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Keywords: Linux, KDE, Live CD, Mandriva
Title: Test Driving Linux
Author: David Brickner
Media: Book, CD
Level: Introduction to Linux
Verdict: It does an excellent job of offering the reader a fairly extensive tour around a working Linux desktop
Test Driving Linux is a fast spin around the Linux world for Windows users contemplating making the jump to the open source operating system. As with a number of other such titles, including Marcel Gagne's Moving To Linux or Exploring The JDS Linux Desktop by Tom Adelstein and Sam Hiser, this book is structured around a Live CD. In this case the Live CD is Mandriva's (the distro formerly known as Mandrake) Move CD. This is a particularly friendly and easy to use Linux distribution, which makes it ideal for the new user.
A Live CD, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a bootable CD that contains a copy of the operating system, a desktop and a range of applications. In this case the operating system is Linux, the desktop is KDE and the applications are a range of desktop and home user applications (Web, games, multimedia, office suite etc). The emphasis is firmly on using Linux for the end user rather than as a server system.
After a quick introduction to booting the CD and a look around the desktop, the book moves on to look in more detail at Web surfing and file management. Konqueror (a key part of the KDE desktop) is used as the sample application for both of these. Using a KDE application is useful because not only does it show how flexible Konqueror is but it shows how KDE applications work.
Having done our surfing and file management, the book then shows us how to get to movies and music. This means more than just listening to music and watching films, it also covers how to rip music from CDs and how to burn new CDs. After music and games there's a chapter on gaming. This starts with a survey of the Linux gaming world and an honest assessment of where things stand compared to the massive commercial support for Windows as a gaming platform. But it's not all grim, and the CD includes a range of Linux games, including the excellent Frozen Bubble.
Email, instant messaging and calendaring come next. The chapter that covers this looks at a range of applications, including Kontact, KMail, KOrganizer and Kopete. Note that alternative applications, such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Evolution, are discussed later in the book when discussing other Linux applications that aren't on the Move CD.
Graphics editing with the GIMP gets a whole chapter, as does configuring and personalising the desktop. Then it's on to an alternative to Microsoft Office, with a chapter dedicated to OpenOffice.org (OOo). Obviously a single chapter in a book like this is no alternative to a book like OpenOffice.org All in One, but at least this book provides an introduction to two of the major elements in O0o - Writer and Calc.
The last major application area to get an airing is the chapter on personal finance applications, which pushes GnuCash through its paces.
Having looked at a range of programs the book then steps back and reminds the reader that anyone wanting to get the most out of Linux needs to be acquainted with the command line. While this isn't an in-depth introduction to the shell, it does give the new user an introduction to basic file and process management from the console.
As mentioned previously there is also a chapter that looks at a range of Linux applications not included on the CD. That leaves a final chapter on making the final switch to Linux. It discusses a range of Linux distributions, pointing out strengths and weaknesses and categorising them into more or less Windows-like.
The writing in the book is friendly and clear, and the author avoids the temptation to over-sell Linux to the new user. The tone is honest but enthusiastic. While the book isn't aimed at the totally non-technical user in the same way that Moving to Linux is, neither is this a book aimed at the geek - it's pitched at the average, intelligent user who is confident enough (or fed-up enough) to contemplate swapping operating system for the first time. It does an excellent job of offering the reader a fairly extensive tour around a working Linux desktop.