February 09, 2005, 1:49 PM —
James Gaskin spoke with Dave Taylor about his new book, Wicked Cool Shell Scripts. Following is an edited transcript of that conversation, or listen to it here.
Welcome to ITworld of Voices. My name is James Gaskin and I'll be your host for this series of interviews with the leading technology book authors of today. Our guest in this session is Dave Taylor. Dave has contributed to a variety of Unix and Internet projects starting in 1980, before there was technically an Internet. He wrote Elm, the first screen-oriented email application, and has also foisted 16 books upon us, covering various technology and business projects and subjects. He was actually born in London and got to the United States as soon as possible. Two of the books you may have heard of from Dave are Teach Yourself Unix in 24 Hours and Creating Cool Web Pages With HTML. Our book subject today is Wicked Cool Shell Scripts. It came out in mid 2004, published by No Starch Press. It won, among other things the LinuxWorld Magazine's award for Best Scripting Book Ever. Dave, thanks for taking some time for us today.
Dave Taylor: I'm glad to be involved James.
James Gaskin: Thank you. First question, why would anybody write a book about shells?
Taylor: Ah, well, that's a good question. Because as you might realize, there are plenty of books that cover shell scripts. And shell scripts are basically small little portable applications that you write within the command line interpreter on Unix or Linux machines, or in fact, Mac OS X machines too. And there are plenty of them out there, but when I looked at them all, I kept having this niggling unhappiness that they were all terribly boring and that it was a very interesting topic that no one had ever really addressed in an interesting fashion, and that they were much more about here's an if statement. Here's how you use an if statement. Let's have an example three-line snippet that has an if statement in it. Terribly dry. I looked at that and I said, there has got to be a better way, and so I wrote Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, which has 101 -- actually probably about 160 -- different scripts that cover much more than you could ever imagine you could do with a shell script. All the way from a hangman game to CGI scripts you can plug into your server to a wide variety of tools that can help you administer your Unix or Linux machine, to even ways that you can work with the iTunes library on a Macintosh.
Gaskin: Interesting. Now, desktop Linux has certainly become more popular. Linux has done very well in the server room. But most people are scared of the command line. So what advice could you give them?