some of this, but honestly, the book still has some value. Chapters on find, sed, etc, that I'm sure I'll read again some day, and understand the tool for a short while before forgetting again. How often has find really changed in 13 years, anyway?

It also has the traditional huge O'Reilly index, which is nice. And the chapters are split into sections, and both the page number, chapter number, section number are on ALL the pages. If there's one thing I hate, it's books that use numbered sections, they do intra-book linkages using the section numbers, but the pages don't have the section numbers.

So I think I'll keep it rather than sell it at our next yard sale, or otherwise dispose of it. And leave it sitting around for a while to read up on find again.

* psss ... if you suffer this debilitating book buying disease, here's at least one step you can take; stop buying non-technical books and use your local library for those, assuming you have one. And look into BookMooch (on my list of things to do).

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