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 OpenOffice.org
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.
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:
to Ubuntu Linux,” written by Marcel Gagné
(published by Addison-Wesley).
Official Ubuntu Book,” written by Benjamin Mako Hill, Jono
Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, Ivan Krstić
(published by Prentice Hall).
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.
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
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.
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.
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
It also offers a look “under the hood,”
with an introduction to the “dpkg” and “apt-get”
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
Chapters 11 and 12 give you an overview of
Evolution—specifically, its email and calendar
Chapters 13 through 16 are all about
OpenOffice.org—Writer, 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
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
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”
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.
“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!
“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.
“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.
“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”).
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
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
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
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
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.
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