Customer Reviews: Absolute OpenBSD: Unix for the Practical Paranoid
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on May 3, 2013
Good humor, excellent content.

On my bookshelf I have countless books on Python, C, Perl, you name it ... . But when it comes to BSD I only own two books: Absolute OpenBSD 1st edition and Absolute OpenBSD 2nd edition. This book is really outstanding and takes you from beginner to expert pretty quickly and painlessly. Now although this book is so excellent, I'd like to focus on the areas for improvement because I think people should have some realistic expectations of what's NOT covered.

My main criticism is that it doesn't cover real world interoperability with Windows, etc. I'd love to see some outline of how to integrate an OpenBSD, Windows, Linux, MacOS in a business environment. Specifically I'd love to see coverage of single sign on, integration with Windows shared drives, and using Exchange server for email from OpenBSD.

Another area where I found the book to be a little bit light was, ironically, chapter 10 which covers security. Given that most people coming to OpenBSD have likely become interested in the security aspects of this particular OS, I would have liked to have seen a more technical discussion of the details of the various security techniques. Each of the techniques also have known circumventions. It would have been nice to either mention those pitfalls or at least point to a research paper or two. As an example W^X is mentioned, but there is no mention of return oriented programming.

The final shortcoming in this book is too little time spent showing how to use OpenBSD for email (I feel like OpenSMTPD deserves a chapter), no discussion of webhosting (again, I feel like base apache and/or nginx deserve a chapter), or even using OpenBSD as a database server (obviously postgresql would be covered given the BSD license!) Yes, these are non-traditional uses for OpenBSD as it's strengths are usually on the networking side, but it is a fully capable system and people should see that that's the case.

Overall, if you're looking for a book that covers setup of the various network daemons, or the slight differences of a BSD environment vs a Linux environment for things like disk and/or user management. This is the book for you.

I'd go so far as to say that if you've ever read any of the Stevens networking books and liked them, then Michael Lucas is the Stevens of the BSD world.
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on May 31, 2013
For many of those who like to install and administer their own computer operating system, OpenBSD is a foreign land. In _Absolute OpenBSD_, Michael Lucas is your friendly hometown guide. If you are a new or recent adopter of OpenBSD, you'll be wasting time if you don't read this book entirely, not only your own time, but also the time of whomever you choose to pester with questions already answered in this book!

OpenBSD focuses on certain principles of system design, primarily simplicity as the foundation of security, reliability and easy administration. While OpenBSD is a distant cousin to Linux as an open source Unix-like operating system, it is determinedly retro: there are, for instance, no Linux-style optionally loadable device drivers in OpenBSD: to add devices, you recompile the OpenBSD monolithic kernel. The approach is minimalist, the community is spartan, and the user must gather his or her own straw for baking the bricks.

I have administered OpenBSD for about 14 years now. Learning all I needed to know in the pre-Lucas era was difficult. The OpenBSD documentation is complete and well organized but initiation into and assimilation of the context of the project, from which all else flows logically, can be, for many reasons which Lucas points out, a long and painful process. Lucas is a most excellent Virgil leading you through the gates and down through the circles of the OpenBSD context.

Lucas has removed a great deal of the pain from adopting OpenBSD. Lucas's style is conversational but to the point. The book is easy to read and to read through thoroughly. At the same time Lucas manages to shovel in a great deal of technical detail which can be reviewed at need. You can indeed learn the whole system, and Lucas proves it to you.

This book is the 2nd edition of Lucas's original masterwork, updated as OpenBSD progresses with the times without losing focus. It is accurate, reasonably complete, and so helpful that I shudder when I remember my own years of struggle when such a volume didn't exist

The Kindle edition contains fewer annoying formatting and typographical errors than usually encountered in the Kindle-ization of a print book. As a reader of many classic books which have become muddied and randomized by lazy publishers simply dumping them into Kindle format, my compliments to No Starch Press for what was obviously a labor of love.

