Most helpful critical review
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Could Have Been Better
on March 20, 2009
While I like the book, "Linux In Easy Steps", it left some things to be desired. One big gripe I have with the book is that certain concepts aren't explored in sufficient detail, e.g. swap partitions. Another gripe I had was the lack of practice files to match some of the lessons, which is what I'll focus on now.
In some lessons, the author, Mike McGrath, has you type up simple text files for the lesson. If we had been able to do that for all the lessons, it would have been something! Yeah, it would have been a bummer to set up and type the practice files by hand, but at least the reader would have had a practice file! He doesn't have you do this, so when you go to do a lesson, e.g. on handling archives on pp. 134-135, there is no practice file to use for the lesson. He has you perform these operations, yet there's NO FILE ON WHICH TO PERFORM THEM!
There is no companion CD with the book, a la` the Microsoft Step by Step series. There is no companion website for the book, a la` the excellent Exploring MS Office Series by Robert Barber and Maryann Grauer, which provides downloadable practice files for the lessons. If either one of those options had been available, it would have been something! Unfortunately, the reader has neither option available to him. How is one supposed to learn the material without practicing it first? Learning computers and their applications is like swimming; the only way to learn them is to DO them. Without practice files to match many of the lessons, the book loses its value.
Another thing I didn't like was how the 'hot tips' were incomplete. For example, on the exercise pertaining to root passwords, one of the hot tips shows you how to lock down root access; what they don't show you is how to UNLOCK, i.e. restore, root access-duh! I had to go digging for that on an Ubuntu forum; I had to look for an item that should have been in the book already! What would a newbie have done if he weren't well versed in searching the Ubuntu forum? He would have been SOL, that's what!
Now, I know you can use the 'sudo' command to get around this, and that's what I did for a long time. I still do that, since it only allows me root access for the operation in question, thus enhancing security. However, I still didn't appreciate being told about one operation, while not being told about its companion operation. Once I found out what to do, I made a note in the book where the hot tip was. I don't think I should have had to do that; the author and/or publisher should have had this information in the book.
As for what I liked, I like the fact that it's not too hard for Linux newbies like myself. I'd contemplated the switch to Linux for a long time; when a nasty virus forced the issue and was unable to procure a recovery CD from Dell (that's a whole 'nother story!), I got an Ubuntu disk, and I haven't looked back. This book has given me the tools to really use my new OS to its full advantage. The book gave me the confidence to use Ubuntu, and use it well.
I also like the handy command reference in the back. For that alone, the book is worth purchasing. I'm new to the command line (I cut my computer teeth on Windows 3.1, so I never got acquainted with DOS, the MS counterpart to Linux's CLI), so I need to look up those commands I don't always use. It has more frequently used commands, and it has some of the more common options too-a nice touch. That reference is handy, which is why I bought the book.
In closing, while the book is a nice intro to Linux, it could have been better. While it acquaints the Linux newbie with how to use the Gnome desktop and perform common operations in that GUI environment, I found its lack of practice files, user generated or otherwise, a big letdown; I couldn't do some of the CLI exercises, because I didn't have the practice files he asks you to use-duh! Some of the information isn't complete, either; the user isn't presented with all the options and companion operations, e.g. how to lock the root account down, but neglecting to show the user how to UNLOCK it too. This book, while it's a good intro to Linux, could have been so much better. For that reason, I give it three stars. Thank you.