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Keywords: Linux, KDE, OpenOffice.org, open source
Title: Linux In Easy Steps
Author: Mike McGrath
Publisher: Computer Step
Verdict: Colourful and friendly but lacks depth
As implied by the title, Linux In Easy Steps is an introduction to the open source operating system and is targeted very clearly at new users. In fact the cover proudly proclaims that it can take the reader from 'from NEWBIE to GURU', in full colour as well. That's a tall task, particularly as there are only 240 pages to go from absolute beginner to the heights of gurudom.
The most striking thing about the book, as with others in the Easy Steps series (such as Excel VBA or C Programming), is the quality of the design. The typography is clear, there's excellent use of colour, plenty of screen shots and a nice page design. The effect is to make the book visually appealing, easy to navigate and to fully engage the reader. If looks alone were what counted this would be an excellent choice. However, even the best design in the world doesn't trump technical content, and here's where the are issues.
Firstly, the book tends to the superficial. Complex topics, such as planning a Linux install, preparing for dual boot, in depth information on the differences between the major Linux distributions are all skated over. The chapter on installation, for example, is based on an install of SUSE Linux, and it walks through the process with plenty of screen shots and some basic advice on options. This is fine if you happen to be planning a SUSE install, and if your install is problem-free. Anyone looking to install a distro that's radically different, or who has hits problems in the process is not going to find much to help here.
In terms of desktop the book is geared to KDE, there's not much in the way of information for GNOME users.
Aside from installation and configuration, the book provides a whistle-stop tour of some of the major open source applications that come as a standard part of most distros: OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox, the GIMP, kaffeine etc. Given the range of apps and the shortage of pages, the book barely scratches the surface, but it's enough to give the absolute beginner somewhere to start.
It's not just the major GUI apps that get an airing. The book quite rightly looks at some of the basics of using the shell, from changing the shell prompt to managing files and directories, the use of grep, diff and other utilities. There's also a chapter that looks at telnet, ssh and ftp. It's a long way off guru level for sure, but at least it shows the new user that there's much more to Linux than KDE and GUI apps.
Aside from the tendency to simplify, this isn't a bad book. It provides a very quick introduction to a range of topics that a new user is likely to want to know about. However, there a numerous other books that are aimed at the new Linux user and these provide a greater depth of information, such as Test-Driving Linux, Spring Into Linux and our favourite, Moving To Linux.