Background story of UPT: how we made it and why
Hi. Thanks for your interest in this book. Here's some history and info. This is a bit rambling, but I hope it'll help you understand the book's design and purpose better--and might be fun to read, too.
In the early 1980's, I taught myself to use UNIX--with some help from a couple of colleagues and the early Usenet newsgroups. (There were almost no UNIX books back then--just the "man pages.") As I read Usenet and fiddled around over the next five or six years, I made notes and kept copies of articles with non-obvious and elegant tips. (Yes, back then, with only a handful of Usenet sites and no spam, Usenet was actually useful!) Later, when I started to work for the publisher as a staff writer, all these random notes and article copies were a perfect start for this experimental book project that O'Reilly folks had been dreaming up.
We didn't want to make another tutorial that you had to read start-to-finish: people who already knew some UNIX would have to wade through the stuff they did know to find the good stuff they didn't. Though the World Wide Web wasn't around in 1991, we knew about hypertext and decided it would be a great way to organize the book. The big questions then were how to put it together and whether it would sell! The folks at O'Reilly (I've left O'Reilly since, BTW) are a really creative bunch who took risks and tried innovative things. Thanks to UNIX tools like troff, sed, and perl, we cooked up this readable and useful format that I don't think any commercial publishing package can emulate. (Maybe that's why I've never seen another book like this, even though it's been very popular?)
Once we decided on the format, and the book design and production folks came up with a way to make it happen, we had to figure out how to shoehorn the huge amount of material into "just" 1,000 pages. (Back then, 1,000 pages was a big computer book! Not any more. :-(...) We tracked down authors of the original Usenet articles, from years back. (Most email addresses were absolute "bang-paths" back then, like ucbvax!tektronix!tekid!jerryp, and you had to know which machine could route to which other machines. Years later, finding people who'd moved or changed hosts could be a real challenge.) When we contacted all these gurus, several of them got involved in the book project with us--updating their original Usenet material and writing new stuff, too. (BTW, I never did meet many of those people face-to-face. Most of our contact was through email.)
I, my co-authors, and several other folks, wrote a lot of original material for this book... maybe three-quarters of the book came from material we wrote. (But that story isn't as much fun to tell.)
Two years later, after lots of 16-hour workdays, many versions, and extensive technical review, we finished the beast. I'm so glad to see that all the work paid off (as the reviews here on amazon.com show...). I did basically all of the second edition myself, in 1997, with more emphasis on Linux and GNU utilities. The book is still updated often, printing to printing, from reader comments and from changes in the UNIX/open-systems field. It feels great that so many people find it useful. I used to be an instructor, and my real pleasure in both teaching and writing comes when people get value from my work. I also like to hear suggestions and criticisms, so please feel free to email me... I'll try to work your changes into the book.
Jerry Peek email@example.com