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Three Ubuntu Books, reviewed by Groklaw's luvr
Monday, December 25 2006 @ 02:51 AM EST

This is perfect for a lazy day. Groklaw member luvr sends us his review of three Ubuntu books, “Moving to Ubuntu Linux,” by Marcel Gagné [article by Gagné, Moving to Ubuntu Linux], “The Official Ubuntu Book,” by Benjamin Mako Hill, Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, Ivan Krstić [sample chapter 4], “Ubuntu Unleashed,” by Andrew Hudson and Paul Hudson [sample chapter on installation]. Enjoy. Maybe today is a good day to give Ubuntu or Kubuntu a whirl, if you haven't already?


Three Ubuntu Books
~ reviewed by luvr

Even though I have been experimenting on and off with Linux for the past few years, I have remained mostly a Windows XP user (albeit with Firefox as my browser, Thunderbird as my e mail client, and more and more replacing that other office suite).

Just a few years ago, I didn’t consider Linux attractive enough to even consider making the switch—if only because it looked so clunky. That it needed a little work to get it working properly, wasn’t that much of a problem for me—I saw that mainly as an opportunity to learn more about it as I played with it.

These days, Linux has come a long way, and it has become far more visually attractive, as well as much easier to install. The ease of installation became apparent to me when I booted an Ubuntu Live CD on a computer that had a wireless networking PCI card as its only networking interface; it had taken me great pains to get the networking interface to work under Windows XP (I had to install a driver that Windows considered “possibly incompatible with your hardware” —and that I cannot possibly remember how I found it—in order to get it up and running). Naturally, I assumed that, if even Windows XP had great trouble with the card, then, surely with Linux, it would be next to impossible to use.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Ubuntu had not only correctly identified the hardware, but even installed working drivers for it—all without any help from me! To get it connected, I only had to specify my network name and my WEP key, and off I went.

Next, I actually installed Ubuntu to my hard disk, and started to play with it. The disabled “root” account takes a little getting used to, but is not too big a deal in the end; the user interface looks clean and beautiful, and it’s quite clear that Linux is as ready for the desktop as you want it to be.

That leaves one major problem: inertia—which is, after all, a fundamental Law of Physics. I decided that I would need a little extra help in trying to get comfortable with the system, and in my case, that usually means the good old—perhaps even old-fashioned?—tree-ware type of book.

I found three Ubuntu books that seemed interesting to me:

  • Moving to Ubuntu Linux,” written by Marcel Gagné (published by Addison-Wesley).

  • The Official Ubuntu Book,” written by Benjamin Mako Hill, Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, Ivan Krstić (published by Prentice Hall).

  • Ubuntu Unleashed,” written by Andrew Hudson and Paul Hudson (published by Sams Publishing).

Each of these books comes with a DVD from which you can boot (and, subsequently, install) Ubuntu—but I must admit I haven’t used any of these discs, since I already had Ubuntu on CD.

Since I couldn’t make up my mind about which of these books I would like most, I decided to buy them all three. Even though there is, obviously, quite a bit of overlap among them, they appeared to cover sufficient different material that I could put them all to good use.

Below are my impressions on these three books.

Moving to Ubuntu Linux,” by Marcel Gagné.

A few years ago, I read the book “Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye!” (covering mainly the KDE desktop environment) from the same author. I quite liked the pleasant style, which made me forget that I was trying to learn something, but felt more like a playful introduction to the subject. However, I didn’t seem quite ready for Linux at the time, so I got less out of the book than I otherwise could have.

Moving to Ubuntu Linux” offers the same pleasant style as the author’s earlier book, and is an excellent introduction to Ubuntu and its default GNOME desktop environment. The many helpful screen shots make it great fun to read.

Chapter 1 is the obligatory introduction to Linux, the concept of Free Software, and the Ubuntu Community. It also explains that Linux comes with both a powerful desktop and an equally advanced command-line shell; although the book concentrates on the graphical user interface, there are quick command-line shell tips sprinkled throughout.

After that, chapter 2 sets out to discuss the Ubuntu Live DVD, with a quick tour of the desktop, its panels, and its menus. Next comes a quick rundown of the installation process, to get Ubuntu installed on your hard disk (including the resizing of the Windows partition that most likely will have taken up your complete disk). Even though it does point out that you may run into problems when you try to boot the Ubuntu DVD, and it explains how you can specify various boot options in order to try and overcome any boot failures that may occur, it does not mention that some hardware may not work with Linux. Chapter 1 does note that “hardware support for Linux is, quite honestly, among the best there is” even though, unfortunately, “there are some consumer devices designed with Windows specifically in mind”—devices that may not be properly supportable in Linux. Thus, some people who are using, for example, a Winmodem may find that they cannot get it to work in Linux, so perhaps it should have been noted at this point that that’s because the device was deliberately broken—not because Linux is less capable than “That Other Operating System.”

