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Free Books Online 59

Matt Braithwaite writes "Answering RMS's call for free documentation, Karl Fogel has written a book on CVS that is free (GPLed) and available online. (The paper version has additional non-free material.) " Also, edinator wrote to say that ORA has put the Using Samba text online. Some old news there, but, hey, some light figure for after eating turkey.
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Free Books Online

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  • by pigpogm ( 70382 ) <> on Thursday November 25, 1999 @01:58AM (#1505841) Homepage
    For anyone who's not already aware of it...

    InformIT [] has quite a selection of books in their Free Library []. It has a number of books from Que, SAMS, and New Riders, among others. They're all available for online reading.
  • And under operating systems:

    Windows 98; Windows 95.

    What gives? A site for IT pros? Hardly.

  • I know that this is most likely way out of left-field, but isn't it interesting that the GPL is so versatile? I havn't read through it completely, and by all means, I AM NOT A LAWYER. But I truly respect how dynamic it is.

    Software can be released under it.. for free. Books, hardware specs, art, music (please don't argue that it *is* art, I may vomit), and countless other things that would benefit the community.

    The GPL has truly turned into what the 'Patent' may have originally meant to be. A great idea that gives undeniable credit to the original author, while enriching the community by giving the new idea free reign.

    I am waiting for the day when I can log on and download almost any book imaginable. A day where we don't pay for someones intellectual property, but rather we pay for the materials that we use to view that property (CDs, pulp, disposable LCDs, you name it).

    WARNING: I may be a purest.. sue me.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The entire text of the Oreilly Docbook is downloadable (bit above my head though) BruceEckels Thinking in Java is downloadable in many formats. In the past some people have assumed that nobody would buy a book if the text was online. Bruce Eckel comments that it will cost you almost as much in toner cartridge to print out the book as it would to buy (I know this doesn't hold true for all of the world, and certainly not here in the UK). The analogy I like to draw is that of newspapers in public libraries. Sure you can get to read them for free, but if the price is reasonable it is much more convenient to buy your very own copy to take away and read on the bus. Last but not least another fine example of online technical text is ....ahem , my very own Java Cert tutorial (100's of pages) online. Marcus Green
  • by ghoti ( 60903 ) on Thursday November 25, 1999 @02:13AM (#1505846) Homepage
    Maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't Stallman's original point that when people don't get paid for their software, they would get paid for support?
    I consider documentation as part of that support, so what's next? A call for free support centers?
    I think this is cool (I like free documentation! ;-), but where is it leading to?

  • But if you look about an inch to the right.. theres Linux under networking! Personally I would have put it under OS's to.. but what the hey.. there it is.... :)

    An interesting site, free books.. time to nose around! :)
  • As an after-thought, does anyone have any information on when the first draft of the GPL was written and when?

  • oops, hehe. :)

    didn't see that.


  • by steve9000 ( 39396 ) on Thursday November 25, 1999 @02:20AM (#1505850) Homepage

    I really like this approach because

    a) there are people who could really use the
    information in the books, but can't afford them.
    (poor students?) These people would have to make
    do with other possibly worse docs. The publishers
    win because these people will gain respect
    for the publisher if the book is any good.

    b) people with cash to spend can make better
    choices. For instance if I came across an online
    book which I thought was relevant and good, I
    would be more inclined to buy it. Even if it
    had nothing new to me, I still may buy it for
    my co-workers.

    There really is nothing like a bound book.
    Computer professionals desks are swamped in
    reams of a4 printouts. Does anybody actually
    print the things out instead of reading online?

  • I work for a technical bookstore and being able to download a book for a customer can sure cure a lot of headaches. Especially since downloading from a person to another person is not taxable. Personally I can not read more than 2 help pages in a row on the computer. A book you can eat and read, sit anywhere, and take it with you to the bathroom. Very good for ignoring the mate.
  • There's also, which has a free archive, with all the books from InformIt and more. They also have lots of on-line books for only $150/year. There's also, w/o free section and $200/year, but they're worth it. There's also, which will come online soon, they say. Go check all these out.
  • by cybaea ( 79975 ) <> on Thursday November 25, 1999 @02:25AM (#1505853) Homepage Journal

    The GPL [] is not really appropriate for documents (see below). View the OpenContent [] licence for a more appropriate document.

