Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ubuntu Made Easy May Have Achieved Its Noble Goal

A new No Starch Press title sets out with the intention of making Ubuntu Linux accessible to newcomers of the more timid kind. It may very well have succeeded.

If you've been part of the open source community for a while, you will have seen quite a few books and that set out to make some version or other of Linux accessible to beginners.  While some of these efforts have been quite compentent and admirable, others have been too shallow, barely rewritten from a template originally created with other systems in mind.  Others again have failed by being simply too massive and not actually very beginner oriented past the first ten to fifteen pages or so.

It's fair to say that a new Linux beginners' book has the odds stacked against it in several important ways. But then for a greying unixer like myself, there is the always a lingering hope that the next Linux or other Unix for beginners book will finally get it right, and manage to strike the right balance between a gentle learning curve and providing enough information to be genuinely useful.

So when No Starch Press asked me if I would like a review copy of Rickford Grant and Phil Bull's Ubuntu Made Easy (I have a pre-existing business relationship with No Starch Press, see note at the end), I hesitated for a few minutes and told them I'd take a peek.

When my review copy landed on my desk a few weeks ago I had already had access to PDF version for a little while.  Seeing the total page count in the PDF I was at first a little worried that this would be another one for the too big to be useful category.

But I needn't have worried. The writing in the approximately 420 pages of core text flows well and the subject matter is presented in a way that in my limited testing on less experienced users (I do not have easy access to truly fresh newbies, unfortunately) seems to build a useful and gentle learning curve.  A gentle learning curve does not necessarily mean low information density, however -- even my not totally green test subjects all found pieces of new information or useful tips in all chapters.

The text (with fairly frequent and useful illustrations) flows through a total of 22 chapters and four appendixes that takes the reader from a very gentle introduction to the system (even suggesting that you run from the live CD at first, only committing to a permanent install once you've gotten your feet wet) through a sequence of smaller projects in a full range of Linux desktop life topics that are clearly designed to both expand the users' skill set and to build their confidence in their own abilities.

After the project or task oriented chapters that make up the bulk of the book, the later chapters include an introduction to interacting with the Ubuntu community as well as a fairly useful symptom-oriented troubleshooting guide.

More experienced users may opt to skip or browse rather quickly through the early chapters, but as I mentioned earlier, even the more experienced may be able to find new information or at least a fresh perspective on familiar topics in various sections of this book.

So my verdict is that all in all, I think the authors of Ubuntu Made Easy may be very close to succeeding in the much longed-for goal of making a Linux beginner book that is actually useful to beginners.

Title: Ubuntu Made Easy - A Project-Based Introduction to Linux
Authors: Rickford Grant with Phil Bull
Published: No Starch Press (San Francisco), July 2012. 480 pages.
ISBN: 978-1-59327-425-2

Note: I have a pre-existing business relationship with No Starch Press.  The good people there had the patience to work with me through the process of writing three editions of The Book of PF, and they have sent me review copies of more books than the ones I've actually gotten around to reviewing.