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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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  • Hopefully $175 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nacturation ( 646836 ) * <> 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"?

  • 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.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> 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 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 Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:15PM (#31819880)
    "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 Ubuntu beat in this area, hands down. Also there is no need to budget for annual anti-malware tools, because you can get many free AV suites. MS even offers one now, that tests better than the paid programs.
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:17PM (#31819920)

    that's funny because back when Microsoft software became ubiquitous on PC, there was "command line" required.

  • 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 The End Of Days ( 1243248 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:23PM (#31819996)

    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.

  • What if... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by singingjim1 ( 1070652 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:23PM (#31819998)
    ...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.
  • Re:Hopefully $175 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) <> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:23PM (#31820010)
    Ya, it's called Google.
  • 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 nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <> on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:24PM (#31820032) Journal

    That was my thought too.

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

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

  • by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:26PM (#31820056) Homepage

    How is that funny?

    If I say you'll have no success trying to sell a car that doesn't go over 20 MPH, is it funny because 100 years ago no cars went over 20 MPH?

  • by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:32PM (#31820168)
    Yeah technically you don't need to reboot, you just have to shut everything down, exit to command line, and restart everything...
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:33PM (#31820188) Journal

    Once you buy and install Windows, and turn on the automatic updates, you're essentially done maintaining it.

    Installing additional software is generally as simple as letting it install itself.

    Every version of Linux, however, including Ubuntu, requires some expertise in configuration and management of the OS. It's not nearly as hands-off a system.

    It's nice to have the source code to mess with, or to enhance. 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.

    Thinking Ubuntu is better because a copy of it costs less is a classic case of penny wise, pound foolish.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> 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.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @02:40PM (#31820312)

    Sorry, but Unix really does require a multi-tasking capability and memory management. You can dream about some assembly-language GUI (or no GUI Unixy thing) alternative to have run on the first PC, but it would not have been Unix.

    Unix *was* (barely) possible on the IBM AT, and indeed there were a couple (using kludgy trick for multitasking); I ran a Unix-like thing called Coherent

  • 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 tombeard ( 126886 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:02PM (#31820678)

    When I build up a Windows machine I allocate 3 days to getting everything working, tweaking the settings to my liking, installing software and AV (and rebooting at least once per each). When I am finished I have a machine that will run forever if you don't add or upgrade anything, even at an elementary daycare. When I install Ubuntu I figure about an hour for a mostly hands off install, then 2 hours to let updates run. Maybe an hour tweaking the UI. I have built many machines, maybe hundreds; I know which OS wastes my time and it isn't UNIX based.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:11PM (#31820804) Homepage

    you have not used ubuntu in the past 5 releases have you.

    Zero config.... Z-E-R-O. install software from the "install apps" button has Z-E-R-O skills needed. honestly, I handed my wife a laptop with a blank HDD and a ubuntu CD and she installed and configured it on her own.

    That would be IMPOSSIBLE with windows, even windows 7 required a ton of skill to get all hardware working, Ubuntu worked out of the box on her Dell D620 including the wifi card... no installing anything or configuring anything.

    Her only complaint was that Ubuntu wont blindly connect to wifi access points and iphone sync wont work.

    She has been using this configuration for 8 weeks now. she has no desire to go back to windows. she knows nothing about computers other than how to use them for typing, and internet.

  • by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:18PM (#31820886) Journal

    That mentality really bothers me. I really hate organizations that give you 50 MB quota on your email. How much does a GB cost versus an hour of your employee's time?

  • Book reviews? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:20PM (#31820934)

    How is this a book review? It is a chapter-by-chapter summary followed by a one-liner that the guy likes the book. How about slashvertisement for a change??
    And how about a real book review, and how about reviewing books that are great and books that are terrible if you are going to have a whole section on it? Not that this is Barnes and Noble, but it doesn't make sense if you are only posting positive summaries of books every now and then.

  • Re:Hopefully $175 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:36PM (#31821154)

    - 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 getting more bang for your buck with the DIY desktop.

    If you want a portable computer, then a pre-built netbook or laptop is probably a better bet than trying to build your own. But if what you really want is a desktop, then getting a netbook and using it as a desktop probably isn't the best choice.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:39PM (#31821228)

    It's necessary for Unix, Amiga Unix (AMIX) required 68030 for MMU features.

    Running Linux or NetBSD on Amiga requires 68851 which could be had with several accelerator cards like 68020 + 68851

  • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:04PM (#31821656) Journal

    The problem here isn't really about Dollars and Cents though, if it were, more people WOULD use Linux.

    Its more about Hassle-free computing. My mother wants to turn on a computer, click on a button to listen to music, or to webcam chat with Grandma, or play a movie while cooking. All of that was either pre-setup on her machine, or was given precise instructions on how to do it. She may complain its slow, but thats about as far as it goes.

    She doesn't have to know how to test if her IP Address is good. She doesn't have to update drivers. She doesn't have to get any patches or specific versions, other than what windows automatically suggests she does. Even that is optional.

    If anything, the reason Microsoft is still in the game is because they have focused their energy on making it easier to plug and play with the non-technical.

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

    That was my thought too.

    Windows 7 Home Premium: $99.99 [] (or Professional for $140) Microsoft Security Essentials: $0.00 [] 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 digitalsushi ( 137809 ) <> on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:10PM (#31821746) Journal

    It might be prudent to ask if you're being paid for three days of work to install a single windows machine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:12PM (#31821774)

    3Days!!!! Are you crazy, or just retarded.

  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:40PM (#31823006) Homepage
    Plus I've had the update manager tell me to restart after updating, so I don't get the idea that I'd never have to reboot Ubuntu after doing updates, that's just not true.

    Well, yes, there are occasional updates that require a reboot, such as the kernel. It's just that most programs don't need you to reboot the computer to complete the update as they often do in Windows.

  • 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.

  • You have to know which repositories to use or your installation fails, and which repositories support network installations is anything but obvious

    I've got 25 repositories enabled, and they're all on-line. Do a basic install off the dvd, then enable the online repositories and install everything else from there. I have between 3,000 and 4,000 packages installed, and I run into very few conflicts. a 13-gig update required me to make ONE choice.

    Lastly, Novell, and by association all versions of SuSe, lost my support when they made deals with the devil.

    So what cpu and motherboard are you running on? It can't be Intel or ARM or AMD ... and you certainly can't be using an iPhone or a Mac ...

  • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @02:08AM (#31827956)

    Actually "Microsoft copied the basic idea behind sudo" in Windows XP, which is when they introduced the runas command. Third party software developers were slow to catch up; just last week I bought my daughter a game that popped up a "you need to be administrator to install this" message on installation (rather than simply having Windows prompt me for admin credentials).

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin