THE MAGAZINE

New in Plaintext

By Peter Piazza

Many new distributions of Linux are created with a novice who’s been weaned on Windows in mind. While older versions relied heavily on the Terminal, a DOS-like screen where commands are typed, newer distributions—and the software that runs on them—are increasingly self sufficient.

Installing new programs is a good example of the progress being made, according to Rickford Grant in his new book, Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks (Ubuntu is the name of a distribution of Linux). He points out that in the past, downloading a new application meant hunting around for the many files needed to make that application run.

Hunting down and installing these “dependencies,” as well as any dependencies that those files have, led to what Grant calls “dependency hell.” But that’s in the past thanks to the Advanced Package Tool that does the hunting and installing for you.

Any Windows user curious about Linux, or perhaps ready to give it a try, would be well served by Grant’s book. Grant walks the reader through the process of understanding how to install and run Ubuntu. The included CD has all the files needed to get started, and can even run as a live version of the operating system, so you can try Ubuntu without installing anything on your computer.

True to the title, this book is easy to understand, and the projects are easy to follow. They range from customizing the desktop panel with shortcuts to installing and running new applications. There’s even a chapter on learning to use the dreaded Terminal.

I finally took the plunge myself and installed Ubuntu on my laptop, which can now dual-boot into either Windows or Linux. That process was a smooth one.

In daily use, however, Ubuntu is not as hands-off as Windows. For example, while many programs can be simply installed and then run immediately, others are not so easy to use.

Downloading a chess game was simple, but once it was installed it didn’t run when double-clicked. This led to an hour of Internet research through message boards, blogs, and wikis that were not always particularly friendly to newbies. I suppose I could’ve found out what I needed to know if I hung around the message boards long enough and asked the right questions, but sometimes I just want to play chess, not hunt down answers.

Ultimately, Linux is not Windows, and that’s Grant’s point. Like other Linux distributions, Ubuntu is powerful and customizable, not to mention free, and so if you’re willing to spend a bit of time tinkering, you’ll find Grant’s book an excellent and thorough place to start.

The book, published by No Starch Press, is available at the publisher’s Web site for $34.95 for the paperback version, or $20.95 for a PDF download.

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