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Ubuntu Hacks = Everything Hacks,
This review is from: Ubuntu Hacks: Tips & Tools for Exploring, Using, and Tuning Linux (Paperback)I wrote this review originally for the Tucson Computer Society Magazine in October 2006. Since then I used many hacks successfully.
Getting access non-free programs requires changing the repository (hack #60).
Installing Java (hack #18) went smoothly and exactly as stated using apt-get. This is great as several people on the mailing list reported problems doing this. I felt this might be an ordeal, but it was easy.
Multimedia plug-ins (hack #28) required some extra searching as some packages were no longer in the repositories and substitutes had to be found. Some extra work was required but that's Linux. Many of the hacks were this way.
Package management (hacks #54-#66) were very helpful not only in Ubuntu but with Debian. Several more of the hacks apply to other Linux distributions as well as Ubuntu.
All-in-all, the more I use this book, the more valuable it becomes.
The back cover of UBUNTU HACKS states the book is "your one-stop source for all of the community knowledge you need to get the most out of Ubuntu," an eye-catching statement. I sure need some of this knowledge. Although the title is UBUNTU HACKS and deals with Ubuntu and GNOME desktop, most hacks apply to other Ubuntu family members. I find this helpful as I use Kubuntu with KDE instead of Ubuntu.
I experimented with Ubuntu/Kubuntu Linux distributions since Ubuntu 5.04 released April, 2005 (Ubuntu versions are numbered by the year and month of release). Ubuntu is the original member of a family of Linux distributions consisting of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, XUbuntu, and EdUbuntu.
The picture of the tuning fork on the front cover is dramatic. The book, 6" wide by 9" tall by 1" thick, contains about 450 pages. The book is convenient to carry to waiting rooms where I usually have time to read and study at least one hack.
Jonathan Oxer, an Australian, has an off-beat sense of humor making the book entertaining and interesting as well as helpful. Instead of using the normal triangle in the margin to denote a warning, he uses a screw. Effective and humorous.
UBUNTU HACKS has ten chapters containing 100 hacks or user tips. The hacks range from obtaining a live/installation CD (download from the Internet, copy from a friend or have a copy mailed free) through setting up a full home/office server.
The Preface contains a brief history of Ubuntu. Although the Ubuntu distribution is about two years old, it is usually number one at Distrowatch. I checked (Sept. 4, 2006) and in the past month Ubuntu, #1, was downloaded 2430 times while #2, openSUSE, was downloaded 1832.
Chapter One, Getting Started (Hacks 1-14), discusses obtaining and using the live CD in great detail. The live CD allows exploring Ubuntu (Ubuntu and Kubuntu, to my knowledge, are the only family members with live CDs) without installation. It is possible to try programs and study Linux without endangering your computer's existing operating system. Changes to the live CD system can be made to a thumb drive. Live CDs are great places to learn and experiment. If you decide to install the operating system, it is only necessary to click the desktop install button and answer a few simple questions. The changes made on the thumb drive can be added to the new installation. Installation is covered in this chapter in great detail. Live CDs can also be used to repair a "broken" system.
I ordered the live CD for Kubuntu. It shipped free. Following the author's instructions, I easily downloaded the Ubuntu ISO and burned the CD (using Windows 2000). I played with Ubuntu on the live CD for a few days. Then I installed Ubuntu 6.06 from the live CD on a partition of the drive already containing Kubuntu 6.06. I wanted to comparison Ubuntu and Kubuntu and this seemed like the best way. Both versions are installed in 9 GB partitions on a PII 400 with 1 GB memory connected to the Internet via Qwest DSL.
Booting the live CD presents an option to check the CD. I checked both the Kubuntu and Ubuntu CDs. Both showed an error but the live CD and installation worked.
This chapter explains multi-booting with Windows or another operating system. The multi-boot worked seamlessly. Windows 2000 and Kubuntu 6.06 were on this computer before and multi-boot worked with them as well. I installed Ubuntu, Kubuntu and XUbuntu previously on various computers and knew what to expect. The multi-boot system allows working with Windows while learning and tuning Ubuntu. Setting up multi-booting is scary at first but carefully following instructions has not led to any problems yet.
Chapter One includes instructions to create a customized live CD; this requires quite a bit of free hard disk space for the process. Migration of Windows data to Ubuntu is explained. There is a very brief but helpful introduction to use of the command line; the command line is applied throughout the book. A brief discussion of some included programs follows. There is extensive information to find help on the Internet and within Ubuntu. I find the Kubuntu mailing list referred to very helpful.
Chapter Two, "The Linux Desktop" (Hacks 15-27), briefly covers setting up and using Linux desktops. GNOME and KDE, the two main and most Windows-like and Macintosh-like Linux desktops are the main topics of discussion. Some interesting older and less resource intensive window management systems get brief coverage. These window managers allow real hands-on customization of the Linux environment. Detailed instructions tell how to download and install plug-ins. Syncing a Palm PC and Pocket PC are included in this section.
The interoperability of GNOME and KDE programs is discussed. It is possible to install both GNOME and KDE on the same partition along with several other Window managers and switch as you wish. I tried this with an early installation of Ubuntu/Kubuntu. There were so many menu items I got lost. This time I installed some favorite KDE programs in Ubuntu. The programs work well.
