I’ve come across numerous Linux books since I started using Linux about a year ago. From what I’ve seen Linux books generally fall into two categories: Firstly, books that are about specific distros (Mandrake, Red Hat, SUSE etc.) and books that are about general Linux topics (like BASH scripting, networking, security). For people who are beginning Linux, it’s the first category that is most useful. Most such books are about the popular distros. In the past they have included the likes of Red Hat and SUSE. Recently Ubuntu Linux has joined the ranks of the popular and mass user distros, and Beginning Ubuntu Linux is one of the first books written specifically to give a helping hand to people who are beginning their Linux journey with Ubuntu. And that includes people like me.
This book is different in many ways from other similar books that I’ve come across in the last year; in fact in seems to be as different from other books as Ubuntu is from other major distros. The back of the book says that the book is “Written for newcomers to Linux, yet comprehensive enough to appeal to even seasoned users”. And they are quite right about it. The book does not just cover how to get Ubuntu installed and running, it also takes a good look at the common applications that any computer uses: office and mulitmedia programs, internet software and even some slightly more advanced topics like making backups, networking with other computers, making sense of the Linux filesystem and optimizing your system for better performance.
Most Linux users, especially new users today are exiles from the world of Windows and for them adjusting to the Linux world can sometimes be a challenge. This book accepts the fact that most of it’s readers will be coming from Windows and will need a helping hand figuring things out. The two most important questions asked by any Windows exile are: “Can I use my favourite Windows programs in Linux?” and “Do I have to type in a lot of weird commands?”. This book anticipates these questions and makes a determined and sincere effort to gently introduce the Linux newbie to Linux equivalents of comon Windows programs and also to the weird and wonderful thing that is the command line. I especially liked the chapters devoted to the intricacies of the BASH shell, and even though I’ve spent a good deal of time at the Command Line, I still learnt a new trick or two.
But of course do actually get the most out of the book, you have to have Ubuntu installed on your computer. There is an in depth guide to installing Ubuntu, which holds your hand through the whole process and even helps you through the often confusing process of partitioning and also tells you what to do if you run into one of the common errors. it then goes on to take you on a tour of Ubuntu’s GNOME desktop and helps you set up your hardware and get connected to your home network and the Internet. There are also sections to guide you through conecting scanners and cameras and using USB storage devices and installing graphics card drivers. There is also a section on installing a firewall and securing your computer (which includes an introduction to the user system in Linux).
The book is replete with screenshots, which make sure that the user encounters no confusion while installing and configuring her or his system and the layout is clear and simple. But what impressed most about the book is not how well it guides the new user, but that the book begins with an extensive account of the history of Linux and the free softare movement. And it is one of the few books that I have encountered that give due credit to both Richard M. Stallman and Linuz Torvalds acknowledges the part played by the FSF and GNU software. The book ensures that only will a reader become an adept Linux user, she or he will know about the people and the ideas behind Linux and understand appreciate the differences between Free and proprietary software.
In the end it all boils down to this: is it really worth paying $39.99 for this book? The answer is yes. If you’re a new Linux user, this book will certainly save you a lot of time scouring forums and documentation for solutions to simple problems and answers to common questions. Even if you’re reached the stage when you can manage linux without too much of a fuss (like me) you can still hope to learn a good few things from this book. And thanks to the spirit of humanity and free software, you also save bandwidth charges because this book comes with a complete, no-strings-attached copy of Ubuntu on CD. If you’ve been hearing about Linux, but have been waiting for someone to hold your hand when you take the plunge, just get this book and get wet!