Ubuntu for non-geeks

Rickford Grant's "Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks" was just the book I needed. Since October, I've been a full-time Ubuntu user, having switched over from OS X. I had a couple bumps and false starts (to be discussed at a later time), but overall, I'm head-over-heels in love with my Stinkpad (network name: "Contrarian-Bastard") and Ubuntu.

But GNU/Linux is a many-headed beast. Remember that free software gets written when a programmer has an itch to scratch. Sometimes a group of geeks will get fed up with a clunky way of installing software, or editing a text file, or configuring your WiFi, and just hack up an entirely new way of doing it. Much of the time, the new way is better, or at least not worse, and that's great.

But this also means that there are sixty-leven ways of doing anything, from renaming your hard drive to setting your network up. And when you find a cool tool or the right fix online, half the time it seems to rely on you knowing how to do something that you haven't encountered yet.

Moreover, the essential Unix philosophy is do nothing until your owner tells you to — plugging in new hardware doesn't necessarily trigger a "helpful" dialog box offering to predict what you intend to do with your widget and make it so. This has its good points, but if you don't know how to get a drive mounted already, it can be a little bewildering, not to mention frustrating. Ubuntu does a pretty good job with some hardware, but it's not consistent with my expectations after a lifetime of MacOS computing.

Enter Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks. It reads like one of David Pogue's excellent Missing Manual books — a fast, crystal-clear topical tour of the amazing collective accomplishment embodied in Ubuntu. I learned something new in every chapter, and ended up with a computer that did more of what I wanted it to do, faster.

This book should come with every Ubuntu Live CD — it's just the documentation I needed to take some of the mystery out of my machine.


Update: Dave sez, "No Starch Press publishes a lot of geek books that have been on my "to read soon" list, including Rickford Grant's 'Ubuntu for Non-Geeks.' Notably, quite a few of their titles are available in DRM-free PDF editions, in addition to the traditional dead-tree ones Amazon sells. These can be printed, if desired, and even shared with a friend. They have a great attitude about it, saying 'electronic books should have the same reader rights as printed books.' You can save trees, fuel, time, and middlemen."

Update 2: Patrick sez, "it should also
be mentioned that, after you purchase the PDF, you won't necessarily
be allowed to download it for as much as two days. This information
is not plainly stated on any of the screens you navigate through when
ordering the PDF; rather, it's behind a side link reading 'How do I
get my PDF?'. They say 'Please note that because we don't have an
automated delivery system, it may take 1-2 business days' to receive
the custom URL for the PDF you ordered. In other words, they have an 'automated system' for immediately
charging your credit card or PayPal account, but they can't be
bothered to have a system for immediately delivering the digital data
for which you've been charged."

Update 3: Bill Pollock, No Starch's founder, sez, "I'm a bit troubled by Patrick's comment which seems to suggest that we can't be bothered to deliver PDFs quickly, but that we're happy to take people's money without delay. You know, we just aren't that kind of company. The reason for the delay is that we process everything manually — both the PDF delivery and credit card sales. I know, that sounds odd, but our site is basically the same static HTML site that we've had for about 10 years. We're about to launch a reworked site (based on WordPress) which should allow us to process payments and deliver PDFs instantly, and that's a good thing.

"I've always made it a point to not charge credit cards until books actually ship because that's what I expect as a customer. I also think that it's important to give readers the same rights in their PDFs that they have in printed books because that's what I expect (hence no DRM). We do our best to give our readers what they want and to treat them as we would like to be treated."