Linux Made Easy, Rickford Grant

Linux Made Easy by Rickford Grant is a companion to his original Linux for Non-geeks. Where the two differ is that this book is about how easy Linux can be for performing a myriad of tasks using a simple, skill-based approach. In this book, Rickford describes how to use Linux to do what you need to do: web browsing, sending email, basic document creation and using external peripherals like your printer, USB flash drive and scanner. In short, this book is about using Linux, from the perspective of ‘Your Average Joe’.The book covers, and indeed includes, Xandros Open Circulation Edition, a Debian based distribution that just happens to include a number of key components for the target market, including OpenOffice, a key part of the toolkit required by many users to provide word processing and spreadsheet facilities.

The contentsIn consideration of the target audience the book is a meaty, but not imposing, 450 pages making it look both substantial enough to keep potential readers interested and yet not so large as to make them think twice about buying a ‘professional’ book.The book starts off with the usual background to Linux and some considerations before moving straight on to the installation of Linux on your machine. Individual steps are split into ‘projects’, so in the installation chapter we have projects for booting your machine, creating a boot disk and the actual installation. Consideration is even giving for retaining your Windows partition in the process. Each project is a combination of discussion of what you are about to do, followed by a very detailed step-by-step account of the process, and then some follow up notes and information. To round off the first part, we get a quick introduction to the main parts of your new operating system.By Part II we start getting in to the meat of the operating system, first looking at how to connect to the Internet (a required step in the modern computing world) before moving on to basic file management, removable media and finally the control and customization options available through the Xandros Command Center and finally how to keep your machine up to date through the Xandros network.The next section concentrates more on using your machine for those day to day tasks, including printing, scanning, and connecting your digital camera and PDA. There’s lots of information here, from getting the equipment talking (including what to do when it doesn’t want to), through to actually scanning images, exchanging photos and PDA data. By the end of this section you should be up to speed in terms of duplicating the basic set up of a Windows environment and ready to start working and using your Xandros installation.Part IV is all about typical applications and projects; listening to CDs, browsing the Internet and sending email, using OpenOffice and other day-to-day tasks. As with the rest of the book, there’s more here than you will find through a casual glance. The chapter on OpenOffice for example doesn’t just tell you how to open the various applications; you also get information on using them. Basic spreadsheet mechanics, including formulas and referencing cells make up one of the projects. Although switchers may already know, it’s nice to see that the book covers more than just the ‘’use this application for that task’ approach.By the end of the book, and Part V, we are into the material which the book itself acknowledges is geeky: the command line. Although it contains the usual range of command line utilities and handy hints for making the best of a shell, it’s interesting to note that the previous 19 chapters have been entirely based on using the X Windows interface and KDE. Again, this simply helps to show that Linux is a credible alternative to Windows and that you don’t have to be a geek to use it.ProsThroughout, Rickford’s writing style is free and easy flowing. Despite the heavy step-by-step approach, you never feel like you are being treated like an idiot. Rickford assumes readers are going to be proficient in using a computer, just not proficient in Linux. To add to the lighter feel, chapters have interesting titles and subtitles and there’s a lot of humor in the book. This in turn makes the book incredibly easy to read while containing a lot of information. Even for a long-time Linux user there’s a lot that can be learned from the book.The choice and range of topics is also a massive bonus. This book is aimed entirely, and squarely, at those people who want to try Linux, not with the aim of simply toying with it, but with the specific aim of actually using it to do your day-to-day tasks.There’s a surprising chapter on Linux gaming which only covers the standard games provided as part of Xandros, but it helps to show to people that Linux is more than just an Internet and business application machine and really can be used as a full time replacement for Windows.ConsTo be honest, there really isn’t a great deal to work on when it comes to problems with the book. There are a few formatting and stylistic issues, but nothing major. Just occasionally there are just a few too many screenshots and those provided seem superfluous, but for a user new to Linux these additional screens would be reassuring, rather than annoying.RecommendationThis book is not for people already familiar with Linux, but it is a book that could easily be distributed to new users. Overall, the book would be an ideal item to keep on the shelf and hand over to the next person who asks you what to do when they get fed up of Windows. In fact, I’m tempted to keep piles of the book for just this purpose.