Chapters 3 through 19 cover various aspects of working with the Ubuntu graphical user interface:

  • Chapter 3, “Getting Your Hands Dirty (Desktop Overview),” explains how to work with the GNOME desktop and its panels, menus and windows—including how to run programs from the command line.
    It also mentions a number of helpful tips—e.g., did you know that the + key combination will open a dialog box in which you can type a command line (similar to the “Start”“Run” menu option under Windows)?

  • Chapter 4, “Navigating Nautilus,” introduces you to the GNOME file browser, and explains how to work with files and folders—including network locations.

  • Chapter 5, “Customizing Your Desktop (or Making Your World Your Own),” shows you how to set up your GNOME desktop to your liking—which includes changing the background, the screen saver, icon and panel preferences, etc.

  • Chapter 6, “Printers and Other Hardware,” helps you set up your printer (either local or on your network), and discusses the Ubuntu Device Manager—which can tell you all about the hardware configuration of your computer.
    It also mentions the “lspci” and “lsusb” command-line tools to obtain a listing of the PCI and USB hardware, respectively, that’s present on your system.

    The chapter ends with “something scary”: Winmodems—which may, or may not, work with Linux. In my opinion, some reference to this hairy subject should have been made in Chapter 2—as it stands, chances are that Winmodem users will blame Linux, not their devices, for any problems that they may encounter.

  • Chapter 7, “Connecting to the Internet,” discusses modem dial-up connections, cable modems and DSL, and even wireless networking—including the “NDIS Wrapper,” which allows you to install Windows drivers in case there are no Linux drivers available for your networking device.

  • Chapter 8, “Installing New Applications,” concentrates on the “Add/Remove Applications” dialog and on the Synaptic package manager. It tells you how you can use them—in conjunction with the package repositories—to install new software, and to keep your system up-to-date.
    It also offers a look “under the hood,” with an introduction to the “dpkg” and “apt-get” command-line tools.

  • Chapter 9, “Instant Messaging, and IRC, Too!” talks about Instant Messaging with Gaim, and about IRC (“Internet Relay Chat”) using XChat.

  • Chapter 10, “Surfing the Net with Firefox,” gives you an overview of the Firefox browser, including its system of extensions.

  • Chapters 11 and 12 give you an overview of Evolution—specifically, its email and calendar functions, respectively.

  • Chapters 13 through 16 are all about OpenOffice.orgWriter, Calc, Impress, and Base, respectively. With just one chapter for each of these programs, the book cannot possibly go into much detail, but given the limited space, it does a great job to getting you started.

  • Chapter 17, “Digital Art with the GIMP,” is a great introduction to the famous image editing tool. It even briefly mentions “Script Fu”—which I hadn’t heard of before, but which apparently is a scripting language built into the GIMP.

  • Chapter 18, “If Music Be the Food of Love... (Ubuntu Linux Multimedia),” discusses music on Ubuntu—playing audio CDs, and ripping and burning CDs. It also explains why support for the MP3 format doesn’t come out-of-the-box with Ubuntu, but does teach you how to add it to your system.

  • Chapter 19, “Would You Like to Play a Game? (Very Serious Fun),” introduces you to a number of games that you can play on Ubuntu—some of them are preinstalled, while other games can be installed via Synaptic (cf. Chapter 8).

The two final chapters of the book contain what I consider “bonus material”:

  • Chapter 20, “Turning Ubuntu into Kubuntu,” teaches you how to add the KDE desktop environment to your Ubuntu system. If you want to learn more about KDE, then it won’t come as a surprise that the author refers you to his earlier book, “Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye!”

  • Chapter 21, “Taking Command of Ubuntu Linux,” demonstrates some of the basic commands that you can invoke from the Linux command-line shell—including concepts like file permissions and processes. It ends with a short introduction to the “vi” editor—which, after all will be present on virtually all Linux and Unix systems.

    I find this chapter somewhat less captivating than the rest of the book, but given that it had to be crammed into just one chapter, it’s probably the best possible introduction that you can find to the subject.

My opinion:

This is a great book if you want to become familiar with Ubuntu Linux and its GNOME user interface. It’s a pleasant read, never boring, and it’s a great help if you keep feeling uncomfortable with Linux. Highly recommended!

The Official Ubuntu Book,” by Benjamin Mako Hill, Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, Ivan Krstić.

This is the first of the three books I had started to read. Even though I could see myself appreciating it, it didn’t exactly match my expectation for a first read on the subject of Ubuntu Linux. I, therefore, turned to the book by Marcel Gagné (reviewed above) instead, and then came back to “The Official Ubuntu Book” afterwards.