Chapter Three, "Multimedia" (Hacks 28-37), contains detailed information on installing multimedia plug-ins. This chapter has extensive information on CDs, DVDs and digital cameras.
Chapter Four, "Mobile Ubuntu" (Hacks 38-46), tells how to set up a laptop computer. It discusses sleep, hibernate and extending battery life. The chapter contains hacks on setting up and using wireless including cards not directly supported by Linux. I haven't had a chance to try this yet.
Chapter Five, "X11" (Hacks 47-53), tells how to customize the X Window System. X Windows is where input (mouse, touch-pad, keyboard) and output (video card, monitor) configuration is done.
Most configuration happens automatically during setup. Tweaking X11 configuration tunes performance, sometimes significantly. It could require extra effort to configure non-standard hardware but this might be the only way to accomplish this. For various reasons, some political, a driver or optimum driver sometimes is not included in the distribution but can be found elsewhere.
Chapter Six, "Package Management" (Hacks 54-66), explains several methods to add and remove programs from your computer. A great advantage of Linux is the ability to find and easily download a program to fit your needs.
There are several choices of web browsers, text editors, graphics and many other programs available with a few mouse clicks or a command line entry. If a program does not meet your expectations, remove it and add another. No cost, no time shopping for the right program; just reach out and grab it.
Repositories, the places where packages live on the Internet, are explained clearly and in detail. The section on apt-get, the command line Debian based package manager, is very clear and complete. I find this hack helpful for a SPARC I run under Debian as well as for Ubuntu.
Graphical package managers are explained in detail. Retrieving and installing packages from repositories other than official ones receives thorough coverage. Compiling packages from source code is discussed. Possible problems with package installation and solutions to these problems are presented. Cautions are presented and explained - with the accompanying screw as a reminder.
Chapter Seven, "Security" (Hacks 67-73), explains Linux's security system. I find the Linux security system is often irritating but I appreciate the safety it provides. There are very few Linux viruses. The main danger to my Linux system is the "keyboard virus", or me, which the security system controls and limits.
Chapter Eight, "Administration" (Hacks 74-86), delves into maintenance and tuning the file-system and computer environment. Control of who can and can't do what is set by the administrator.
Access to other file-systems such as a Windows partition on your computer or a network computer is set by the administrator. Downloading and installing or removing packages is the province of the administrator. The administrator controls how the computer starts and fixes it if it does not. (In my experience, the administrator often breaks it.) Building a custom kernel is an administrative duty. Scheduling and performing backups and recovering the system are administrative duties. These and other administrative duties are explained in detail.
Linux log files are explained here. The explanations of the various log files in UBUNTU HACKS show you where to look for answers. Log files tell, in detail, what happened on the system. Besides being the first place to look for problems, the log files are a necessity to show someone on line how to get help.
Chapter Nine, "Virtualization and Emulation" (Hacks 87-92), details running Windows programs under Linux or Linux programs under Windows. It discusses several approaches to this, some free and some commercial.
Chapter Ten, "Small Office/Home Office Server" (Hacks 93-100), has instructions on building many types of servers from the Ubuntu distribution. Ubuntu is based on Debian and Debian has a well-deserved reputation as "the" server distribution. Anything that can be done with a commercial server operating system can be done with Ubuntu with an investment of time instead of money. File sharing and peripheral sharing with Windows computers on your home network are covered. Logging into your computer with another computer is detailed.
I like this book for several reasons. Kubuntu is the first Linux distribution I loaded easily and used immediately. There were no acronym loaded questions to answer during install. I was web surfing and chatting with friends on line and checking e-mail shortly after completing installation.
Previous investigation into making a live CD for testing purposes left me confused and muttering. The process is very understandable in UBUNTU HACKS.
The author explains his hacks in great detail. He takes you from getting the necessary program, through using it in a step by step manner. Besides showing a command and explaining syntax, he shows what to expect on the screen as a result of the command. That makes me feel more confident as things happen. I have the confidence to try things that seemed too complex without this book. I feel I can follow his instructions and have an understanding of the reasons and processes involved.
A problem with Linux is the wealth of programs making locating the right program for the job difficult. Jonathan Oxer's approach cuts through much of this confusion.
Although Linux includes references to each program in the form of man pages and info pages, these are often written by programmers for programmers. The programs often have several options. Sometimes these pages are confusing and obscure. Often they are hundreds of lines long and it is difficult to find needed information. The same is true of many Internet sites. The author writes for the user in a clear and concise manner.
Although written expressly for Ubuntu and, to a slightly lesser extent, Kubuntu, there are several helpful general Linux tips. I got solutions to problems I am researching for other systems.
This book is written for the "Dapper Drake" release. This is the distribution the Ubuntu organization says will be supported for five years. As Dapper Drake was released in June of this year, it means the book will not soon be obsolete. It will outlast some of my computers, especially the one I have Ubuntu/Kubuntu on.
UBUNTU HACKS is a good book for beginning to intermediate users, the only level I can comment on with my present skills. The hacks range from simple to very complex but all seem doable by a patient and careful user. This is not the book to make you a Linux guru. It will help do interesting things with Ubuntu and make use of some of Ubuntu's available power. As my skills with Ubuntu grow, this book will be used often. It is a good addition to my growing Linux library.