    The OpenContent Content Database [] (I love that name!) lists the few documents that are known to have been released under the licence.

    From the OpenContent FAQ:

    Why do we need the OPL?

    Computer software can already be made free for public consumption and improvement by distribution under one of several Free Software licenses as mentioned above. If you're developing executable code with instructional potential, please consider licensing it as "Free Software" so that it can both be a part of the Bazaar development cycle and freely accessible to everyone.

    Other Content (Learning Objects) such as graphics, images, sound bytes, video clips, models, lecture notes, tutorials, HOW-TO's and anything else that can be "referenced during technology supported learning" can not be released under these licenses because they are written specifically for computer software. The OpenContent License has been created to provide instructional designers and content specialists the same benefits, protections and assurances programmers gain from Free Software licenses. The OPL (pronounced "opal") is always open for comment. This version draws inspiration (and some verbiage) from the GPL [] and Debian's Social Contract [].

  • The GPL is not appropriate for documents. See this thread [] for more comments and alternative licences.

  • I print almost everything I have to read if its on the computer. I don't seem to read it, I look at it, and my mind just doesn't keep it. I know it has to be because of the flickering. When CDs came out and they put the manual on the disc, I thought I would die. I like to read words that are spelled correctly and it is hard to find even a small doc that doesn't have something mispelled.
  • by ransom ( 115658 )
    When I first saw the "black book of perl" I was sorta worried about this company... I didn't actually read it but the title seemed to indicate another Sams Teach Complete Idiots Nothing For Dummies type book. OI then picked it up and realized this was not the case. Another company, New Riders, is from the same publisher that controls Sams. I have the book by Havoc Pennington, GTK+ / Gnome Application Development. This book was releasd under the OPL (Open Publication License) so that may be online soon, as well. I am very happy that book makers are getting in to this as I am strapped for money about all twhe time and will most likely have to get a job at Barnes and Noble just for the discount. This definitly bodes well. But, as you may have realized, if publishers put their books online and then sales drop noticably they will NOT continue to do this. So we must still buy books. If we don't, this privilage won't last long.

    If you think you know what the hell is going on you're probably full of shit.
  • Again, for the nth time and quoting from the article [] mentioned in the original post:

    Free documentation, like free software, is a matter of freedom, not price

    RMS further elaborates that the reason why you need free (in the sense of available as source and available for modification) documentation for free (in the same sense) software, is such that you can update the documentation when you modify the software! This seems to be an important point.

    So, if I make a better perl (and the world beats a path to my door...) it is kind of unfortunate that I cannot update the most popular O'Reilly books whith my enhancements. (Perl might be a bad example as the available documentation is quite good, but replace it with something else you know where the developer's docs are not sufficient. (sendmail?))

    Seriously: read the whole article []. RMS is making some good points in there (and I'm not normally a fan).

  • I disagree. Documentation (both source and user documentation) should be viewed as part of the product not of the support. This is what I've learned in software engineering courses and what I strongly believe for myself. And what about online-documentation? Is this part of the product or of the support? Where is the border line: tool-tips, What's-this, help system, html/pdf, printed documentation? And how should I use g++ without documentation? IMHO it is one of the most common faults of software developers to think of documentation as a bonus to the product. Documentation should be planned from the start -- some processes (e.g. the Unified Software Development Process) explicitly support this. Peter (I'll get an account ... promised ;-)
  • Thanks for that info, that's very useful.

    Will somebody please moderate this post [] up?

    Here are the hyperlinks:

  • when i'm going to analyze new code (something >100 lines, without upper limit :) for making modifications or just for fun, i always print it in the first place (with a2ps, 2 pages on the side). When i have printout and no computer around, my understanding speed up just 10 times faster :)
  • Does anyone know if (where?) the O'Reilly Samba book is available in a printer-friendly version (in one piece), be it txt, pdf, html, ps or whatever? I want to read it whitout hurting my eyes too much on my crappy 70Hz display...