This book goes a little further than “Moving to Ubuntu Linux,” and concentrates on the Ubuntu Community and on various ways to use Ubuntu, rather than on the details of the user interface of the Ubuntu desktop and its applications.

Chapter 1, “Introducing Ubuntu,” gives a brief history of Free and Open-Source Software, Linux, and Ubuntu. It also explains the role of Canonical Ltd. (the commercial entity behind Ubuntu), Mark Shuttleworth, and the Ubuntu Community. I especially enjoyed reading about Ubuntu Bug #1: Microsoft has a majority market share. Let’s all hope that this bug can soon get resolved!

Chapter 2, “Installing Ubuntu,” discusses the available Ubuntu installation images (i.e., the Desktop CD vs. the Alternate CD), the computer architectures for which Ubuntu is available (x86, AMD64, PowerPC), and the different Ubuntu distributions (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Xubuntu). It then explains how to get Ubuntu and prepare for its installation, after which it describes the installation process—first, to perform a desktop installation from the Desktop CD, and then, to install either a desktop or a server from the Alternate CD.

Chapter 3, “Using Ubuntu on the Desktop,” provides an overview of the Ubuntu desktop environment, and a number of its applications. Consider it mostly a quick summary of the user-oriented sections of chapters 3 through 19 of the “Moving to Ubuntu Linux” book.

Chapter 4, “Advanced Usage and Managing Ubuntu,” documents system management tasks—such as working with software packages, using devices, configuring printers, etc. As such, it can be considered a short summary of the corresponding sections of chapters 3 through 19 of the “Moving to Ubuntu Linux” book. It also includes a crash course on the command-line shell (albeit very brief; there’s a somewhat more elaborate introduction to the shell in Appendix A, “Welcome to the Command Line”).

Chapter 5, “The Ubuntu Server,” concentrates on various topics that are most relevant in the context of a server installation—e.g., RAID options, the Logical Volume Manager, server security, etc.

Chapter 6, “Support and Typical Problems,” documents some eighty-odd issues that you may encounter when running Ubuntu, in a “Question-and-Answer” type of approach. It includes sections on the system, applications, multimedia, networking, hardware, system administration, plus a few loose ends.

Chapter 7, “Using Kubuntu,” explains how to use the KDE desktop environment—either as an add-on to an already-installed Ubuntu system, or as a separate Kubuntu install. It is largely similar to chapter 3, but with KDE, instead of GNOME, as the graphical user interface.

Chapter 8, “The Ubuntu Community,” lists the online locations where the Ubuntu action takes place—mailing lists, IRC channels, web forums, wikis, and “The Fridge.” It also explains how the community is structured and how you can get involved.

Finally, there’s chapter 9, “Ubuntu-Related Projects,” which introduces partner projects (i.e., Kubuntu, Edubuntu), derived distributions (e.g., Guadalinex, Xubuntu, etc), and infrastructure projects that sit under the Launchpad umbrella.

My opinion:

This is a great read if you are already somewhat familiar with Linux (but not necessarily Ubuntu), and are looking for more information on the different ways to use Ubuntu and on the Ubuntu Community.

For me, it wasn’t suitable as an Ubuntu primer (although your mileage may vary), but it was an excellent way to obtain some more background information on the project. If that fits the description of what you are looking for, then I can definitely recommend it!

Ubuntu Unleashed,” by Andrew Hudson and Paul Hudson

This book goes into far greater detail than the previous two—it is subdivided in five parts (not counting the appendix), for a total of 35 chapters on just over 800 pages. Rather than listing the individual chapters, I’ll restrict my overview to the five parts:

  • Part 1, “Installation and Configuration,” explains how to install and set up Ubuntu, and includes the subject of package management. In addition (and contrary to what you would expect from the title), it discusses some of the applications that come with Ubuntu—e.g., available web browsers, email clients, office suites, multimedia applications, games, etc.

  • Part 2, “System Administration,” covers user management, automating tasks (including the use of shell scripts), system monitoring, backing up and restoring the system, and networking.

  • Part 3, “Ubuntu as a Server,” discusses the Apache web server, database services, file and print services, FTP, email, proxy and reverse-proxy services, and LDAP.

  • Part 4, “Programming Linux,” introduces you to Perl, Python, PHP, and C and C++.

  • Part 5, “Ubuntu Housekeeping,” covers security, performance tuning, the command line, advanced package management topics, and the Linux kernel—including kernel modules, kernel compilation, and kernel patches.

My opinion:

This book does more than just introduce you to Ubuntu. It probably goes into far too great detail to make it suitable as an Ubuntu primer, but once you’re familiar with the basics, it can certainly serve you great as a reference book. I suggest you keep it handy while you work on your Ubuntu system!

Note that Sams publishes similar books, covering the very same topics, for some of the other Linux distributions—“Fedora Core 6 Unleashed,” for example, is just the most recent example.

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