Book Review: The Official Ubuntu Book

The Official Ubuntu Book, by Benjamin Mako Hill and Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, Ivan Krstic. Prentice Hall, 2006.  Available from Safari/O’Reilly and Amazon.

This is a deceptive book. It looks “official” (with Ubuntu colors and people on the cover), Chapter One sounds “official” (reads almost like a catechism), and it’s got an “official” stamp of approval (the foreward) from Mark Shuttleworth, the man behind the Ubuntu project. Don’t be fooled, however. The meat of this book is anything but dry, official-sounding, stuff.

If you do start at the beginning of the book (as I did), you will be pleasantly surprised when you get to Chapter Two. The writing style changes abruptly to a very readable, conversant style, sprinkled with a dry wit (“Although you don’t really need to know what these folders do … for your pleasure, we present the Linux folder hit list …”). The intended audience seems to be primarily computer users who are unfamiliar with Linux, or at least unfamiliar with Ubuntu. It is not the book I’d hand to a new computer user, but the authors do a good job speaking to computer users of varying levels who are reluctant to venture into the “unknown” world of Linux.

There are brief introductions to some of the common applications (Firefox browser, Writer, Evolution E-mail and Calendar, the GIMP, Gaim, and Ekiga VOIP), and brief mentions of many other applications, like IRC, games, and CD software. I especially like their example using the GIMP (short and quick, but really sweet). The Advanced Usage and Managing Ubuntu section gets a little confusing in places. For example, some of the screenshots don’t seem to match the text, and it leaves the reader hanging in the Add/Remove programs section. Also, while it has very good details on printing setup, there is not much on network printing.

Surprisingly, there is a separate chapter for Server installation. People like me probably shouldn’t read stuff like that. Their words, “Let the mischief begin!” was prefaced with:

The aim of this chapter is … not to teach you how to be a system administrator — we could easily fill a dozen books attempting to do that — but to give you a quick crash course.

So I delved in, and found it … mostly helpful, at least not harmful. Probably useful for newbie system administrators; the rest of us could safely skip the chapter and go straight to the “Support and Typical Problems,” which is much more useful. The issues range from the simple and obvious (“How do I restore something I deleted in the file manager?”) to the esoteric (“How do I make Ubuntu bread?”). Finally, there is a separate section on installing and using Kubuntu.

There is an assumption that you will install Ubuntu using the DVD included, which has several variations to choose from, including one for Apple Macintosh. Of course, if you don’t have a DVD drive, or if you are looking for some of the Ubuntu alternatives, like Xubuntu or Edubuntu, you’ll have to visit the Ubuntu site. Nevertheless, this book stands solidly as an excellent resource for learning and using Ubuntu. There’s even the bonus background stuff in Chapter 1!


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