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Ubuntu on a Dime 531

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
AussieNeil writes "If IBM had adopted Unix for its Personal Computer and supported open source so *nix desktops were the now the norm, how hard would it be to convince the population to switch to Microsoft Windows? In Ubuntu on a Dime — The Path to Low-Cost Computing, James Kelly shows how easy it is to build a computer and install a complete software suite for US$200 excluding monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You can't even buy the operating system and anti-malware protection for Microsoft Windows for that, let alone have any money left over for hardware and productivity software! Then when you install the software, you have the paradigm of having to restart the computer to complete software installation and you have to learn how to practice safe computing while budgeting for annual anti-malware software license renewals!" Read on for the rest of AussieNeil's review.
Ubuntu on a Dime
author James Floyd Kelly
pages 280
publisher Apress
rating 9/10
reviewer AussieNeil
ISBN 1-4302-1972-6
summary takes you on a tour of the very best, but low-cost hardware, while only using zero-cost software in each of the many categories that matter to the typical PC user.
Alternate histories aside, Ubuntu on a Dime is a tribute both to the skills of the author and to the decades of effort by those that have developed user friendly software and hardware, so that this 280-page book gives anyone with a reasonable level of self-confidence the recipe to build their own computer, install all the software needed for common activities, and quickly become productive.

James Kelly, spends just 30 pages in the first chapter explaining how to purchase the required computer parts and assemble a Ubuntu PC or "U-PC" computer and does it in a relaxed, easy-to-follow style. Mind, the task is simplified by choosing a motherboard with integrated sound and video, but that is exactly what you'll find in the standard corporate office PC. (Personally, I would have recommend purchasing a SATA hard drive to avoid the not-touched-on master/slave complications of using a shared IDE cable for the hard drive and CD/DVD drive.) The book is illustrated throughout with frequent, excellent screen shots as the author steps you through hardware assembly, then operating system and application installation, configuration, and use.

In chapter 2, the author explains how to install the Ubuntu operating system and keep it updated. Wisely, he has chosen the Long Term Supported 8.04 version, but has omitted mention of the different Ubuntu support periods. He has also missed an opportunity here to expand on the growing list of Ubuntu variants, in particular Kubuntu, which I would see as an easier migration choice for those familiar with Microsoft Windows.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to a definition of what the author means by "free software" and covers the costs (including the relevant security risk costs) associated with the four software categories; Pay-to-Use, Open Source, Cloud Computing, and Freeware. The remaining 9 chapters look at how to use free software — software either included in the default Ubuntu installation, or available via cloud computing — to complete common computing tasks.

In chapter 4, email using Evolution is covered and word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations using the OpenOffice.org suite is covered in chapters 5 to 7. The Cloud Computing Google Docs Office Suite alternative, with the advantages of everywhere access to your documents and collaborative working is covered in chapter 11. Web browsing using Firefox is covered in chapter 9, with most of the chapter dedicated to finding and installing useful add-ons. Google gets another couple of chapters when photo management with Picasa is covered in chapter 8 and Google Email and Calendar configuration and use are explained in chapter 10. The last chapter looks at a few other useful applications found in Ubuntu: Calculator, Text Editor, Notes, Disk Burning, Movie Playing, and Music Playing. The three appendices cover the computer parts list, three ways to obtain an installation disk for Ubuntu, and finally a bibliography of web sites, books, and must-have apps so you can extend the use of your new Ubuntu PC. The 9-page index is fairly comprehensive, considering the wealth of illustrations throughout the book.

I liked this book because it covered tasks seen daunting by many (PC building, operating system and software installation, configuration, and upgrading) in an light, easy-to-follow manner, supported with excellent illustrations. Further, the author covers a lot of ground without overwhelming the reader, taking you to a level where you can start using your computer productively and showing you how to use help files and online resources to extend your use of your excellent hand-built investment. While extolling the benefits of open source software, he hasn't labored the point. Vendor lock-in costs associated with proprietary office suites aren't mentioned, nor are the lower security risks associated with open source usage.

