Linux for Non-Geeks by Rickford Grant, ISBN 1-59327-034-8

Reviewed by: Greg Leffler, July 2004, send e-mail
Published by: No Starch Press, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$34.95, CA$49.95

Compared to other Linux books on the market, most of which seem to be written for geeks—people who are interested in learning the intimate details about how the system is set up and works—Linux for Non-Geeks is a "hands-on, project-based, take-it-slow" guidebook made for people who just want to use Linux. This book is written for a general audience, an enormous group that many other Linux books have attempted to lure somewhat unsuccessfully.

Linux for Non-Geeks does a remarkably good job of introducing anyone to Linux, especially people who aren't interested in the least in learning about the underpinnings of the Linux OS or detailed information about how to install it. The author only discusses installation in one chapter, something that I really like about the book, mainly because once you've installed a system, its highly unlikely you'll need to do it again for a while. What's the point of including exhaustive instructions for something that you'll only need to do once? Most other Linux books on the market either go into intense detail about the installation process or document pages and pages of terminal commands that most people (who aren't Power Users) will never need. This book manages to avoid both of those traps.

The book is written in a step-by-step, guidebook style. The tone is conversational and friendly. The author encourages the reader to experiment and learn more about exactly what they're doing to the system, without drowning the reader in unnecessary details.

Many useful topics are discussed in the book's 20 chapters and 336 pages, including installation and troubleshooting of the base system, desktop customization, networking setup, printing setup (a task that is traditionally extremely difficult in Linux,) installing new software (including use of the APT package-management system, a very nice feature,) an introduction to the terminal, creating CDs, using common applications (, the GIMP, XMMS, etc.), installing new fonts (also a traditionally ridiculously difficult task in Linux) and—my favorite chapter of all—a discussion about what to do with Linux once you're done with the book. Many books pretend to exist in a vacuum, as if someone learning a topic can read one book and be an instant expert. This is especially untrue with something as complicated as a brand new operating system. The fact that this book includes information on where to go to move on and further your Linux knowledge, I find a very useful asset. You'll notice there are no chapters on server setup in the list above. I also find this extremely attractive. Setting up servers is a topic that deserves its own book. It is a subject that certainly shouldn't be in an introductory book or a book intended for desktop users. Leaving server information out was an excellent decision.

I especially like how the book leads you through, step-by-step, everything that is detailed above. There is no room for error—as long as you follow the instructions as set out in the text you'll perform even relatively complicated Linux tasks with ease. There are plenty of screen shots and other aids so that a reader can easily figure out if they've done something wrong.

The main criticism of the book is that information on making hardware work is practically nonexistent. While this is a tedious task for anyone to accomplish, and printing hardware computability lists in a book is almost an exercise in folly, the book's view towards hardware compatibility is: Plug it in; if it works, great, if not, buy something else. While this may be somewhat accurate, it isn't the most inspiring thing to read, especially in a book intended for audiences who wouldn't normally understand why their hardware works with other operating systems but not with Linux. I feel that more information could have been included about the fact that Linux is still relatively picky about hardware. But the lack of that information still doesn't take anything away from the overall quality of the book.

The book comes with a copy of Fedora Core 1, a RedHat-based Linux distribution. I feel that this was an excellent decision, as Fedora is extremely easy to install and use and it is very well supported in the Linux community (being RedHat-based.) I would recommend that someone purchasing this book now download and install Fedora Core 2 instead of using the discs that come with the book, mainly because Fedora Core 2 is being currently updated and supported, whereas Fedora Core 1 support is disappearing.

Overall, I was very impressed with Linux for Non-Geeks. The descriptions are detailed, but not overwhelmingly so. The included Linux distribution is very user-friendly (if perhaps a bit out of date now – Fedora Core 2 was just released in late May), and the book is at just the right level for a non-geek. Someone who is enthralled with learning every fine detail about how a system works would most likely not be interested in this book, but for a casual user or a Windows expert who is considering other operating systems this book is also an absolutely excellent find. Linux for Non-Geeks is without a doubt the best introductory Linux book currently on the market and I feel that if more people had access to it, Linux adoption would be substantially wider as a result. Highly recommended.

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