    The guys are supposed to reformat it this way, but I haven't seen anything on their site yet.
  • by king's jester ( 118586 ) on Thursday November 25, 1999 @03:09AM (#1505862)
    at: have a nice read ...
  • The GPL is not appropriate for all documentation - specifically programming language tutorials. Picture someone at company X using this tutorial, say perlipc.pod (assuming that was a GPL'd tutorial - which it isn't), as a starting point for the IPC part of his perl application. He takes the code, and adds huge amounts to it (ie the bulk of his application). Suddenly he realises - one small piece of his code, taken from a tutorial, is GPL'd (because the tutorial itself is GPL'd). Suddenly his whole app has to be GPL'd because the GPL requires this. That's a bad thing, simply because he didn't really think this was a choice he was making. Who considers the licence on examples we copy from books? That sort of thing should be really free - public domain or some other licence that would allow this (the AL comes to mind).

    I know this rant belongs to Tom C, but I feel the same.

    However some docs can be GPL'd without this worry. I can't really see this affecting the CVS book for example - it's not like it's a programming language. Unless it contains C code examples (which I doubt it does).
  • So I assume he also feel the GPL is inadequate for books. Also, note that the books published by the FSF aren't under the GPL either, but under ad-hoc licenses.
  • The documentation is part of the software and is forked with it; precisely the same freedoms should accompany it. I don't see any problem with the docs for GPL software being under the GPL.

    I'd also be happier if the OPL were certified Open Source.
  • Okay, I admit, I somehow overlooked that paragraph the first time (I read the whole article, though). But that raises even more questions: If the source of these books is free, everybody can sell books printed from it, right? So Addison-Wesley might sell the same book without having to pay anything to O'Reilly.

    I also understand the point of forking documentation when a project forks, but I am not convinced that would be a good thing. Because the original book would still be available at O'Reilly's site, and not your enhanced version!

  • I don't see any problem with the docs for GPL software being under the GPL.

    You might not have a problem, but it may not be a legal licence. Remember it talks about "running" the program and distributing "object code or executable form".

    The FSF's lawyers have checked the GPL for programs, but not, AFAIK, for documentation. If you are going through the pain of putting a licence agreement together, at least get somebody with legal training to check that it is appropriate for what you want to use it for.

    Note also, that the FSF does not use the GPL for their own documents.

  • I read "using Samba" online and on the basis I like what I read I plan to pay for a real copy. [Its going to join the other 12 or so O'Reilly books I have]

    I *DO* print things out that I'm interested in, and I tend to work on computer programs and documentation in "dead tree" format rather than electronically - for some reason I find it easier to do major work in this form [minor problems I do fix online]. Perhaps its because I haven't got a 21" monitor yet.

  • I should have made my point a bit clearer: Program documentation is a part of any serious program, no question. But there is a difference between writing a README, manpages and some additional HTML for your own program, and writing a book with lots of little hints and stuff about something you happen to use and know well.

    So I believe there is quite a clear-cut line between absolutely necessary documentation (that is included with most programs I know, anyway) and "3rd party" kind of documentation, HOWTOs (okay, I'm starting to see your point ... ;-), etc

    Please don't get me wrong. I am all for free documentation. I am just wondering about the possible implications to the model put forth in the Manifesto. Or maybe I just didn't understand the original idea ...
  • Hi there;

    I've been doing a lot of emailing with RMS of late, and something that I think must annoy him is silly twats like me failing to go to the ever-useful philosophy [] section of his website.

    Just a few notes about Free Books. Richard has - I may be hearing FUD here - previously called O'Reilly the "parasite of Free Software". O'Reilly was and is the de facto "Publisher to Hackerdom", and their license terms used to inspire RMS to say:

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I thought I would learn Perl. I got a copy of a free manual, but I found it hard to read. When I asked Perl users about alternatives, they told me that there were better introductory manuals--but those were not free.

    Why was this? The authors of the good manuals had written them for O'Reilly Associates, which published them with restrictive terms--no copying, no modification, source files not available--which exclude them from the free software community.

    That wasn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, and (to our community's great loss) it was far from the last. Proprietary manual publishers have enticed a great many authors to restrict their manuals since then.

