Customer Reviews: Linux Desktop Hacks: Tips & Tools for Customizing and Optimizing your OS
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One of the latest Hacks titles from O'Reilly takes on the Linux desktop - Linux Desktop Hacks by Nicholas Petreley and Jono Bacon. It's good stuff, but not quite what I thought it would be...

Chapter List: Booting Linux; Console; Login Managers; Related to X; KDE Desktop; GNOME Desktop Hacks; Terminal Empowerment; Desktop Programs; Administration and Automation; Kernel; Hardware; Index

Like all Hacks titles, this book is made up of 100 tips and tricks that you can do and that are related to the subject matter of the book... in this case, the Linux desktop. I was expecting to pick up a lot of hints and tips like #55 - Reduce Startup Time, #72 - Start Desktop Applications Automatically, and #80 - Protect Yourself From Windows Applications. Those are some cool things, and they relate directly to what I usually think of when I envision the Linux desktop. But you'll also find things like #81 - Build a Custom Firewall Computer, #88 - Compile a Kernel, and #2 - Kill and Resurrect the Master Boot Record. Once again, all very good and interesting stuff, but it seems to stray somewhat from the "Linux desktop" premise (or at least what I was expecting it to be). There are also plenty of instances where you need to be up to speed with scripting skills so you can change config files or compile and install software. I realize that the Linux desktop isn't all automated installers and such, but there seemed to be a lot of times where you always ended up back at the command line console.

Perhaps not being a Linux or Unix geek yet, I'm inclined to think of "desktop" as graphical user interface when it actually can be a number of things.

So... I like the book, and if you're into running Linux as your main operating system at the desktop level, you'll get a lot out of this book. Just be forewarned that it may not contain exactly what you expected...
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on March 16, 2006
First, I write software professionally. I write software, I am not a Sys Admin (which is hard work I might add; System Administration is for hardcore people.) This book saved me money by giving me answers to problems that would have taken me days to find the answers to by searching the internet.

Hack #30 How to setup up VNC

Virtual terminals are great. I use them to cut out using an expensive and wires of a KVM switch. I can get to my servers from anywhere in the house or securly across the Internet (with the right passwords as this books shows.)

I can fix my wife's computer problems without having to go to her desk. I can run my Windows apps on a Windows machine, but control that from my Linux terminals.

Or vice-a-versa, it is much easier to use a Windows laptop while sitting on the couch sipping a Martini then having to sit in a dark cold server closet trying to fix a problem with a server.

It took me 3 days to search and read about VNC on the net. Then trying to find an example on a web page that worked and was edited properly. This book gave me the answers I needed in 5 pages of well written text.

A simple enough hack but time is money in this business and this book save both time and money.

Also the book is a "good" read. The authors write well and that keeps you reading. Not a dry manual.

If you are doing Linux for fun or work you need will need to buy this book. It allows you more time to sleep at night.
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on June 25, 2005
This is an excellent hacks book. It's one hundred fairly short, but well explained and appropriately illustrated, hints and tips that cover the gamut of Linux issues. Don't let the Desktop word in the title fool you. Certainly there is a lot of information on Desktop tweaks, but the information is more than skin deep. There is security, networking and systems administration information.

As with all of the hacks books, take a look at the table of contents and if you find ten or so that interest you, then check it out.
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on May 10, 2005
"Linux Desktop Hacks", by Nicholas Petreley and Jono Bacon, is a recent book published by O'Reilly in March 2005. It provides 100 "hacks" to improve the workability, performance, and cosmetic appeal of your Linux desktop environment. Be advised that "hacks" in this context might be better defined as "customizations" or "configuration improvements". It's just over 300 pages, and has a list price of $24.95.

The book seems well organized, and includes chapters on booting and login, console functions, general X usage, the KDE and Gnome environments, commonly used applications, hardware tweaks, and system administration (including compiling a kernel). There is also a decent index at the end of the book.

I must admit that my first impression of the book after picking it up was that it was yet another "Intro to Linux" book for newbies. After spending a little time with it, however, I have come to find that there are many tips and tricks in here that will prove very useful even to experienced users. Some of the improvements discussed have become items that I now use frequently.

One of the procedures that I have already used was the taking a screenshot of an X session screen from another login console. This can be very helpful with showing the progress of an installation routine, for example. I had known this capability existed, but this "hack" was explained very clearly and was very easy to use. Another section that cleared up some mysteries for me was how to run X applications remotely over a network (VNC), allowing me to run a program on one machine, and display it on another. Very handy for less capable machines on the LAN.

Some of the other tips that I look forward to trying are getting some keyboard "multimedia keys" to work properly (using the program Lineak), converting email client mailboxes from one format to another, scanning for wireless networks in the area, getting email notifications for certain system events, and doing backups over the local network. There are many other tricks that may be useful to some people too, such as playing restricted media formats (DVD's), making KDE more pleasant to use, customizing bootloader splash screens, and using the iPod and iRiver devices.

