Saturday, February 17, 2007

Book review: Beginning Ubuntu Linux

Beginning Ubuntu Linux - From Novice to Professional
by Keir Thomas, published by APress

Keir Thomas puts everything you need to get started with the distribution of Linux getting the most press these days all in one handy tome. All you'll need is a decent computer, the software, and you're set! The book's chapters - 34 in all - deal with the various aspects of installing/configuring, using and personalizing Ubuntu for your tastes.

Stating true to the political slant of most open source and Linux advocates, the book spares no expense when taking potshots at rival Microsoft and denouncing the company's operating system and Windows' implied failure to live up to its billing as a high-performance, stable, secure operating system. Ubuntu, Thomas preaches, to the rescue.

For history buffs, the book starts out with a well-chronicled backstory on the oft-misconceived beginnings of GNU/Linux, and of the free and open source software movement. The book then proceeds to do a great job of talking about the various concerns with Linux's hardware compatibility, including WiFi access, and of finding your way around the default GNOME desktop environment. Differentiations are clearly made between traditional UNIX hardware problems and Ubuntu's nature to auto-detect all but the most obscure of devices and peripherals. An equally rewarding section is Thomas's lesson on using Synaptic and RPM-based repositories to discover, download, install and update the latest software.

Also helpful for Microsoft converts is a nice introduction to working with the UNIX terminal, specifically Ubuntu's use of BASH, and of basics of using the command-line interface for interacting with Linux. Cron and crontab are dealt with sparingly, but nicely.

There are also several very helpful chapters on multimedia. And one of the book's many redeeming sections is evident in the excellent discussions on using Wine, remote terminals, and virtualization to access external resources, or run other Linux or Windows applications from within Ubuntu. It's a part of the book that's very well-written and nicely laid out. And any user will appreciate the healthy section on using OpenOffice, and then the individual chapters laying out basic features and functionality of each of the applications with that productivity suite.

The live CD also ensures you can start playing with the OS right away, for those of you not wanting to download the 700MB ISO image (although the version on CD is likely one or more generations behind the current stable distro).

I found the book to only have a couple of minor shortcomings, namely a surprising lack of a chapter on gaming with Linux, which for a growing population is a major draw. It would have also been beneficial to go more into detail about shell scripting, beyond just simple (sub)directory and setting up basic cron jobs. Also, I find that the one area keeping the book attaining absolute perfection would be incorporating a Mac-centric viewpoint for people coming over from Apple environments, or looking to bridge Linux with that platform.

But those aside, the book is otherwise a one-stop shopping gem - everything you'd need to get up and running in a matter of hours.

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