If you are looking for a way to reduce your computing costs, or know someone that would appreciate a gift that can help them achieve this, then Ubuntu on a Dime is well worth considering — particularly for anyone that gets satisfaction from learning via do-it-yourself.

You can purchase Ubuntu on a Dime: The Path to Low-Cost Computing from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews. To see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Ubuntu on a Dime

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  • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:11PM (#31819824)

    Unix wouldn't run on the original IBM PC, nor with any other cheap processor they might have instead of the Intel one.

    So given the IBM PC could only run lame program loaders in lieu of an actual operating system, we got what we got.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:13PM (#31819858)

      Why stop at the first sentence when the title is flawed? Two hundred dollars != a dime!

      • by Applekid (993327) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:00PM (#31820650)

        Two hundred dollars != a dime!

        Inflation will fix that in time.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Unix wouldn't run on the original IBM PC, nor with any other cheap processor they might have instead of the Intel one.

      So given the IBM PC could only run lame program loaders in lieu of an actual operating system, we got what we got.

      Well, the 68000 CPU was available at that time. The Sun-1 systems ran SunOS 0.9, a port of UniSoft's UniPlus V7 port of Seventh Edition UNIX to the Motorola 68000 microprocessor in 1982.

      Xenix was running on Intel 80x86 hardware, and on 68000 & Zilog Z8001. Microsoft purchased a license for Version 7 Unix from AT&T in 1979, and announced on August 25, 1980 that it would make it available for the 16-bit microcomputer market. The initial port of Xenix to the Intel 8086/8088 architecture was performed b

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by alanw (1822)

        A couple of years later, RISC iX was running on ARM.

        Ah, memories of the Unix Kernel Validation Suite project I led for Acorn, March to October 1988. We started out writing it for BSD 4.2 on a Sun workstation with a "Winchester", until an A680 was available. A long, long time ago when I asked questions such as "what is the difference between Internet + ethernet?"

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Indeed; ten years later they wanted to port some mainframe stuff to a desktop computer where I work, but the forty meg hard drive would hardly hold the distro (Don't remember which one, it might have been SCO), let alone the data.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SETIGuy (33768)

      That would be a good point, if it weren't wrong. There were several UNIX V7 ports or work-alikes. PC-IX, Xenix, Coherent, Minix to name a few. Some of them were even real branded UNIX based upon the AT&T sources.

      Unix didn't start out as a virtual memory based operating system with protected address spaces.

  • Hopefully $175 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nacturation (646836) * <nacturationNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:12PM (#31819842) Journal

    ... after you buy the $25 book, that is. Anyone know if there's an open source "Ubuntu On a Dime on a Dime"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by biryokumaru (822262)
      Ya, it's called Google.
    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Computer: $200
      Book: $25
      Keyboard: $10
      Mouse: $5
      Monitor: ~$60 if you're damned lucky.
      Operating system: $0
      WiFi: No
      Webcam: No
      Portable: No
      Total cost: $300

      ASUS eeePC netbook: $300 (or similar - I only mention the eeePC because I have personal experience with it and Linux)
      Nuke the Starter Edition of Windows 7, reload with Ubuntu, Mint, or your choice of distro: $0, in about an hour.
      Keyboard: Included
      Mouse: $5 (if you want an external)
      Monitor: Included
      WiFi: Included
      Webcam: Included
      Portable: Yes, ten ho

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aardvarkjoe (156801)

        - Smaller screen (10"), but you can add an external one later if that bothers you.
        - Slightly smaller keyboard (though I'm 6' 4" with proportionally large hands, and I can type nearly as fast on a netbook as I can my laptop or Microsoft Natural keyboard), but again you can add one if you need it later.

        Of course, if you do those, then you just blew way past the $300 price point you were talking about. Also, although I didn't look at exactly what the specs on the two are, chances are that you're going to be

  • by schnikies79 (788746) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:13PM (#31819852)

    I can buy OEM copies for significantly cheaper than that. Anti-virus/malware protection is a free download from Microsoft.

    I use what works for me, leaving dogma aside.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nmb3000 (741169)

      That was my thought too.