    Many times I have heard a GNU user eagerly tell me about a manual that he is writing, with which he expects to help the GNU project--and then had my hopes dashed, as he proceeded to explain that he had signed a contract with a publisher that would restrict it so that we cannot use it.

    - Free Software and Free Manuals []

    Of course, things have changed now. O'Reilly has begun to talk about their Open Publishing License (or whatever it is), and have begun to put certain books online. I would be interested in seeing if Richard considers these to be "Free Documentation" or not.

    BTW, I'll agree that the GPL does not really address documentation very well. The OpenContent License [] is aimed at this sort of stuff.

    As someone else pointed out: Richard's constant mantra is "Free documentation, like free software, is a matter of freedom, not price".

    Books still have their advantages over online docs, mind you. For example, a book has a near-zero boot time, has effectively infinite uptime, has extremely high definition displays, allows you to add your own notes directly to the 'file' (requires a Pen (tm) or Pencil (tm)), it is highly portable, it is compatible with most People, it can be found in alternate formats for non-compatible people (ie Braille), it can be given as a gift, it can be thrown at a faulty TV screen, it can be used to attract attention from others (thy fellow geek) or to drive it away (thy fellow 'blond').

    Online documentation is searchable, so that you can curse and swear when you don't have the precise phrase you need. It's quick, and cross-linked and whatnot, and utterly inscrutable. Oh, and you can print it out yourself ...

    Be well;


  • The Second edition of the Gimp User's Manual [] is also reslesed under a free license (OPL).

    The biggest difference is that you can get it in both pdf and html format and all chapters are avalible. I consider that publishing it in a html only is not so free. Only publish a subset is also to be considered not so free.

    Why? Well as a reader you want to be able to print the whole book and and have it next to you when you deal with your projet. Maybe you also want to bring it with you and read it in your bed etc.

    • Printing a book only published in html is a nightmare.(Just print the samba book and you will find out that it will not look that good)
    • To only be able to print a subset and not the index and toc is not good because you will not be able to find what you are looking for.
    • Bring your laptop to your bedroom is not a good solution. Just imagine waking up and find that you sleept on top of it (i.e it's broken) is not funny at all.

    Still it a good thing that people and publishers let readers/users read the book for free. Me my self buy my books since paper format is always nicer. I also think you should buy your books (if you can afford it) since otherwise no one will write books.

    The biggest thing is however to be able to choose, buy or download

  • You might not have a problem, but it may not be a legal licence. Remember it talks about "running" the program and distributing "object code or executable form".

    Although I'm sceptic whether GPL is or is not good for docs, remember, a *copyright* license can only govern the copying. And GPL is nothing else just a finetuned copyright to lead to the free world :)

    This is GPL's subtitle: TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR COPYING, DISTRIBUTION AND MODIFICATION, and BTW, GPL can only intervene, when you distribute something, i.e. when traditional copyright law would be infringed on "normal" stuff. What you *do* with the work you *have* depends only on you. As long as you start to copy, you must comply with the GPL. From this point of view, it's just as appropriate for any machine readable work, as anything else...

  • I'd also be happier if the OPL were certified Open Source.

    I agree in principle, but if you are talking about the effort at [], then, again, they are only talking about programs, not documentation, and they use terminology specific to programs and not applicable to documents.

    I would like to see their certification program [] extended to documents, but that does not seem to be a priority for them now.

  • O'Reilly's "Palm Programming: The Developer's Guide" can be read at: ents.htm
  • I'm _very_ tempted to download the samba book to our corporate internal webserver. I probably will do this come monday.

    I'm less than tickled, however, about the effect this will have on O'Reilly's sales. Do you think our employees will read through it and decide to buy a copy? Or do you think they'll decide not to buy a copy because they don't have to?

    I think it _could_ help sales when the book is of sufficiently high quality and density that it is useful after reading it, useful on site, useful when troubleshooting. If it's so much fluff like some companies put out, though, then I can't imagine it would flourish in such an environment.