Disclosure: the reviewer was a longtime contributing editor to Dr. Dobb's Journal and was forwarded a Kindle edition of the book by the publisher for unpaid review purposes.
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on May 4, 2013
I love paper books so that I can write notes in the margins and bookmark hard to find info, but you may want to consider the Kindle edition in this case. This is a big book and having it searchable would be a big plus; there is just so much info. Also, want to do a shout out to the OpenBSD folks; what a resource. 2nd edition builds on a solid foundation to be a must have if you're running OpenBSD. I had never really thought about the concept of a "successful" installation, but the author's point is spot on that different uses will have different needs, so they invest 66 or so pages helping sysadmins get off to a good start.

Hip hip hooray for the well grounded discussion on sudo and especially the idea of hiding root with sudo. It makes me nervous to see an admin with a "#" prompt.

I have never played with softraid, but with the prices of HW RAID, it is attractive and the writing is so thorough I think I could pull it off.

Great discussion on the network from a systems perspective. Just a bit more on troubleshooting might be a nice touch if there is a 3rd edition. I think all the data is there, but it would be nice to have it as one checklist.

I am not qualified to comment on the packet filtering section and the advanced packet filtering section, SANS would never let me monkey with their perimeter, but while I didn't try any of it, it looks reasonable.

Very clear explanation of the kernel, I got so excited I put the book down for a minute to type "sudo dmesg", been a long time since I did that.
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on June 3, 2014
This book is quite simply one of the finest books for anyone wanting to learn how to get into the basics (and a little bit of the mid-level stuff) of OpenBSD. Each of the BSDs, while coming from the same lineage, have for many years diverged - sometimes dramatically (FreeBSD's recent switch to a new package managing and ports system comes to mind). It's important to have close at hand a recent book with a solid overview of any high-to-mid-level OS functionality, suitable for quick reference, not so much for the "tl;dnr" crowd, but for those who have attempted to RTFM and found a slightly less abstruse approach to information would be helpful from time to time.

Granted, my experience with the BSDs came after about a year of light distro-hopping and settling on Slackware (with a simultaneous soft spot and wary eye on Mint- still can't trust something derived from Ubuntu), so I was already somewhat biased against man pages. Linux, as most users will tell you, has some fairly sloppy and vague documentation in the man pages. Going to the BSDs was a breath of fresh air (Examples? Known Bugs? Yes!) Even so, sometimes one needs that extra human touch. Michael Lucas' "Absolute OpenBSD" is precisely that.

Without this book, it would have taken me considerably longer to figure out how to set up a comfortable single-user environment for a hand-me-down laptop (HP G42 DX515.... don't ask), and certain questions about daemon control, among other things, just would not have occurred to me. This book is an excellent choice for those who are considering one of the BSDs but are not sure which one to use. Those who believe in OpenBSD's reputation as primarily a firewall or server OS would also be well-served by reading this book, which explains the basics of customizing the environment - X11, the shell, and the terrifying hinterland that is /etc.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone considering not only OpenBSD as an OS, but also for those who are looking into the other BSDs as an OS. There are, as I mentioned earlier, substantial differences between the BSDs, but they are reasonably close to each other, and this book allows you to learn more about the BSDs without getting lost in the man pages.
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on July 23, 2014
Absolute OpenBSD, second edition by Michael Lucas is a very good book if you are comfortable with other UNIX-like systems and want to learn how to take care of an OpenBSD machine properly. Like it says on the tin.

The book is well produced with a nice layout and few errors, as expected from No Starch. The writing style is simple, to the point and entertaining, as expected from Lucas.

The previous edition was released in 2003 and there have been many changes for the better. Deprecated information on, among other things, using modems to connect to the Internet and how to configure multiboot systems have been removed. The ordering of certain chapters has changed to the better as well. Why treat kernel building before talking about the package system? Of course, there are many new topics in the second edition.

It's a worthy second edition.

Lucas takes great care to explain where OpenBSD comes from and what makes it different from other operating systems. If you only have experience from Ubuntu or SuSE for example, I imagine this introduction will be very valuable. The culture surrounding OpenBSD is quite different. Lucas will help you to understand OpenBSD-people.

OpenBSD is generally a well documented operating system, the documentation is complete and accurate. Unfortunately it is also formal. Lucas makes it more approachable and fills in lots of small blanks.

