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Ubuntu on a Dime 531

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 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 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 vrmlguy ( 120854 ) <samwyse AT gmail DOT 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 [], 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:25PM (#31820038)

    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 by The Santa Cruz Operation.

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

    LUnix can even run on a Commodore 64's 6510 CPU.

  • 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 Jeng ( 926980 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:38PM (#31820268)

    Many games have what amounts to a command line. I would say that a good amount of people would have no problem using a command line interface IF they knew its uses.

  • by IANAAC ( 692242 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:43PM (#31820356)

    But if I have to compile a new piece of software just to install it properly the first time, that's when *nixen completely fail the end user.

    You must not have recent experience with Ubuntu... or Opensuse, etc.

    You don't have to compile a single thing to get everything working. The package managers are quite nice, really.

    As far as automatic updates, it doesn't matter what operating system you use. Updates can and do occasionally hose things, whether it's Windows, OSX or Linux. So it's wise to *not* have auto updates on, rather read what each update is doing before letting it install.

  • by TheCycoONE ( 913189 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:45PM (#31820402)

    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 washu_k ( 1628007 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:49PM (#31820456)
    This has nothing to do with the skills (or lack there of) of programmers in 1982, but everything with the CPU features available. The 8088 and anything else IBM might have used did not support memory protection or any form of privilege separation. UNIX needs those features in hardware to run. Some early UNIX workstations added custom support chips to implement those features on the simple CPUs, but that would have priced the IBM PC out of its market.

    Yes, there are some specialized UNIX variants that will run on such limited hardware, but they don't support proper secuirty simply because they can't

    The original versions of Windows didn't have any memory protection or any concept of security or separate users. It wasn't designed to.
  • Re:Had IBM used UNIX (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:53PM (#31820540)

    Aw, but it's too much jaw-dropping fun. The opening fantasy completely skips over that a hell of a lot of people used Unix at work and universities, and completely loathed it.

    There were even books about that. Oh hey, The Unix-Haters Handbook is still online. []

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

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:54PM (#31820544)

    "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.

  • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:55PM (#31820578) Homepage

    No disrespect intended, but that's really flamebait. Let's play.

    Frustration with overly technical administrative requirements is a cost.

    The whole point of this book is to reduce those requirements by explaining things. As stated in the review, it's apparently easy to follow.

    Having to ask other people how to do stuff all the time is a cost.

    So is a phone call to tech support, where you get told the stereotypical useless answer by a script-reader making slightly more than minimum wage. Posting a message on a forum, where you can get advice from a few dozen fellow users is more "bang for the buck", so to speak.

    Listening to overbearing geeks tell you how easy things you can't figure out are, is a cost.

    So is having to tell the tech support script-reader that your computer is really plugged in, you did push the right button, and the mouse is not being used as a foot pedal. There's remarkably few arrogant helpers like that, and they usually get chewed out by the benevolent ones.

    Having to find and download "free" software to do stuff MS users get with their machines, and then finding out it isn't quite the same, is a cost.

    Things included with Windows generally come installed in Ubuntu. Installation is two mouse clicks and typing one word, where Windows installations usually require serial numbers, a drive to the store, and other costs you conveniently ignore. Expecting everything to be in the exact same place after replacing a core component of you computer is a ridiculous requirement.

    Not being able to easily exchange docs and pictures with your nieces and nephews is a cost.

    If you're having problems running a basic email client, or even opening a file in OpenOffice, perhaps you shouldn't be using a computer in the first place. Maybe now is also a good time to mention the joyous pain of Microsoft Office's ever-changing file formats. Have you forgotten 2007 already?

    Do I need to go on?

    Nope. You've made your knowledge of the subject fully evident. Thanks for playing correct-a-troll, and have a nice day.

