|Linux For Non-Geeks, A Hands-On, Project-Based, Take-It-Slow Guidebook|
|publisher||No Starch Press|
|summary||A Hands-On, Project-Based, Take-It-Slow Guidebook|
The title explains exactly how Grant's book is laid out. It's for Windows users, Mac users, and new or inexperienced Linux users who are non-geeks (or wannabe-geeks) and who are itching to take the plunge into Linux without having to wade through a multitude of books aimed at power users, online HOWTOs, weblogs and IRC channels. This is one volume with enough worthy information to credit the cost of the $34.95 investment.
The content is based on Redhat's Fedora Core and includes CDs for installation. As such, the author has chosen to go with the default Fedora desktop, GNOME. Choices have to be made: Fedora Core vs. Mandrake vs. SUSE vs. Xandros etc., and GNOME vs. KDE vs. Enlightenment, etc. Grant has chosen stability and ease of use, and he has chosen well. Fedora would have been Redhat 10, had Redhat gone that route. They didn't and we can all lament the changes the company has launched toward focusing on corporate gains or we can move on. Moving on, we can see immediately that Fedora Core is excellent and if Red Hat's idea in Fedora's community focus is to go the Debian route and have lots of experienced eyes taking care of this project, then it will continue to be excellent. Once you get into this book and get your fancy tickled by Fedora and GNOME, go wild. 'Nuff said.
The first two chapters of the book cover the 'penguinista' mindset (why you're even looking at a book on Linux), hardware compatibility and the install process. Easy enough, and Grant does a great job of leading the reader through this process. It's the scary part, after all! Once the deed is done, the reader is introduced to Chapter 3, 'A New Place to Call Home'. Gnome is the desktop of choice and the author goes into detail, easing the reader through a wealth of GUI options. Lots of screenshots and photos give the reader a clear sense of what to expect when they are navigating through the choices. Lots of time is spent on customizing and some may find this trivial but there is nothing more frustrating to the beginner than being told to "click click click" when they aren't comfortable finding the correct windows, buttons and choices. After spending some time on this chapter, the reader will be able to progress through the book with confidence.
Connecting to the Internet is the next chapter, with information presented on hardware, connection options, using the browser, email and IM. The Internet is a must-have so this chapter is well placed. Get 'em going and they'll keep plugging along!
Once the reader is up and running, a side road is taken for those who want to get more familiar with the GUI and who like to tweak everything to look as individual (and tacky) and they can.
After getting on the Web, printing is probably next on the list in importance. Grant dedicates Chapter 6 to explaining how the reader can achieve good printing karma with printer support, printing to PDF, changing settings and handling queues.
Part one of external media is covered next, with an introduction in to floppies (whaaaa?), data and music CD reading/playing/burning, and ISOs (an absolutely necessary part of life for Linux users, especially since we all tend to experiment with different distros when they become available!).
With Chapter 8, we get into the core of every OS user's skill set, no matter how newbie the newbie is, one thing everyone wants to know how to do on their platform of choice: how to install applications (did I say "games"?). Grant gives the reader a very well written chapter on package management, walking the reader gently through four examples, including Skoosh and -- woo-hoo!! -- Frozen Bubble (well, we all need Frozen Bubble!). He even gives the reader a taste of "dependency hell" (don't panic! It's a controlled environment!). There will be a few folks who complain that RPM is Redhat-centric thinking and they'd be right. We are working with Fedora Core after all. Remember the "'Nuff said" above'?. Grant later presents chapters on APT and Synaptic and also on compiling a program from source so the reader has ample chance to get geeky.
A (too short) chapter on the terminal and the command line is wedged in between with practice projects on pyWings and pyChing that brings it all home. Part two of data management comes next, covering USB storage devices and the Windows partition, if there is one. Chapters 13 and 14 deal in depth with music (audio formats, mp3 support, apps like Grip, Rhythmbox and XMMS) and 'getting arty with the GIMP' (including how to scan and use your digital camera).
Then, it's back to business, with several chapters dedicated to workplace productivity and what options are available to Linux users in a 'dark side' dominated world. Grant looks at several office suites including OpenOffice.org (the clear winner) as well as KOffice and some stand-alone apps like AbiWord, Dia, Gcalctool and GPdf. There is also quite a bit of excellent coverage on fonts (a must read!) and finally, language support within Linux.
Now, if everything is working well so far and you can connect to the Internet, print, get your work done and play games. So what's left? Doing it all from your living room, bedroom, even bathroom! In short, going wireless. Grant succinctly explains what it means, what you need and how to do it.
The last few chapters of the book deal with bits and pieces of necessary information that are essential to the reader for further Linux exploration: system settings and system updates, KDE, 'odds and ends' and the requisite troubleshooting section for "uh oh, now what do I do now?" moments. Lots of help and resources round out the book.
A few things could have been expanded on or included: a bit more on firewalls and internet security (we are not entirely immune, after all), handling email attachments is missing (the author promises an update to this on his web site), something on yum and device installation; the slim description of installing a CD-RW drive in the book merely refers the reader to his web site where one can download PDF instructions ...hmmm, that seems a bit skimpy. Installing drives and cards (especially sound cards) would have been a nice chapter on its own, especially since this would most likely require re-compiling the kernel. The reference to this on Grant's web site results in a 'broken' pdf link and no obvious way to alert the author to the damaged file.
At this writing, there are only a few errata but it would be wise to take a peek at Grant's site before delving too deeply into the book.
Overall, I like how Grant chose to lay out his chapters; he's anticipated the needs and expectations of the level of reader he's targeting and placed well-constructed topics in a logical series of chapters. Nicely balanced information for a new Linux user, an on again/off again Linux user or for the switcher (is that trademarked?!). Other distros will be a short leap after reading this one volume. So yes, I lied: Linux for Non-Geeks is for your mom -- and for you, too, come to think of it. (And are those references to Vonnegut scattered about? Erudite crowd, Linux folk, yes?)
You can purchase Linux For Non-Geeks, A Hands-On, Project-Based, Take-It-Slow Guidebook from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.