Book Review: Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks

Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks: A Pain-Free, Project-Based, Get-Things-Done Guidebook, by Rickford Grant. No Starch Press, 2006. Also available from O’Reilly and Amazon.

Rickford Grant is not new to books for novice Linux users (see Linux Made Easy and Linux For Non-Geeks). This is the first one I’ve read, however. My motive here is to find Linux distros that are truly for Linux novices, and that also have books available for them. There is also the hope (perhaps vain) that there is a book and distro for the novice computer user. This book is not for the novice computer user. As Grant states in the introduction:

If you are familiar with computers, but unfamiliar with Linux, or somewhat familiar with Linux but not with Ubuntu, you are essentially the readere for whom I have written this book.

To that end, Grant achieves his goal. Some may take issue with the non-geek part of the title, however.

As the title states, this is a project-based guide. The book’s structure is to identify and explain features (or software) and move on to a hands-on exercise (project) using those features. Most of the projects are both helpful and practical (for example, the first project is addiing a force quit button to the panel). The writing style is informal and chatty, rather like a tutor sitting beside you. He promises to make it fun, and does a pretty good job, especially with sections like the one on Easter Eggs.

The coverage is definitely not for non-geeks. He spends quite a bit of time on games, iPods, music, downloads and customization, while barely mentioning GnuCash, Scribus and the suite of tools. But he did say he would make it fun, and the geeky things are a lot more fun than the productivity things. However, he also has sections on Linux security (“Basically, if it makes you feel safer to install some protection, go ahead”), printers and scanners, fonts, and multi-lingual features.

Grant, as all Linux guidebook writers seem to be, is upfront and honest about Linux and its shortcomings, but is upbeat and optimistic. He also gives workarounds with frank assessments of their likely effectiveness or ease of use. To that end, most of his projects involve downloading and installing a program that is not included in the Ubuntu install disk. In fact, if you follow the projects, you’ll get a lot of practice finding and installing packages, both from the gui and command line, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He also progresses from fairly simple steps at the beginning of the book, to an assumption the reader has more than a basic knowledge of Linux. This is definitely not a book to jump around in unless you’re one of those already familiar with Linux.

While I think this is a good book that achieves its stated goals, I do have some beefs. One of the biggest issues in computing access today is wireless. But the section on networking, including wireless, is weak. First, although he uses a lot of screenshots throughout the book (albeit too small to be of much use), there is a dearth of useful screenshots in the wireless section. Second, he mentions the outdated WEP security, but says nothing about WPA, which is not new technology any more. Third, there is the assumption that a wireless card will just be recognized, without a problem. Then there are times (thankfully infrequent) the information he’s giving is downright wrong. For instance, in the section on network browsing, he states, “In case you’re wondering, the smb at the head of that path means Samba…” Finally, although it may be early in the game here, the link listed for updates to links and software given in the book is blank.

A good book? Yes, especially for geek wannabes. But not the book for a total newbie, and not really the book for non-geeks. And the experienced Linux users probably already know it’s not the book for them. Despite my beefs, I did enjoy the book, and found it useful, despite it’s weaknesses.


  1. Erm. I think while you weren’t looking they changed what being a geek meant. Geeks aren’t the only ones with… iPods.

    The ‘glossing over’ of Open Source projects such as Scribus and OpenOffice are probably done because they aren’t ‘Ubuntu’. There’s a distinction between Linux as an operating system and the open source software which runs on it which – admittedly – most non-geeks wouldn’t know, and perhaps Grant should have mentioned that in the book a little more clearly for some readers who would think otherwise.

  2. Carol Bean says:

    Erm. I think while you weren’t looking they changed what being a geek meant. Geeks aren’t the only ones with… iPods.

    lol! yes, you’re right, of course. I was thinking non-geeks would be more interested in the “productivity” things like word processing, spreadsheets, and accounting than music, games and iPods. But, of course, that’s probably an overbroad generalization. 🙂

    The ‘glossing over’ of Open Source projects such as Scribus and OpenOffice are probably done because they aren’t ‘Ubuntu’.

    Except that those are part of the Ubuntu distribution.