Overall I've found this book to be fun, interesting, and helpful. One good feature given for each "hack" is an indicator that tells the relative skill level needed for each procedure (beginner, moderate, expert). In any case, though, the steps are well explained and should be quite clear to anyone wanting to try it. I would recommend this book to Linux users of all skill levels. It appears to me that O'Reilly has another winner here in it's excellent "Hacks" series of books. More details about the book can be seen in the O'Reilly catalog, here: [...] . Well done (as usual) to O'Reilly Publishing!
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For linux sysadmins and users, the operating system offers a huge amount of flexibility and customisation. Alas, many might not be fully aware of the numerous tweaks you can perform. So this book tries to educate you. Naturally, a lot of the hacks relate to the desktop. The book allocates a chapter each to the KDE and Gnome desktops. It does not play favourites by suggesting one is better than the other. So the authors pragmatically support both.

As a sign of the book's recent vintage, there is one hack involving Firefox. But given that this browser's rise has scarcely halted, if there is a future edition of this book, we can expect far more hacks on Firefox.

Perhaps it is a good sign of linux's security that the only mention of viruses in the book is in the context of running Microsoft Windows emulators or in reading Microsoft Windows documents.
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Linux Desktop Hacks: Tips & Tools for Customizing and Optimizing Your OS is one of the better choices among the books of this genre. Although I have worked with Linux for years there were still several tips in here that I did not know and found very useful. Each chapter focuses on a particular area of the desktop computer and how you can make it perform the way it should or look totally different. Some of the subjects covered include changing the Boot Manager, bypassing the Manager, redefining keys, using macros, switching users, using multiple desktops, using creative cursors, using Windows and Mac fonts, running the desktop over the Internet, sharing applications and monitors, viewing Microsoft Word Documents in a Terminal, displaying a PDF document in a terminal, reducing startup time, encrypting email, configure Firefox, forwarding ports, new user setup, link monitoring, tweaking the kernel without recompiling, using unsupported printers, and boosting hard-drive performance. An excellent resource for those who have moved to Linux on the desktop, Linux Desktop Hacks is highly recommended.
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on May 4, 2005
This book arrived on a day when my Linux wasn't cooperating. I looked in the book's table of contents to see if it had any hack I could use. I immediately found several useful ones. I was able to solve my networking problem of the day. This book has 100 hacks. You are not going to use all of them. But you will use enough to find this book worth the cost. It has some very useful shortcuts for console use that will make you look like a power Unix user in no time. I definitely recommend this book. It's a good reference tool for those days when you just need to look up something quick. And it's a good study when you have time to devote to really learning better scripting.
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on May 4, 2006
Oh I just love this book. I buy a lot of technical books and find about 1 out of 5 are books I use alot. This is one of them. pretty up to data and covers gnome and KDE though most of the Hacks are not window manager specific -- Hell some of the funnest stuff is done from the command line. Full of great stuff for getting you system running the way you want.

It's not just limited the desktop but gives good info on the boot manager etc. I've been doing linux since '99.

There are 100 quality hacks in the book - I find more than 80%interesting and I'll probably use half of them over the next few months. Just finding:

kstart --fullscreen program_name"

to start a program in full-screen kiosk mode under KDE was news to me. Also includes other things you need to know like painless ways.
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on May 26, 2005
I read this book in about two days. The format is laid out in quick modular sections that cover just about everything from downloading and burning an iso all the way to recompiling your kernel. A day later I was genuinely pleased when I successfull did just that. The ability to bounce around the book for specific questions and answers is a ver positive feature. In some instances though the answers only apply if your running KDE or GNOME and equal covereage for both can be sporadic. The book is a handy guide to keep on a shelf for those problems that crop up at 2am that need immediate solutions. I feel this book is a worthwhile investment for a newbie to linux desktop environment.
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on May 23, 2005
Linux Desktop Hacks carries forward the good work of the "Hacks" Series from O'Reilly. The Desktop is a niche area and a potential minefield with each end user having his/her own idea of what all can be done with the desktop.

The book manages to steer clear of becoming a simple reference guide for newbies, yet at the same time manages to cram a lot of power hacks that will appeal to the end users.

The book is well organised - taking the user through the booting process into tweaking the Desktop Environments. And as is the norm, the Hacks can stand alone by themselves or be interlinked. It is possible to link across the hacks.

By themselves, the hacks manage to answer some of the famous newbie questions on various User Group mailing lists - for example hack # 2 (killing and restoring the MBR). Chapters 9 & 10 dealing with Administration and Automation, Kernel contain hacks which power users will enjoy trying out.

On a personal note, some more detail about commercial distributions like Red Hat, Mandrake, Novell etc would have increased the appeal of this book to the desktop users of commercial desktop distributions. But this small glitch does in no way take the credit for the extreme level of detail and collation and compilation finesse shown by the authors. A nice read and a must have.
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