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Review: A Newbie Book for the MS windows user migrating to Linux

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Stomfi

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Posted: 31 May 2005

StomfiLearning to use Linux at Home and Work
Welcome to my ongoing series of HowTo articles designed to help Linux newbies get comfortable with Linux. Before trying any of these HowTos, take a few minutes to study the prerequisites so you can hit the ground running.

I receive a lot of questions from Linux newbies about which book an MS windows user could find helpful in migrating to Linux. In my search, I skimmed through a lot of easy to understand MS windows OS and general applications books, and the easy ones all had one thing in common, which was plenty of coloured pictures, which you all know is intrinsic to my style of writing.

I have finally found one which I can recommend. It is fairly modern, being printed in 2004, has lots of coloured pictures, deals with the subject matter a newbie would be interested in, and compares Linux apps with Windows ways.

The book is called "Linux in easy steps" by Mike McGrath published by Computer Step (

I bought my copy locally for $AUD29.95 from Collins Booksellers in Cleveland, QLD. I like to get my Linux books and magazines from local stores as it encourages them to put more titles on their shelves, which promotes Linux. It also means I have something to read when my partner is doing the weekly shopping, which calls for a high degree of expertise and patience I have not got. I get to carry the bags. I'm good at that!

Now that I have it at home I am even more impressed than I was when I bought it. It has a paperback style cover, easy to fold back so it doesn't take up too much desk space, and has clear type that can be read from a metre away.

The foreword states quite succinctly that "This book examines the suitability of the Linux operating system for every day desktop computing tasks and contrasts some popular Linux applications with their counterparts in the Windows operating system".

You can see immediately from this that it doesn't try to be politically correct in naming all the contributions to a Linux distro; just keeps it concise and simple for the first time user.

The layout is especially nice in that it tries to keep topics on one or two pages and when on two pages, they are facing pages. This is well thought out as there is nothing more annoying for the newbie than having to look at both sides of a single page for information.

Chapter One covers the mandatory topics of what is Linux, choosing a distro, evaluating hardware, making space (including a nice pictorial section on installing a second drive), and preparing to install, and it does it all in just 8 pages.

Chapter Two is the install itself using the Mandrake distro as their example, but SUSE users will have little or no trouble applying the knowledge to the YaST installer, especially with the help of SUSE's excellent manuals.

Chapter Three, again Mandrake oriented, sets up all the hardware. It's nice to see that even though SUSE is a German Company and Mandrake is French, the Europeans think alike when designing their system control centres. The layout is much like YaST and the operation of the setup screens very similar. There are plenty of pictures and simple explanations in this section, which relegate the understanding and performance of these potentially daunting tasks into the "can do, it's not so hard" basket.

Chapter Four is all about KDE. There is a good section on the different ways of launching an application, but in the main, deals with customisation of the KDE desktop to suit your work style. Again plenty of simple explanations and pictures about why you would want to do this.

The next five chapters look at desktop skills from surfing the web with Mozilla, email, messaging, Linux files, accessing MS windows files, navigating from the command line, using Open Office, creating graphics with the GIMP, and sound, CD and video applications.

These are all the general Linux applications and utilities skills the average MS windows user is likely to need to know.

The pictures really show the "look" of the desktop and its applications, so that the Linux newbie can quickly get the "feel" of using a Linux desktop, and should have little trouble figuring out how to use the many other Linux applications and tools included in the SUSE distro.

Chapter Eleven introduces the Linux shell and Chapter Twelve demonstrates some simple shell scripting, including branching, looping and input. Once again there are only 20 pages covering this topic, but the use of pictures and simple explanations really show the newbie the fundamentals that they need to know to start utilising the powerful Linux shell tools as well as the GUI applications.

This picture shows one of the sample pages on using the shell from the ineasysteps web site.

Chapter Thirteen, the final chapter, shows you how to install new packages with the Mandrake interface, although the basic principles are the same for any distro, how to switch desktops to GNOME and some handy Linux resources. It didn't have Cool Solutions, or typing "linux help" in your Google bar, in the resources, but I think that is my only complaint.

The final 6 pages are the index which is as well laid out as the rest of the book and covered everything I wanted to look up.

In my opinion, this is an excellent book suitable for all levels of expertise and for training new Linux users. I recommend that any organization introducing desktop Linux to its users give them all a copy of this book, and supplement it with the very small handout required to show the operational differences between their chosen distro and what's in this book.

Actually, it is so good that all the major distro suppliers should get the Author to write one for them. With books like these, users will have no trouble migrating to Linux, and professionals will have an excellent quick reference for the basics. After reading this book, I don't think anyone will be able to say that Linux is harder than Windows, just the opposite in fact.

Anyone who wants to learn to use Linux to implement some of the Cool Solutions Stomfi howtos should definitely get this book as a prerequisite.

Reviewed by Stomfi 14/05/05 QLD, Australia

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