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Ubuntu Made Easy

Publisher: No Starch Press

If youíve looked into joining the Linux club, names like Fedora, OpenSuse, Mint, and Ubuntu have almost certainly hit your radar. Back when we first started playing around with Linux 10-15 years ago, as a desktop alternative to Mac OS and Windows, Ubuntu didnít exist. What did exist then was a type of Linux known as Debian, on which Ubuntu is based. In a nutshell, Ubuntu builds on what is already great stability in Debian, attempting to create the worldís most user-friendly Linux. In a way, the story of Ubuntu is "Linux Made Easy," or possibly "Debian Made Easy." Ubuntu Made Easy, from authors Rickford Grant and Phil Bull, is similar to the _Dummies_ or _Missing Manual_ books that are available for Mac and Windows. Itís fitting that the easiest breed of Linux should get an easy-to-read guide through the basics of installing and using Ubuntu, that reinforces all the useful things one can do on a Linux-powered desktop.

For starters, Ubuntu Made Easy includes a shiny new copy of Ubuntu 10.4, also known as Precise Pangolin. Ubuntuís convention of using animal names in each release should tip you off to the nature of Linux, a bit irreverent and fun, compared to the more elite affectations of Mac OS, and the workhorse sensibilities of Windows. Grant and Bull fit right into this light-hearted groove with their writing style, which never feels like technical writing. Every technical book has to begin with installing software, right? Itís just a basic requirement that you have the software up and running before worrying much about what it actually does... Ubuntu Made Easy is interesting in that presents everything about Ubuntu according to what you actually will be doing with your computer. Rather than talk about applications in one chapter, which is more the norm for these OS guidebooks, Ubuntu Made Easy features media applications in a chapter about working with media, and covers different applications in other chapters. This approach makes it easier for users to quickly scan the table of contents and determine what parts of Ubuntu they really need to tackle.

Within the first hundred pages (of a 400+ page book), youíll have everything you need to feel confident on your desktop, youíll be connected to the Web, and youíll be up on where to find new programs. Beyond this point, you may choose to skip around and tweak the way Ubuntu looks, or tune for performance, in Chapter 9. Or, you may skip all the way ahead to Chapter 17 and look at options for playing games on Linux. Parents will definitely want to take a peek at Chapter 18 and 20, dealing with parental controls and security, respectively. The final chapter deals with issues you may encounter during and after installation, which is a necessary addition. Although every person writing about the Linux operating system feels compelled to introduce command line techniques in the first half of their book, we would have preferred to see Ubuntu Made Easy file the chapter on working from a command line at the back. Sure, the command line is easy enough from a certain perspective, but it just doesnít fit with the target audience for Ubuntu Made Easy. The crowd that jumps into Ubuntu and wants to know how to configure their iPod or camera to work with Linux, or want to watch a DVD, isnít going to have tons of patience with typing text commands in, no matter how efficient and powerful.

Donít expect to read Ubuntu Made Easy and master specific applications bundled with your install of Ubuntu. There are other books for that. When youíre aiming at the first-time user of a new operating system, getting bogged down in details about how to use niche apps is not smart. The authors keep the pace brisk, but still manage to cover a lot of ground. About half of each chapter is devoted to the basics of what you can do in Ubuntu, whether itís printing and scanning, or setting up your system to work in some language other than English. Some applications like LibreOffice (office suite), Shotwell (image collection), and Rhythmbox (music library) receive extended treatment, probably because they represent very common functionality users expect. Other apps may get a paragraph or a few sentences outlining their function. We were a bit surprised to see light coverage of development, science/math, and childrenís software in Ubuntu Made Easy, because there are definitely good apps in these categories.

Even without the included disk, Ubuntu Made Easy would be a great gift for a person curious about switching to Linux. With the whole package, this book represents a clear and simple path to ditching Windows or Mac OS, if youíre so inclined. If youíre not sure, you can test out Ubuntu simply by running the disk at startup, to get a feel for things before installing alongside (or as a replacement for) your existing OS. Ubuntu Made Easy is not a slim volume, but is very approachable and filled with helpful screenshots and examples. Whether youíre a novice Ubuntu user who already has Precise Pangolin installed, or are just contemplating making the switch, thereís plenty of material in Ubuntu Made Easy to help you become a proficient Linux user.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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