  • by Ogi_UnixNut ( 916982 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:27PM (#31821032) Homepage

    Um... because it would have been fucking slow? I suspect most people wanted their computers back then to work, and do the job fast. After all, they cost a bomb and for the price, people wanted them to have performance to match. Plus I suspect most CPU's of the time didn't have the required support for a HV, after all, only recently have x86 CPU's got Virtualisation technology. I think for a HV you need a virtualised supervisor state in the CPU, which the CPU's didn't have back then.

    That's not to say they didn't know how to do it, they did. They even had Hypervisors running on mainframes (i.e. IBM) back in the 60's, Just now technology has advanced enough for just about everyone to have the ability.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:31PM (#31821070) Homepage Journal

    Microsoft receives the brunt of the viruses because that is what people use.

    Or because commonly used software released in the Windows 98 and Windows XP eras expected to run with the privileges of the Administrators group. So home installations of Windows were less secure against unauthorized software changes than Linux until Microsoft copied the basic idea behind sudo in Windows Vista, encouraging new versions of apps to separate user- and administrator-level tasks.

  • by WizarDru ( 1695812 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:07PM (#31821688)
    I don't know. How many employees do you have? How much time do you have to back up their mailboxes? Archive them? Replicate them in a DR facility? Propagate them across the infrastructure? Index them on the server? Instance them? You're talking how much the drive space costs and ignoring infrastructure costs. Mind you, what kind of drive and where? Is it part of an array? Is it 15K, 10K, 7.5K or 5K speed? Is it being mirrored? And so on.
  • by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <enderandrew@ g m a i l . com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:26PM (#31821986) Homepage Journal

    You're going to cite one specific Microtek scanner? Really?

    What percentage of scanners manufactured in the past 10 years work today in Windows 7?

    I wager a higher percentage is supported in Linux.

  • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:49PM (#31822334) Homepage

    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.

  • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:56PM (#31822458) Homepage

    Not till the 286 AFAICR, the MMU in the 8086 was worthless. Real Unix needed at least a 386.

    There was no MMU in the 8086. But then again no MMU was required to run "Real Unix". Xenix was a Unix v7 port using the AT&T source, PC/IX was a Unix v7 port using the AT&T source. Coherent was a Unix v7 work alike. No MMU was necessary for any of them.

    Unless you want to rewrite history and claim that the first "Real Unix" was BSD or System V.

  • Re:It's not about $ (Score:3, Informative)

    by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:34PM (#31822928) Homepage
    She doesn't have to know how to test if her IP Address is good. She doesn't have to update drivers.

    My sister runs Ubuntu. She neither knows how to do either of those tasks nor ever has had to. She gets a good IP address at boot by DHCP from our router, just as she would if she were running Windows. As far as updating drivers, the only driver she has to worry about is the proprietary nVidia driver for her graphics card, and Ubuntu takes care of that for her whenever there's a kernel update. It Just Works.

    Me, I prefer Fedora. I also an nVidia card, but with Fedora, I use kmod-nvidia (and the akmod as well) meaning that I never have to worry about updating drivers either. Nice try, but your FUD fell flat.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:31PM (#31826410) Homepage Journal

    The sysadmin to go with it.

    Just like Windows doesn't come with the Moron Confused by Sun Equipment to help you, either.

    Ubuntu is all well and good until you need something that is not covered by its package manager.

    Windows is all well and good until something goes wrong with the registry and the package manager becomes your enemy rather than your friend.

    It's all well and good until some piece of hardware only has limited support via some hack.

    You mean like trying to make my Motorola phone work with Windows 7 x64, which I never could do, even though I tried three different methods reputed to work?

    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.

    I have two scanners that HP abandoned right now (plan to give one away to a friend) which only don't work because the driver doesn't recognize them; they probably speak the same protocol as supported scanners. My Gigabyte motherboard won't install Windows XP, which is supposedly supported; I get a black screen with three different BIOS revisions and three different video cards — I even tried both PCI and PCI-E. Runs Ubuntu very well. This is hilarious. Windows has precisely the same problems as Linux does.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham