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Linux Review: The Official Ubuntu Book

The Official Ubuntu Book is an excellent guide for anybody who wants to move from a Mac or a Windows-based PC to Ubuntu. If you're a novice or even somewhat familiar with Ubuntu, and are looking for general computer operating tips for Ubuntu, this book is for you. The Ubuntu distribution itself was created to make Linux easier for all users and this book does exactly that, as well.

This book assumes the reader knows very little about Linux—and excellent assumption—so right off the bat we were on the same wave length. It begins with an interesting introduction written by Mark Shuttleworth that provides an overview of why he started the Ubuntu Project and a few of his general computer operating tips and thoughts about the Open Source movement in general. The intro goes on to explain the history of Linux and the people involved behind the scenes. It also explains the goals and ideas that represent the core values of the Ubuntu Project team and the Ubuntu Community.

The book is divided into nine chapters, the first of which gives a quick recap and general computer tips of what "open source" is, plus additional background about the Ubuntu project itself.

Chapter 2 explains how to install Ubuntu, then get it up and running. The information is comprehensive and easy to understand, providing real-world advice about what choices you should make in setting it up, and why.

Chapters 3 and 4 show you what you can do with Ubuntu. More than just showing you how to install new applications, it explains which applications come installed by default for many common tasks like browsing the Web, sending and receiving email, IM, and Voice Over IP.

Chapter 5 provides an overview of the Ubuntu Server installation. In other words, I didn’t read it.

Chapter 6 presents outstanding information about the care and feeding of Ubuntu, and for troubleshooting computer issues. While additional documentation is available online, one of the many things I liked about this book was how frequently it provides URLs so you can learn more about a topic of interest and obtain information more current than appears in the book.

Chapter 6, the Troubleshooting chapter, is huge. In fact, it’s so big, it’s kind of scary. For anybody thinking about moving to Ubuntu, this chapter may raise a few concerns because it gives the impression that you should anticipate having more than a few problems. That hasn’t been my experience using Kubuntu, but if you plow through this chapter, you’ll find that it provides clear, easy-to-understand computer questions and answers to many common problems, such as viewing video, networking, modems, the file system, and other issues new users may encounter.

Chapter 7, is my favorite chapter and explores Kubuntu, which is Ubuntu with the KDE interface, and explains the differences between it and Ubuntu, with the Gnu interface.

Chapter 8 explains the Ubuntu community, how it operates, and how to become part of it. I’m not much of a joiner, so I didn’t pay much attention to Chapter 8, but if you're interested in becoming a card-carrying Ubuntite, in this chapter you’ll learn how to get involved. The Linux community is very active worldwide, with local LUG or Linux User Groups everywhere, so if you do begin warming up to Linux, check out your local LUG, or use this LUG Directory.

Last, but not least, Chapter 9 reviews other associated projects with the Ubuntu distribution. Things like Bazaar, Launchpad, and Malone are presented to show users how the Ubuntu Project goes beyond being just another Linux distribution. It’s interesting, but definitely not life-altering.

In addition to the book itself, there are four appendices. Appendix A covers the command line—which may not be used by most new users, but is definitely good information to have readily available.

Appendix B presents Ubuntu Foundation documents—which almost caused my eyes to hemorrhage when I tried to read it.

Appendix C presents the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Open Publication License—which nobody will ever read, but if you dare, trust me, you’ll be praying for death within the first two paragraphs.

Appendix D, I consider the most useful appendix, that being Ubuntu equivalents to Windows programs and commands. In other words, if you used or did X under Windows, you’ll use or do Y under Ubuntu. This is the kind of helpful information most Windows-to-Ubuntu converts will appreciate the most.

Overall, I give The Official Ubuntu Book, published by Prentice Hall, a double thumbs-up. As Ubuntu continues to evolve, this book of general Ubuntu operating tips will probably be out-of-date fairly quickly, but that’s true of most computer books these days, and certainly no fault of the book itself.

So should you go out and buy this book? If you're an Ubuntu expert and don’t need troubleshooting tips or computer questions or answers, then I’d say, save your money, but if you’re interested in Ubuntu or Kubuntu—either as your primary operating system, or just to learn more about Linux—as I’m doing with Kubuntu—buying this book is a “must have.”

The book weighs in at 412 pages and includes the Ubuntu 6.06 LTS DVD. It retails for $34.99, though you’d have to be high on modem fumes to pay that. Go to, where I bought mine, and you’ll pay $23 new, or used for as little as 20-bucks.

By the way, the one question everybody asks—and that I asked, too—is what the heck does “Ubuntu” mean? Thank heavens the book answers this haunting, burning question, as well:

Ubuntu is a concept derived from several South African languages, including Zulu and Chosa (Xhosa). It refers to a South African ideology or ethic that doesn’t translate well into English—which isn’t particularly helpful for my Zulu-free book report here—but basically Ubuntu means “humanity towards others,” or a more existential, “I am because we are.” Others have described Ubuntu as “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” Yes, it kind of makes you want to reach out for a group hug and start singing “We are the world!” but do us all a favor and try to restrain yourself.

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