TER Volume 14, Number 1, June 2007: Review of Learning Windows Server 2003

Technology Electronic Reviews
Volume 14, Number 1, June 2007

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REVIEW OF: Jonathan Hassell (2006). Learning Windows Server 2003. 2nd Edition. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. (ISBN: 0596101236). 723 pp. $44.99.
By Christinger Tomer

O'Reilly's books are usually easy to like. Presentations tend to be clear and straightforward, content is often updated and/or supplemented through their various Websites and subscription services, the text-heavy layout and graphics tend to be bland but functional, and the covers -- Learning Windows Server 2003 features a 19th century drawing of an American white pelican -- are appealing. But a key issue with many of O'Reilly's publications is whether the information presented therein is more substantial or valuable than that provided free resources available via the Internet. In the case of Learning Windows 2003 Server, there is little content that is not available elsewhere and for free, but the book's organization and the focus growing out of the organizational scheme offer real value, inasmuch as the book presents a sensible "plan" for approaching the operating system afresh. What is more important, the treatment of Windows 2003 Server's key features, while unoriginal, is rendered in clear, concise terms that an administrator new to the system will find valuable.

Windows Server is complicated, and as a practical introduction to the operating system, its deployment, and administration Learning Windows Server 2003 necessarily focuses on the operating system's basic features and functions. Hassell's coverage of complicated topics, such as DNS, clustering, Active Directory, and the IntelliMirror application distribution system, however, is easy to follow and translates readily into practical application. Some of the treatments are terse, and because of that economy of expression, it may not always be clear to the novice that many of these subsystems can be substantially more formidable to administer than Hassell's treatments suggest, but Learning Windows Server 2003 is intended primarily as a starting point, and in that context the approach that Hassell takes makes good sense.

The greatest strengths of the book reside in its coverage of the services that a neophyte Windows administrator would be most likely to implement, such as file sharing for Windows workgroups, printer sharing, and basic Web services, including the Internet Information Server, ftp and POP mail. Much less satisfactory are the sections of the book that deal with security issues; there are segments that are helpful, e.g., locking down Windows and related applications, but Hassell has elected to ignore almost all of the security problems that have troubled Microsoft’s operating systems and applications in recent years, and in so doing he undermines the confidence of the reader in this critical area.

Another complaint about this book is that the second edition, which was published in 2006, ignores the emergence of open source applications for the Windows environment and the choices and challenges that these applications represent as extensions to a Windows server's integral services. There is, for example, the versions of the Apache Web Server that have been written for the Windows environment and the opportunities to configure such an application to interact with other open source applications, such as MySQL and PHP. Of perhaps even greater importance, there are no references in the section under file sharing to the use of Samba by other operating systems, e.g., Linux, Apple's OS X, as a means of sharing access to Windows file services in heterogeneous network environments.

Finally, the useful life of Learning Windows Server 2003 is coming to an end, as Microsoft prepares to release a new version, known as "Longhorn" in 2007. However, because Microsoft continues to promise that the final release "Longhorn" will be a significant refinement of Windows Server 2003, as opposed to a complete revision of the code base, a great deal of the information presented by Hassell in Learning Windows Server 2003 may be applicable in the "Longhorn" environment.

Christinger Tomer is Associate Professor at the School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 2007 by Christinger Tomer. This document may be reproduced in whole or in part for noncommercial, educational, or scientific purposes, provided that the preceding copyright statement and source are clearly acknowledged. All other rights are reserved. For permission to reproduce or adapt this document or any part of it for commercial distribution, address requests to the author.


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