Enlightenment from a 24-year-old UNIX book
By davidleetodd on Jul 22, 2007
BW and I were hanging out at Out of the Closet, a thrift store that raises funds for an AIDS assistance group here in LA. BW has an eagle eye for classic vintage clothes, and I like to peruse the used books. I came across a real gem: Understanding UNIX, A Conceptual Guide, by James R. Groff and and Paul N. Weinberg, published by Que in 1983. What a cool blast from the past! From page 1: "Exactly what is the UNIX system? Why do such intense interest and controversy surround it? How does UNIX relate to other microcomputer operating systems, such as CP/M and MS-DOS?" And from Page 2: "What are the relationships among the different versions of UNIX, such as System V, Berkely UNIX, XENIX, and PC/IX?" No mention in the book of that little startup called Sun Microsystems, but it does say that "over a hundred different computer vendors offer UNIX or 'UNIX look-alike' products."
Oddly enough, I'm getting a lot out of reading the book, and not just quaint references to long-vanished UNIX variants. In 1983 the authors were writing about something that was exciting in its newness, and their enthusiasm makes the text come alive. I'm learning about the features that made UNIX important then, the ones we take for granted now because they've become part of every other operating system. And UNIX was simpler then, so I'm learning about what is most important in the system, without becoming bogged down in chapters about all the less-important stuff that's been added since.
The authors weren't kidding, either, when they called it A Conceptual Guide. A lot of the UNIX books I've seen are too monkey-see-monkey-do for my taste, telling you what to do rather than why you do it. Understanding UNIX is organized by concept, with chapters on the file system, the shell, file processing and so forth, with explanations of the underlying structure at every step. I like that. Maybe it stems from being over-educated, but I find that I have a much greater attention span when I understand the "why" of what I'm reading. For me, this is the best UNIX book I've come across. Sometimes older really is better.