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Keywords: Linux, operating system, open source, OpenOffice.org
Title: Introducing Ubuntu: Desktop Linux
Author: Brian Proffitt
Publisher: Thomson Course Technology
Verdict: A useful guide to the complete novice
Like it or not, Desktop Linux has yet to really take off in the way that some in the open source community had hoped. Whereas Firefox, for example, has achieved widespread adoption, by and large interest in Linux tends to be restricted to those users who have already achieved a degree of technical competence.For the vast majority of users, there's no understanding that a PC or laptop can run something other than Windows (you mean there are alternatives, wow…). Ubuntu Linux is one of the best hopes for a Desktop Linux for the masses. Ubuntu is already one of the most popular of the Linux distributions currently available. It's easy to use, looks good, comes with excellent support and can come pre-configured on machines from some manufacturers already (including Dell).
For those tentatively considering making the move there's lots of material available already, and this book is expressly designed to appeal to the new user who doesn't have a deep understanding of the mechanics of operating systems on PCs.
The book is split into three sections: Installing and Configuring, Using Ubuntu and Using OpenOffice.org. In all three sections of the book the emphasis is on making things clear and accessible in a manner that is not too demanding technically. There's also good use of screenshots to guide the reader, making it easy to follow what's being described.
The first section opens with a bit of a Linux and Ubuntu history lesson before moving on to look at installation. The book comes with a CD containing a full copy of release 7.04, which makes it particularly useful for those unable to download an ISO. There's a chapter devoted to running Ubuntu as a LiveCD, showing how it can be used to try things out before heading for that big step and doing an install. To be honest going ahead and doing an install is a scary step for those people who've bought a PC pre-configured with Windows. The chapter on installation does talk through the process, but there's little discussion of what to do if things go wrong - in fact trouble-shooting as a whole doesn't get much attention, mainly because the reader is directed to go online for support (and Ubuntu does have a helpful support community).
Following on from installation there are chapters which lay out the lay of the land: exploring the desktop, getting online, how to get updates, how to find and install more software, adding printers and so on.
The second part of the book assumes you've got a working installation and instead focuses on the core applications that come with the operating system. Specifically this includes OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Evolution, Pidgin and so on. There's some mention of the command-line, and the book even introduces some basic file commands, but mostly there's an emphasis on GUI applications. As a bonus, there's even a chapter devoted to Automatix2 and Wine, which don't often get mentioned in this sort of introductory book.
The final part of the book goes into much more detail of OpenOffice.org, the premier open source alternative to Microsoft Office. Each of the core office components, (Writer, Calc, Impress and Base), gets a detailed chapter that runs through common office activities. As a fast introduction to one of the key components of Ubuntu (and most other desktop flavours of Linux), this is more than enough to get the reader productive.
There are lots of introductory Linux books, we've reviewed a fair number here at TechBookReport, including The Official Ubuntu Book. Both of these books are pitched at the new user, and both provide lots of useful information. The Official Ubuntu Book probably has the edge in terms of slightly more technical content, but Introducing Ubuntu provides more coverage of OpenOffice.org and some of the other applications.