Book review: Complete Guide to Windows Server 2008, John Savill

A couple of years back, I was invited out to the Microsoft Campus in Redmond to learn about Windows Server 2008.  It was a fantastic week – not just because it was my first trip to Redmond but also because I met so many great people – many of whose work I had been reading in books, magazines and on the ‘net for years.  One example was John Savill, who, at the time, was working on a book… a rather big book as it turns out – and his publishers sent me a copy to review.

It’s taken me some time (I did plan to use it for my MCSE to MCITP:EA upgrade in 2008) but here’s what I found when I read John Savill’s Complete Guide to Windows Server 2008, published by Addison Wesley.

At over 1700 pages, this is not a lightweight read.  Having said that, it’s title of “complete guide” is pretty accurate – going right back to a history of Windows (although using the abbreviation of WNT for Windows NT is not something I’ve seen anywhere else, and was somewhat confusing).  Although the book is written in a style that makes it very readable, it’s size means that it’s not something that can easily be read in bed, or on the train, or anywhere really – and that means it’s most use as a reference book (a digital copy is available to purchasers of the hardback edition, but only for 45 days… not really much use for a book this size).

But what a reference book it is!  I’ve read many texts on deploying Windows and none have ever taken me through a network trace of a PXE boot, removing the need to press F12, or the structure of the XML that describes a Windows image.  Sure, we now have tools like the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit but John explores Windows Deployment Services (and the Windows Automated Installation Kit) in great detail – just the sort of detail I would need if I was an administrator looking to discover how Windows works and how to make it work for me.  These are just a few highlights though from one example of the 24 chapters (plus how to quick reference and index) – indeed I’ll list them here to show the breadth of coverage for this book:

  • Windows 101: Its origins, present, and the services it provides
  • Windows Server 2008 fundamentals: navigation and getting started
  • Installing and upgrading Windows Server 2008
  • Securing a Windows Server 2008 deployment
  • File system and print management features
  • TCP/IP
  • Advanced networking services
  • Remote access/securing and optimising the network
  • Terminal Services
  • Active Directory Domain Services (introduction)
  • Designing and installing Active Directory
  • Managing Active Directory and advanced concepts
  • Active Directory Federated Services, Lightweight Directory Services, and Rights Management
  • Server core
  • Distributed File System
  • Deploying Windows
  • Managing and maintaining Windows Server 2008
  • Highly available Windows Server 2008
  • Virtualisation and resource management
  • Troubleshooting Windows Server 2008 and Vista environments
  • Group policy
  • The command prompt and PowerShell
  • Connecting Windows Server to other environments
  • Internet Information Services

Each chapter goes into great detail, with plenty of screen shots, and command line output; yet remains extremely readable because the approach taken is to set the scene, before drilling down into the detail – rather than swamping the reader with a mountain of technical know-how.

If I had one tiny criticism, I’d say that there were a (very) few occasions when it left me hanging by referring me to the Microsoft website for more information (e.g. for details of storing BitLocker encryption keys in Active Directory); however, in general, this book provided me with the right balance between readability and technical detail – and I would not hesitate to recommend this text to anyone who works with, or is looking to learn about, Windows Server 2008.

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