      Windows 7 Home Premium: $99.99 [newegg.com] (or Professional for $140)
      Microsoft Security Essentials: $0.00 [microsoft.com]
      Knowing your wireless card and webcam will work: Priceless

      Hm, that's a lot less than $200.

      • by keeboo (724305) on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:09PM (#31821714)

        That was my thought too.

        Windows 7 Home Premium: $99.99 [newegg.com] (or Professional for $140) Microsoft Security Essentials: $0.00 [microsoft.com] Knowing your wireless card and webcam will work: Priceless

        Hm, that's a lot less than $200.

        Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit 1-Pack for System Builders - OEM

        That's an OEM version. OEM licensing terms apply.
        Also, $99 for OEM Windows? That's a ripoff.

      • by potat0man (724766) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:33PM (#31824606)
        You forgot the hardware.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by the_womble (580291)

        Last time I looked a Windows CD cost about $2 where I live...

        Knowing your wireless card and webcam will work: Priceless

        That would mean not using Vista or Win 7.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:14PM (#31819868)

    Building a PC from scratch? What FOSS is? How to use Ubuntu?

    I'm sorry, this doesn't sound like a particularly good book for *anyone*

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:24PM (#31820018)

      I'm sorry, this doesn't sound like a particularly good book for *anyone*

      If it sells enough copies, it might be particularly good for the author . . .

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      indeed, better first step would be to buy a $50 used computer system including monitor on eBay from mom & pop shop that gives a month warranty. Just list what's needed for a "good enough" box as far as processor, memory, disk, cd-rom drive, have a keyboard and mouse included, etc.

    • by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:26PM (#31820066) Homepage Journal

      If you want to make an PC from scratch, you must first create the universe.

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      I've never put a PC together or done anything with Ubuntu, but I know a lightweight Ubuntu system would be useful for some of my relatives who don't need much more than word processing and internet. I wouldn't know where to start on such a system, so I would just let them pay Dell for everything. With a book like this, I could easily set up their computer for them, and leave the book with them if they need the more basic tutorials.

      If I had $200 to spare right now, I would buy the book and try this out so
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:14PM (#31819874)

    I find it interesting how they add the cost of anti-malware not only once, but also say that you need to have ongoing license renewals in the yearly budget. Not only is Microsoft's own anti-malware completely free, there are other free options such as Avast and AVG as well. So technically, yes, you COULD pay for Symantec or McAfee, but adding the cost in as though it's the ONLY choice is disingenuous at best.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      ...except then you get into Windows-only p*ssing matches regarding what is or isn't an acceptable solution.

      That fact alone should turn off anyone (with half a brain) from Windows.

      There doesn't even seem to be a "one true solution" like there is for something like word processors or personal finance.

      • by rickb928 (945187)

        "except then you get into Windows-only p*ssing matches regarding what is or isn't an acceptable solution."

        As if there aren't still some p*ssing matches over which distro is 'best' for your purpose/skill set/relationship/age/residence.

        As if there aren't still some p*ssing matches over which Window Manager is best for your purpose/skillset/artistic taste/comfort level/graphics hardware.

        As if there aren't still some p*ssing matches over so much else in the FOSS world.

        HA! P*ssing matches are the sole domain of

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          ...which resolves this down to a question of cost.

          Except you can try any version of Linux you like. It won't be some crippled version or disable itself at some point in the future.

          Cripple-ware is one of those FUN bits about Windows that I really don't miss.

  • "Then when you install the software, you have the paradigm of having to restart the computer to complete software installation and you have to learn how to practice safe computing while budgeting for annual anti-malware software license renewals!"

    Every time Ubuntu updates it asks me to reboot the machine, yet in Win7 I can update video card drivers and not have to restart. I'm not sure why you're claiming the opposite is true. Both systems require restarts for certain updates, but these days Win7 has
    • by SilverHatHacker (1381259) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:24PM (#31820028)

      Every time Ubuntu updates it asks me to reboot the machine

      Ubuntu pretty much only restarts for kernel updates, but if you install Ksplice, even those go away.

      • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:28PM (#31820094)
        "Pretty much" is the key thing here. It pretty much only restarts for kernel updates, unless you've updated the video card drivers, the window manager, the x server, or any other complex part of the system. I run Ubuntu and Win7, and keep both up to date. Ubuntu has me restart far more than the Win7 machine.
        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:34PM (#31820206)

          It's BETA software and it gets updates almost every single day.