  • No no no... I was just expressing my feelings of extreme happiness with all those people doing such nice things for me. I'm a happy man. (Even though one of my first posts to /. is moderated down ;-))

  • If you write code, you need to use version control. If you use version control, use CVS. If you use CVS, BUY THIS BOOK! CVS has hauled my ass out of the black abyss more than 5 times in the last 6 months, and the book is very helpful and will teach even the most seasoned CVS user a few tricks here and there.

    Congrats Karl on an excellent book.


  • We've always made freely-available all our OpenMail manuals and the majority of our 200- and 300-level course notes.

    Richi Jennings
    W/w OpenMail Marcom, PR/ICR Manager -
    Hewlett-Packard Company
    "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty"
  • I really like that word for 'Paper-version'. Is it already in the Jargon file?
  • Hmm. I don't think pdf is propriety file format. I thinnk the biggest thing is that it's avalible in both online and "print" format is the most important. I think in this case you don't want to download the 150MB ps of the GUM.
  • How many times have you been holding a paper book in your hand, trying to find some particular passage and wished that you had a grep facility handy to make that search more efficient? It happens to me all the time.

    I hate reading things off the screen, especially for long periods. I cannot concentrate like I can with a book. Yet the searchablity of online docs is amazingly useful.

    I wish someone would port grep to the human brain(tm)

  • As far as I know, the best site indexing free books is [] , which has links to over ten thousand free books online. They're searchable by author and title, and the site is constantly being updated.

    As far as I know, it is the definitive free book page.

    Enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving (for the Americans).

  • When can we expect a CVS repository for the Linux kernel code? CVSup is much better than downloading the patches, imho.
  • The definition for treeware is here [].


  • I think that putting an entire book online is similar to a book store allowing you to peruse the same book while sitting in an overstuffed chair. Having to read an entire book on the screen is about as inconvenient as making several trips to B&N to slurp up chapters of the latest Stephen King novel (though strangely I find myself doing that sometimes :o). If the book's good, you'll buy it. If it's not, what do we have to talk about?
  • The linux-kernel developers don't use CVS. Or rather, Linus acts as an "intellegent CVS with taste." not to dis those who have to use "dumb" CVS. ;)
  • ...with some justification, IMHO, Linus
    decided that CVS could not handle the
    Linux kernel (it's just too many files).
    And it is true that on a large
    project with lots of history, certain
    CVS operations can become
    might slow. I'd love to see it in CVS too,
    but I can't deny that Linus' complaints
    are valid.

    If I remember correctly,
    the Linux kernel is (or soon will be) in
    BitKeeper [],
    which was specifically designed with
    the Linux kernel in mind, although it
    is supposed to be of general utility too.
    Unfortunately, BitKeeper's license is not
    completely free, which I think prevents its
    wider adoption. I have no idea of its
    technical merits, never having used it myself,
    but from what I've read at their web site
    they appear to be thinking carefully
    about how to do revision control.
  • kewl. now i just wish someone would come up with the freshmeat equivalent of all free docs etc etc.
  • *shrug* he can always rewrite the small bit of code. there's no real need to GPL the entire app if he can do without or rewrite it. anyway, copyrights dont apply for code bits 10 lines. and if you cant rewrite it - well..then you shouldnt be writing code anyway.
  • Here's what I've found.

    Any reference material (most perl docs, man pages in general), I read online. Like you said, the searchability is infinitely useful. Anything where I have to jump to a certain section, get what I need, then quit, is preferably online.

    However, 'handholding' tutorials (ORA's _Learning_Perl_ springs to mind) are better perused in dead-tree form.

    Another factor is how hard it is to switch between docs and code (assuming programming docs) or between docs and the command prompt (OS or app related docs). If I need short bits of information (code snippets), man pages/info/etc work well. If I'm following a long list of instructions, I prefer to have a paper version too keep me from switching between X desktops too often.

    Overall, both options have their pros and cons. Just keep your laser printer and super-duper-infinitesimal-resolution scanner available, just in case one doesn't work and you need to try the other.... ;-)

    Sorry for any brain farts, it's late here... even by my standards...
  • O'Reilly also has some of their books available at their Open Books Project []. -Kazir

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.