Absolute OpenBSD: Unix for the Practical Paranoid, 2nd Edition – A good & long-overdue update – #bookreview

Absolute OpenBSD, 2nd Edition
Unix for the Practical Paranoid
Michael W. Lucas
(No Starch Press – Kindle, paperback)

This updated new edition likely will be hailed — and rightly so — as a major event by many dedicated users of OpenBSD. After all, the first edition of Michael W. Lucas’ book was published a full decade ago, back when, the author concedes, he still had hair.

OpenBSD’s founder and long-time administrator Theo de Raadt has called this new edition both “[t]he definitive book on OpenBSD” and “a long-overdue refresh.” The praise can’t get much higher in OpenBSD-land.

OpenBSD is a highly secure, Unix-like operating system frequently used in Domain Name System (DNS) servers, routers, and firewalls. It also can run on a wide array of computer hardware, ranging from new systems to old VAXes, 386 machines, Apple’s PowerPC Macintoshes, and most products from Sun.

“Old systems can run OpenBSD quite well,” Lucas notes. “I’ve run OpenBSD/i386 quite nicely on a 166 MHz processor with 128MB of memory. You probably have some old system lying around that’s perfectly adequate for learning OpenBSD.”

Indeed, he explains, “As a matter of legacy, OpenBSD will run on hardware that has been obsolete for decades because the hardware was in popular use when OpenBSD started, and the developers try to maintain compatibility and performance when possible.”

The OpenBSD software has an intriguing and complex history that involves the 1980s breakup of AT&T, lots of lawsuits, the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) project, the University of California, and the eventual emergence of the “BSD license.” The result was “perhaps the freest of the free operating systems,” Lucas says.

Today, Lucas emphasizes, “OpenBSD strives to be the most secure operating system in the world.” OpenBSD developers constantly work to try to “eliminate [security] problems before they exist,” he states.

“OpenBSD is a gift. You’re free to use it or not. As with any gift, you can do whatever you want with it. But you’re not free to bug the developers for features or support.”

His 491-page second edition offers a heavy dose–23 chapters–of how-to instructions. And readers are encouraged to read OpenBSD’s man (manual) pages online. In a book where the first chapter is titled “Getting Additional Help” and the second is titled “Installation Preparations,” you can guess that this is not aimed at absolute newcomers. Actually, Lucas says: “This book is written for experienced Unix users or system administrators who want to add OpenBSD to their repertoire.”

Still, if you want to learn and use OpenBSD, you will need this book — and some online documentation and very likely some advice from the OpenBSD community, as well. There don’t seem to be recent introduction-level books floating around. However, there are a few tutorial sites, including this one. And OpenBSD.org maintains a list of support and consulting specialists. Training also is available from a number of companies that can be found via the Web.

If you want to use OpenBSD but not spend much time learning it, you also can purchase a support contract and let someone else set up and maintain your system. Even then, you likely will want to have this new edition of Absolute OpenBSD handy for reference–and for learning, just in case, down the line, you change your mind.

Si Dunn

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