The real value-adding feature is that he’s quite liberal in sharing his own experiences as a longtime sysadmin. This is the most important feature of the book and I want more. That’s probably the only clear thought when finishing the book: I’d have no problem with it being another 500 pages.

I’ve found one of the most common complaints about running OpenBSD to be the security patching process. (Disregarding the fact that security patches are pretty uncommon on a tight OpenBSD system.) A chapter on good ways to manage the errata patches would be very welcome. How to determine which systems are affected; how to download, patch, compile and install them (this was in the previous edition); and how to distribute them effectively. All this is hidden among the chapters but I would like an explicit treatment.

Also, I miss a description of assembling your own ports and packages. This, also, is somewhat hidden in the descriptions of packages and the ports system but a separate description would be nice.

Both of those topics would, IMHO, be more interesting than all the details of compiling custom kernels. Something that Lucas passionately advises you not to do.

This is the only modern printed text on managing OpenBSD. Thankfully, it’s really good.
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on June 16, 2013
Absolute OpenBSD, Unix for the Practical Paranoid, 2nd Edition is an introduction to OpenBSD, an operating system known for security and stability. It is considered by many to be the most secure operating system in the world. It's used by Internet service providers, in embedded systems, and on the desktop. OpenBSD is released under the BSD license. The author explains the license with a witty 3 line summary. The introduction also provides overview of the history of BSD giving the reader some background into Unix and the branches of the family tree.

OpenBSD is for hands on users willing to learn and experiment. As the author points out, OpenBSD is extremely well documented and focused on correctness of code. This includes documentation. If you choose to use OpenBSD, you are expected to read the documentation. Author Michael Lucas takes the time to explain how to help yourself with OpenBSD before involving others with solving your problem. Documentation is explained along with a listing of additional resources that can help you find solutions to problems encountered along the way. Should you still need assistance, he outlines the correct etiquette to approach the community. This is an operating system for individuals that can function without any hand holding.

I liked the writing style and the humor interjected into the subject matter. The book starts with basics and progressively advances to more complex subjects. The book has been well received by the OpenBSD community. A number of developers have contributed to it's completion. This speaks highly for a technical book. I look forward to using this book in my exploration of OpenBSD. For those looking to try OpenBSD I recommend this book.

Disclosure: I received a free e-book copy for review purposes.
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on October 9, 2015
Easy to follow. Full of useful information. Homourous.
OpenBSD is known for security but, typically regarded as a OS only for unix expert.
This book definitely lower the entry barrier for OpenBSD,
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on March 30, 2015
If you are wanting to make the leap to learn OpenBSD, this is an excellent reference. Let's face it some references are pretty dry, however, Michael Lucas blends his knowledge and humor making this an enjoyable read. Unlike some other reference books I've read, he'll explain how something works but, he'll also explain some of the 'gotchas' associated with it. I have several of his other references and I haven't been disappointed thus far.
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on June 24, 2013
I hope this doesn't need to be said, but I will say it anyway, read this book while you are using OpenBSD. Read it while you are using the operating system. Also, I highly recommend purchasing, or finding online, a resource book with basic and advanced UNIX commands. The author strikes the right balance between theory and practice. OpenBSD is very well-documented, and those who want more technical information about certain aspects of the system have an abundance of papers to sift through. For someone with little or no knowledge of systems besides Windows, this is decent place to start. If you are strapped for time and have no *NIX experience, I suggest starting with a graphical Linux distribution. However, if you are very serious about mastering UNIX and putting together a truly secure rig, then buy this book and a CD from the official OpenBSD website.
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on June 15, 2013
I love OpenBSD. It is my first choice for unix, and in servers in general. But learning it can be a bear. Don't get me wrong, the online documentation is great, just a little terse for my taste. I needed text (wording) that has been humanized a bit, and Michael does that in a very conversational way. The book is organized in a very logical and systematic manner. The examples were realistic and easy to comprehend. I felt Michael did a good job of taking unix and putting it into layman's terms. The more experienced will get up-to-speed doing things the "OpenBSD" way, and those new to unix will have a fighting chance. To me, this book is an invaluable resource and the go-to if you want to really learn OpenBSD.
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