          And yet even with running BETA software and pulling patches down almost every day I am NOT rebooting the system as you claim.

          • Where did I claim Ubuntu was having you reboot every day? I didn't. I said it has me reboot more than Win7 does, and that's a fact.
            • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:44PM (#31820372)

              Where did I claim Ubuntu was having you reboot every day? I didn't.

              That would be when you posted this:

              Every time Ubuntu updates it asks me to reboot the machine, yet in Win7 I can update video card drivers and not have to restart.

              Note your usage or "Every time" in that statement.

              I pointed out that Lucid Lynx is receiving updates almost every day. Therefore, by your original statement, I should be rebooting it almost every day.

              That is not my experience. And that is with BETA software.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                That is not my experience. And that is with BETA software.

                Wow - imagine how much better off you will be if you install VHS!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheCycoONE (913189)

          Ubuntu/Fedora do ask to be restarted after some updates. Usually this isn't required, it's just that having the person restart their whole computer is easier than explaining to them how to restart a particular process like X in the case of a video driver update.

          The same can be said of Windows; it is usually just a particular service/process that needs restarted not the whole system.

        • by gad_zuki! (70830)

          Are you running Win7 64-bit? MS has some basic hot-swap update service that works better on 64-bit and a lot of things that would require a reboot in 32-bit or in the old XP days, no longer do so. Supposedly the x64 architecture allows for stuff like this in a safer way than 32-bit x86.

          I've also been a little surprised at the lack of reboots sometimes.

    • Perhaps the book was written several years ago, when the author was living under a rock in order to get the quiet-time necessary to write his book. In retrospect, not the best move.
    • This is completely false, all you need to do is shut X down, unload the driver, and restart X there is no need to completely reboot.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Beelzebud (1361137)
        Yeah technically you don't need to reboot, you just have to shut everything down, exit to command line, and restart everything...
    • If a file is in use by Windows or a program an installer has two choices: fail and rollback, or mark the file for replacement next reboot and ask the user to do so.

      Linux transparently replaces the file as soon as it is no longer being used, AFAIK. Which is great. Only updates for Linux I've needed to reboot for are kernel updates, which is understandable. You can also get Windows to reboot less but it takes some knowledge of how and why that happens to know how to avoid it, whereas Linux "just works". I

  • by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse&gmail,com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:17PM (#31819908) Homepage Journal

    build a computer and install a complete software suite for US$200 excluding monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You can't even buy the operating system and anti-malware protection for Microsoft Windows for that

    Permit me to introduce the Acer Aspire REVO. The base model (R1600-U910H - 1 GB RAM - 1.6 GHz - 160 GB HDD) can be had for $199.99 or less [google.com], and includes keyboard, mouse and Windows XP. Of course, I'm planning to install XBMC.

  • Had IBM used UNIX (Score:3, Informative)

    by ClosedSource (238333) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:17PM (#31819914)

    it wouldn't have been UNIX as you know it. The 8088 didn't have privilege levels, so essentially everything would run as root.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Shhh, don't spoil the fun for the zealots. They love pretending that Unix folks had their shit together back then. It lets them believe that Microsoft won through some underhanded marketing bullshit instead of the fact that there were no realistic alternatives.

      • by cfalcon (779563)

        Unix did have their stuff together. Intel didn't. Protection wasn't offered until the 286.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        An x86 that can handle Unix dates back to 1985.

        What was that about "spoiling" again exactly?

        The fact that it took Microsoft another 10 years to catch up is really sad. Meanwhile, everyone else had better hardware and GUIs. Some of the other options were even CHEAPER on top of being better and easier.

        MS-DOS had Lotus123 and the "iPhone effect".

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ClosedSource (238333)

          "An x86 that can handle Unix dates back to 1985."

          Yes, but that was 4 years after the PC was introduced so IBM couldn't have used it.

