[techbooks] REVIEW: "The Network Press Encyclopedia of Networking", Werner F
- BKENCNTW.RVW 20000114
"The Network Press Encyclopedia of Networking", Werner Feibel, 2000,
%A Werner Feibel
%C 1151 Marina Village Parkway, Alameda, CA 94501
%I Sybex Computer Books
%O U$84.99/C$127.95/UK#60.99 800-227-2346 Fax: 510-523-2373
%P 1444 p. + CD-ROM
%T "The Network Press Encyclopedia of Networking, Third Edition"
Writing an encyclopedia is a difficult job, no question. It must be
particularly difficult in a technical field. Feibel has obviously put
a lot of work into the project, but the result remains problematic.
First off, it is rather difficult to see this as an encyclopedia.
There are a great many short entries simply defining terms, so the
book might be closer to a dictionary. There are, though, a number of
longer articles on major topics.
The second point to make is that not all of the book is about
networking. Granted, it is difficult to say where to draw the line
between technologies, but a great number of listings refer to
computers, particularly of the Wintel/PC variety, and have little or
nothing to do with networking or communications. On the other hand,
"AI" refers only to authentication information, with no mention of the
rather more well known artificial intelligence.
The original title was "Novell's Encyclopedia of Networking," and that
still shows up in entries such as "Access Rights," where the material
is completely NetWare specific. "//" is defined (Novell owned the
UNIX trademark for a while) but not the Microsoft equivalent "\\."
However, there is a rather good piece on the Windows NT Administrator
account, among others, so Microsoft is by no means ignored.
Some articles have a depth that is hard to find even in specialized
books on the topic. For example, I have reviewed texts dedicated to
firewalls that only describe packet filters, with no mention of proxy
servers, let alone the two different types. There is an excellent
essay on application proxy servers (albeit with lousy examples) in
here, but it is followed by two rather shoddy pieces on circuit level
proxies and firewalls respectively. And that, unfortunately, seems to
be a rather big problem. For every good bit, there are several parts
that are misleading, poorly explained, or flat out wrong.
Some mistakes can be put down to pure carelessness, such as calling
Corel "Lerel," or Teledesic "Teledisc." Other times the wording or
explanation is negligent, such as the assertion that, in 7-bit ASCII,
the eighth bit is used for parity. (This depends entirely on the
situation.) Bang path addressing seems to be conceptually understood,
but poorly illustrated, whereas it is hard to say whether the concept
of "store and forward" is understood at all. It is difficult to see
how listings like "DS" (as in the bandwidth levels of DS-1, DS-3, and
so forth) explain anything. And I'd defy anyone to justify the
definition of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) as a scripting
The article on 56K modems has a number of errors, and even a logical
fallacy. The discussion of agents makes no distinction between
viruses and mobile code. (On the other hand, Fred Cohen might like
that.) "Algorithm" contains a rather odd grab bag of examples. Lots
of words and examples still fail to properly explain either the
complete function or the usage syntax for anchor tags. The
description of an antivirus confuses the various types of antiviral
software with modes of operation. The entry for archie isn't too
realistic, and is probably dated. The illustration for graded index
fibre optic cable is completely backwards. "Hit" makes no reference
to Web sites.
Part of the problem is that Feibel seems quite willing to include his
own, or at least very non-standard, terminology. "Cathedral" is used
to refer to proprietary software, and, while Eric Raymond's piece on
"The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is very good, I'm sure that even
Raymond would agree that "open source" is more widely understood than
"bazaar." "Optimistic security" is fairly easily construed, but it is
not a term that is used in the security field. Since the entry for
"typewriter" is obviously a joke, you have to peruse the Jargon File
to find out that somebody wasn't having Feibel on about "bytesexual."
Many extremely specialized terms get very brief entries that don't
explain much. Ordering of the numbers section goes by the size of the
number, not alphabetic ordering, so that 802.2 comes before 1000 which
comes before 3780 which comes before 6611 which comes before 41449.
Cable refers only to twisted pair, except that there are also separate
listings for "cable, coaxial" and "cable, fiber-optic." Many
protocols are not listed as themselves but as "protocol, ...," and,
combined with the format for cross references, this appears to make
"CHAP" refer to "Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol" which
refers to "CHAP" without ever telling you what it is. Cross
references are also spotty: ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line),
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber
Line), and VDSL (Very-high-speed Digital Subscriber Line) don't refer
to each other, and none refer to HDSL (High-speed Digital Subscriber
Line)--which refers to them all.
The article on ActiveX is good, reasonably fair and complete. The
definition of freeware is much better than in most dictionaries.
Instant messaging is right up to the minute (as opposed to PGP, which
hasn't been updated since the second edition, and BITNET which was
probably out of date when the first edition came out). The listing
for viruses is much better than I have come to expect.
Overall, however, the work is simply not as reliable as one needs an
encyclopedia to be. It might be handy as a reference to trigger a
reminder, but if you don't already know the technology you cannot be
sure that what you find here is the straight goods.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKENCNTW.RVW 20000114
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