September 18, 2006

Book review: Geeks might like <em>Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks</em>

Author: Tina Gasperson

Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks, written by Rickford Grant, is geared toward Linux beginners, but is not written for the complete techno-newbie. You'll probably want to be at a level where you feel comfortable taking control of your system before you take advantage of this book. But if you have been a Windows power user for years, Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks could transform you into a "penguinista" quicker than you can say GNU General Public License.

In the introduction, Grant says that the book is not for "seasoned geeks or power users," but it is possible to be a geek and still never have installed Linux. Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks includes a CD containing the Intel x86 Edition of Ubuntu Dapper Drake. It boots up into live CD mode, which allows you to run the operating system from your CD drive without touching your hard drive. This is good if you're not sure whether you want to commit to either having a dual-boot system or wiping Windows out permanently, but the live CD version of Linux runs significantly slower than Linux on your hard drive.

Grant starts out by sharing with his readers what Linux is and what it means to become a Linux user. He explains the philosophy behind open source software, introduces us to Tux, the penguin mascot designed by Larry Ewing, and defines the word "distribution."

Next is a walkthrough of the install process, where you'll have to decide how much of your hard drive you want to dedicate to Ubuntu. The book shows you, screen by screen, what you'll encounter. Once the installation is complete, Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks gives you a detailed introduction to the desktop by way of a project: customizing the GNOME panel. GNOME is the standard desktop environment in Ubuntu, and you can move things around, change colors, and customize menus in order to make your desktop comfortable for you. Grant makes it seems easy with his step-by-step instructions and plenty of screen shots.
If I were installing Ubuntu Linux for the first time, I'd skip the desktop manipulation and

go straight to the next chapter that shows how to get your Internet connection up. Grant

goes over high-speed, wireless, and dialup, and shows us how to install Firefox extensions

and send email with Evolution and Thunderbird. As in every chapter, he offers a fair amount

of explanation that goes beyond what relates specifically to Ubuntu. Grant tells how to set

up a network connection when your provider doesn't offer DHCP, and for the absolute

beginner, he provides simple definitions for IP and DNS.

The next chapter, "Rounding Out the Bird," explores APT (Advanced Package Tool), calling it

a "rather foolproof way of installing programs." Grant shows how to use Synaptic and GNOME

App Install, walking the reader step-by-step through adding repositories, installing a game,

and adding the Flash plugin to Firefox. Again, Grant's level of detail in these

mini-tutorials makes newbie success pretty much a sure thing.

"File and Disk Handling" is a good collection of hints that even more experienced users will

find helpful. Grant goes over file handling and system navigation in Nautilus, the GNOME

equivalent of Explorer in Windows. Nautilus can also act as an FTP client, so Grant shows us

how to set file permissions while we're there, including a short lesson on making your home

folder private. Finally, Nautilus even has a built-in CD and DVD-burning utility, and

there's an extended tutorial here to match. An end-of-the-chapter project has readers

creating and extracting compressed files.

Chapter 7, "Dressing up the Bird," helps users take advantage of the extreme customisability

of the Linux desktop. Grant walks us through setting up a new user account (so we have an

extra desktop to play with). One cool tip Grant shares is how to log in to another account

without logging out of the current one, by using an application called Xnest. And since

Ubuntu comes with an empty desktop, Grant shows us how to put the familiar Trash and Hard

Disk icons on there, using the GNOME configuration editor. With the level of customization

Grant walks us through, we could all make and distribute our own custom Ubuntus.

The next chapter shows how to open and use a command line interface. One project shows how to created a .plan file, which is the message you see when you use the "finger" command to learn more about another user on your network. Another project makes use of pyWings, a game that lets you type in questions. The oracle within the application provides answers.

Chapter 9 shows us how to install programs manually, using tarballs, binaries, java, and rpms, and how to run Windows applications using Wine.

Not until Chapter 10 does Grant finally talk about getting printers and scanners up and running, but he tells what to do if your printer doesn't work with Ubuntu and how to print to PDF. The last few chapters discuss fonts, language support, and multimedia, including iPod howtos and editing audio and video.

Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks is published by No Starch Press and retails for $34.95.

Click Here!