  • Let the FUD begin (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcmonkey (96054) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:20PM (#31819960) Homepage

    You can't even buy the operating system and anti-malware protection for Microsoft Windows for that, let alone have any money left over for hardware and productivity software!

    Not true.

    Then when you install the software, you have the paradigm of having to restart the computer to complete software installation and you have to learn how to practice safe computing while budgeting for annual anti-malware software license renewals!"

    So you're saying people who use Ubuntu don't need to practice safe computing? That's great news! Next time I get an email from a Nigerian prince, I'll make sure I send him my account information with pine instead of Outlook, so then I'll be safe.

    • by biryokumaru (822262) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:28PM (#31820098)
      If we switched normal people from Outlook to pine, they probably would be safe from 419 scams.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by radish (98371)

        Indeed, but only because they couldn't read or send email anymore.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      > So you're saying people who use Ubuntu don't need to practice safe computing?

      Compared to Windows users? No, not really.

      Of course there are scams to consider. However those really have little to do with technology. They're a pure con game that just happens to use email as the communications medium.

      OTOH, you could just use the principle of "avoid Microsoft as much as possible" to whatever degree you feel that you can get away with. This could mean dumping Windows entirely or merely avoiding as many Micro

  • What if... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by singingjim1 (1070652)
    ...Apple had licensed it's operating system to computer manufacturers like Windows did. While Windows wasn't "open source", it was certainly made more openly available. Bill Gates was just smarter at the time than Steve Jobs. You could play the what if game all day long with all sorts of scenarios.
  • So by the time I get the book and read the book I am already losing money. Thats before I do any of the work.

    If i was a broke college student like Linus, then that might be another issue.
    • by FreonTrip (694097)
      Or, perhaps, an average joe trying to stretch his income during the worst recession in 75 years. There are plenty of people less skillful and lucky than you, and it's a safe bet that you're outside the target market for this book.
    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      Libraries will lend you these 'books' for little or no money.
  • Ludicrous (Score:3, Funny)

    by Kingrames (858416) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:34PM (#31820216)
    No way you could run Ubuntu on a dime. Dimes have no cpu, no video card, no ram. And where would you insert the liveCD?
  • by kenh (9056)

    From the original post:

    James Kelly shows how easy it is to build a computer and install a complete software suite for US$200 excluding monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You can't even buy the operating system and anti-malware protection for Microsoft Windows for that, let alone have any money left over for hardware and productivity software!

    I can buy a retail copy of Windows 7 Home Premium for $179.99 at Newegg, with shipping for another $1.99[0], and Microsoft Security Essentials is free for download[1], and a

  • Windows persists because it's designed to be a desktop operating system. Linux is an adaptation of a server operating system. All of the software is there in Windows, and it has the nifty interface and a company backing it up by writing professional documentation, hordes of device drivers, and being there to issue updates in a timely manner.

    No offense intended to the Ubuntu folks, but there's a reason the market often beats the volunteer efforts: it can pay for in addition to inspiring great performance. Op

  • by Delusion_ (56114) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:47PM (#31820426) Homepage

    I could run BeOS for free. And on today's machines, it would play the fastest game of Tetris ever.

    Jokes aside, who considers the price of the OS the primary issue? Way to miss the point. The primary issue is "does this OS run the applications I want to run".

    I encounter naive Linux desktop converts occasionally. And no, that's not to suggest all Linux desktop converts are naive. It's very frustrating to hear them pontificate about their latest install Ubuntu Malodorous Moose, and then on the other hand ask "what's the Linux equivalent of [some Windows application]?" every two days.

    If it doesn't run the applications I need to run, you could give me the OS for free and it still won't run them.

    Throwing in red herrings about what certain security apps cost when there are free alternatives for Windows is pretty disingenuous as well.

  • by kuzb (724081) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:36PM (#31824648)

    The sysadmin to go with it.

    Ubuntu is all well and good until you need something that is not covered by its package manager. It's all well and good until some piece of hardware only has limited support via some hack.

    The problem with Linux is that even with all the advancements, it's still a fragmented platform that only works properly if you stay within it's narrow selection of hardware that is known to work.

An Ada exception is when a routine gets in trouble and says 'Beam me up, Scotty'.

Working...