Ubuntu and desktop Linux have come a long way in the past few years. Ubuntu is currently one of the most popular, if not the most popular distro for desktop linux users. It was my first distro and though I no longer use it, I’ve always acknowledged to be a well-polished piece of work and I always recommend it to people who are just starting on their personal Linux journey. Like most other things in computers, getting used to a new operating system is made easier if there is a good source of documentation available. Beginning Ubuntu Linux, published by Apress is a particularly good example of documentation geared towards to the new user. I’ve reviewed the previous versions of the book and I find that the books have kept improving just Ubuntu itself.
One of the things that makes this book particularly appealing for me is that it starts out with a brief but informative review of the philosophy and history surrounding Linux and Ubuntu. I personally believe (and I think that many other Linux users share this) that there is much more to Linux and open source software than simple technical excellence. It is a way of thinking and acting that I find very appealing and which I wish others to understand. This book does its part in helping new users understand the culture that gave rise to the software that they will soon be using.
The book continues the practice of understanding that most of the people reading it will be Windows users. As a result the chapters dealing with installation also tell users how to properly back up their data and how to smoothen the transition. The guide through the actual installation process is also very in-depth and well written. Partitioning is often the most confusing part of the installation for a new user. I’m glad to see that partitioning has been dealt with very well with all the options in the install process carefully explained and the pros and cons weighed carefully. The chapter dealing with common installation problems is as good as before but now includes information on more than just installation problems. I particularly liked the section on how to deal with resolution and other common graphics problems since these can be very frustrating if not dealt with properly.
Once installation is complete the book goes on to describe with an equal amount of care how to perform various day to day tasks and how to customize your system. The section that deals with Linux equivalents is also comes in very handy for new users who just want to be pointed quickly in the right direction. The book geos beyond describing simply the core operating system and the user interfaces. Of particular note are the sections devoted to how to use multimedia systems. You’d be hard-pressed to find a computer user who doesn’t have a substantial collection of various music and video files and this book helps newbies get up and running with minimal effort. This new edition keeps the sections on using OpenOffice and the BASH shell but adds substantial material regarding the new automatic multimedia setup, the 3D graphics effects that have the Ubuntu desktop much more visually appealing and also on security and encryption. There is also a mini-tutorial on using the GIMP for basic image manipulation which I think shutterbugs will find handy.
The last part of the book is devoted to slightly more advanced topics such as package management, backups and automation and remote access. Personally I feel that package management deserves a more central place, right alongside installation, but the book’s modular structure means that this isn’t much of a problem. Overall the last few chapters act as a springboard from where newbies can start another journey to the level of power user and beyond.
The book as a whole is well laid out and material is clearly separated. The use of sidebars and small tips and warning sections means that a good amount of extra information is presented without interrupting the main flow of the text. There are also lots of links to other information sources where the interested reader can go to for more in-depth information. Most of these are freely available online sources and the full URL is often provided resulting in minimum effort for the reader. For Windows and Mac OS X users there are also pointers to third party tools that might make migration easier. The book is replete with high-quality black-and-white screenshots which add to the complete guide experience that the book provides. The third edition updates everything to be in sync with Ubuntu 8.04 and comes with a double-sided DVD containing a ready-to-install image on one side and various ISO images of the Ubuntu derivatives on the other. In essence the book has everything that a user would need to get up and running with Ubuntu.
The book is at a reasonable price of $39.99 and I think it’s a good investment for anyone looking to jump into the world of Linux. Even though you’ll get the most from this book in the first few weeks after installing Ubuntu for the first time, the later parts of the book will serve as a handy quick reference for those types you find yourself needing to dig under the hood. There is certainly a large amount of information online which means that books of this type are not strictly necessary, but at the same time it can make things a lot easier to have a quick reference close at hand. My litmus test for this sort of this sort of product is generally: would I give it to my mom? This time the answer is yes.