In Autumn 1993, Andy Oram, who had been around the LDP mailing list from almost the very beginning, asked Olaf about publishing this book at O'Reilly & Associates. He was excited about this book, never having imagined that it would become this successful. He and Andy finally agreed that O'Reilly would produce an enhanced Official Printed Version of the Networking Guide, while Olaf retained the original copyright so that the source of the book could be freely distributed. This means that you can choose freely: you can get the various free forms of the document from your nearest Linux Documentation Project mirror site and print it out, or you can purchase the official printed version from O'Reilly.
Why, then, would you want to pay money for something you can get for free? Is Tim O'Reilly out of his mind for publishing something everyone can print and even sell themselves? Is there any difference between these versions?
The answers are “it depends,” “no, definitely not,” and “yes and no.” O'Reilly & Associates does take a risk in publishing the Networking Guide, and it seems to have paid off for them (they've asked us to do it again). We believe this project serves as a fine example of how the free software world and companies can cooperate to produce something both can benefit from. In our view, the great service O'Reilly is providing to the Linux community (apart from the book becoming readily available in your local bookstore) is that it has helped Linux become recognized as something to be taken seriously: a viable and useful alternative to other commercial operating systems. It's a sad technical bookstore that doesn't have at least one shelf stacked with O'Reilly Linux books.
Why are they publishing it? They see it as their kind of book. It's what they'd hope to produce if they contracted with an author to write about Linux. The pace, level of detail, and style fit in well with their other offerings.
The point of the LDP license is to make sure no one gets shut out. Other people can print out copies of this book, and no one will blame you if you get one of these copies. But if you haven't gotten a chance to see the O'Reilly version, try to get to a bookstore or look at a friend's copy. We think you'll like what you see, and will want to buy it for yourself.
So what about the differences between the printed and online versions? Andy Oram has made great efforts at transforming our ramblings into something actually worth printing. (He has also reviewed a few other books produced by the Linux Documentation Project, contributing whatever professional skills he can to the Linux community.)
Since Andy started reviewing the Networking Guide and editing the copies sent to him, the book has improved vastly from its original form, and with every round of submission and feedback it improves again. The opportunity to take advantage of a professional editor's skill is one not to be wasted. In many ways, Andy's contribution has been as important as that of the authors. The same is also true of the copyeditors, who got the book into the shape you see now. All these edits have been fed back into the online version, so there is no difference in content.
Still, the O'Reilly version will be different. It will be professionally bound, and while you may go to the trouble to print the free version, it is unlikely that you will get the same quality result, and even then it is more unlikely that you'll do it for the price. Secondly, our amateurish attempts at illustration will have been replaced with nicely redone figures by O'Reilly's professional artists. Indexers have generated an improved index, which makes locating information in the book a much simpler process. If this book is something you intend to read from start to finish, you should consider reading the official printed version.
Note that while you are allowed to print out the online version, you may not run the O'Reilly book through a photocopier, much less sell any of its (hypothetical) copies.