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UNIX Power Tools

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This book wouldn't exist without Ron Petrusha. As the technical book buyer at Golden-Lee, a major book distributor, he discovered us soon after we started publishing Nutshell Handbooks in the mid-'80s. He was one of our early boosters, and we owed him one. So when he became an editor at Bantam (whose computer book publishing operations were later acquired by Random House), we took him seriously when he started asking if there was anything we could do together.

At first nothing seemed to fit, since by that time we were doing pretty well as a publisher. We needed to find something that we could do together that might sell better than something that either company might do alone. Eventually, Ron suggested that we co-publish a UNIX book for Bantam's "Power Tools" series. This made sense for both of us. It gave Bantam access to our UNIX expertise and reputation, and gave us a chance to learn from Bantam about the mass market bookstore trade, as well as build on their successful "Power Tools" series.

But what would the book contain? There were two features of Bantam's original DOS Power Tools that we decided to emulate: its in-depth treatment of under-documented system features, and its large collection of freely available scripts and utilities. However, we didn't want to write yet another book that duplicated the format of many others on the market, in which chapters on each of the major UNIX tools follow one another in predictable succession. Our goal was certainly to provide essential technical information on UNIX utilities, but more importantly, to show how the utilities can be combined and used to solve common (and uncommon) problems.

Similarly, because we were weary of the multitude of endlessly tutorial books about UNIX utilities, we wanted to keep the tone brisk and to the point. The solution I came up with, a kind of "hypertext in print," actually owes a lot to Dale Dougherty. Dale has been working for several years on hypertext and online information delivery, and I was trying to get him to work with me on this project. So I tried to imagine the kind of book that he might like to create. (We have a kind of friendly rivalry, in which we try to leapfrog each other with ideas for new and better books!) Dale's involvement never went far beyond the early brainstorming stage, but the book still bears his indirect stamp. In some of the first books he wrote for me, he introduced the idea that sidebars-asides that illuminate and expand on the topic under discussion-could be used effectively in a technical book. Well, Dale, here's a book that's nothing but sidebars!

Dale, Mike Loukides, and I worked out the basic outline for the book in a week or two of brainstorming and mail exchanges. We thought we should be able to throw it together pretty quickly by mining many of our existing books for the tips and tricks buried in them. Unfortunately, none of us was ever able to find enough time, and the book looked to be dying a slow death. (Mike was the only one who got any writing done.) Steve Talbott rescued the project by insisting that it was just too good an idea to let go; he recruited Jerry Peek, who had just joined the company as a writer and UNIX consultant/tools developer for our production department.

Production lost the resulting tug of war, and Jerry plunged in. Jerry has forgotten more UNIX tips and tricks than Mike, Dale, or I ever knew; he fleshed out our outline and spent a solid year writing and collecting the bulk of the book. I sat back in amazement and delight as Jerry made my ideas take shape. Finally, though, Jerry had had enough. The book was just too big and he'd never signed on to do it all alone! (It was about 1000 pages at that point, and only half done.) Jerry, Mike, and I spent a week locked up in our conference room, refining the outline, writing and cutting articles, and generally trying to make Jerry feel a little less like Sisyphus.

From that point on, Jerry continued to carry the ball, but not quite alone, with Mike and I playing "tag team," writing and editing to fill in gaps. I'm especially grateful to Mike for pitching in, since he had many other books to edit and this was supposed to be "my" project. I am continually amazed by the breadth of Mike's knowledge and his knack for putting important concepts in perspective.

Toward the end of the project, Linda Mui finished up another book she was working on and joined the project, documenting many of the freely available utilities that we'd planned to include but hadn't gotten around to writing up. Linda, you really saved us at the end!

Thanks also to all the other authors, who allowed us to use (and sometimes abuse!) their material. In particular, we're grateful to Bruce Barnett, who let us use so much of what he's written, even though we haven't yet published his book, and Chris Torek, who let us use many of the gems he's posted to the Net over the years. (Chris didn't keep copies of most of these articles; they were saved and sent in by Usenet readers, including Dan Duval, Kurt J. Lidl, and Jarkko Hietaniemi.)

Jonathan Kamens and Tom Christiansen not only contributed articles but read parts of the book with learned and critical eyes. They saved us from many a "power goof." If we'd been able to give them enough time to read the whole thing, we wouldn't have to issue the standard disclaimer that any errors that remain are our own. H. Milton Peek provided technical review and proofreading. Four sharp-eyed Usenet readers helped with debugging: Casper Dik of the University of Amsterdam, Byron Ratzikis of Network Appliance Corporation, Dave Barr of the Population Research Institute, and Duncan Sinclair.

In addition to all the acknowledged contributors, there are many unacknowledged ones-people who have posted questions or answers to the Net over the years, and who have helped to build the rich texture of the UNIX culture that we've tried to reflect in this book. Jerry also singles out one major contributor to his own mastery of UNIX. He says: "Daniel Romike of Tektronix, Inc. (who wrote articles Section 9.6 and Section 11.7 in the early 1980s, by the way) led the first UNIX workshop I attended. He took the time to answer a ton of questions as I taught myself UNIX in the early 1980s. I'm sure some of the insights and neat tricks that I thought I've figured out myself actually came from Dan instead."

James Revell and Bryan Buus scoured "the Net" for useful and interesting free software that we weren't aware of. Bryan also compiled most of the software he collected so we could try it out and gradually winnow down the list.

Thanks also to all of the authors of the software packages we wrote about and included on the disk! Without their efforts, we wouldn't have had anything to write about; without their generosity in making their software free in the first place, we wouldn't be able to distribute hundreds of megabytes of software for the price of a book.

Jeff Moskow of Ready-to-Run Software solved the problem we had been putting off to the end, of packaging up all the software for the disk, porting it to the major UNIX platforms, and making it easy to install. This was a much bigger job than we'd anticipated, and we could never have done it without Jeff and the RTR staff. We might have been able to distribute source code and binaries for a few platforms, but without their porting expertise, we could never have ported all these programs to every supported platform. Eric Pearce worked with RTR to pre-master the software for CD-ROM duplication, wrote the installation instructions, and made sure that everything came together at the end! (Eric, thanks for pitching in at the last minute. You were right that there were a lot of details that might fall through the cracks.)

Edie Freedman worked with us to design the format of the book-quite an achievement considering everything we wanted the format to do! She met the challenge of presenting thousands of inline cross references without distracting the reader or creating a visual monstrosity. What she created is as attractive as it is useful-a real breakthrough in technical book design, and one that we plan to use again and again!

Lenny Muellner was given the frightful task of implementing all of our ideas in troff  - no mean feat, and one that added to his store of grey hair.

Eileen Kramer was the copyeditor, proofreader, and critic who made sure that everything came together. For a thousand-plus page book with multiple authors, it's hard to imagine just how much work that was.

Ellie Cutler wrote the index; Chris Reilley created the illustrations. Additional administrative support was provided by Bonnie Hyland, Donna Woonteiler, and Jane Appleyard.

 - Tim O'Reilly

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