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Linux for Dummies, 5th Edition

Everything a beginner needs to install and run Linux

In this installment of the Book Rookery, Kevin Bedell speaks with LWM's own Dee-Ann LeBlanc about the latest edition of Linux for Dummies, which features expanded coverage of the Linux desktop, among other things.

Can people without a lot of computer experience really install and use Linux for everyday tasks?

Sure! I won't claim that it's "tie both hands behind your back" easy to learn Linux, but installation has never been simpler in most cases, and you point and click your way through things just like you do in Windows and Mac OS X - unless you're really into learning the ol' tried-and-true command line. Some people are.

Does the book cover just Linux, or does it cover other applications, such as OpenOffice?

There's a nice meaty chapter on OpenOffice.org and all of the programs in that suite. There's also a ton of material on multimedia stuff, and other fun tools that I thought folks might like to know more about. I'd say it's about half and half. The other half of the book contains things about using Linux in the GUI and command line, customizing the GUI, and other tasks that will help you feel more comfortable.

What has changed from previous editions of Linux for Dummies?

In the early editions, we tried to cover everything, from desktop to server. The 5th edition is the culmination of my decision last time around to bring this book more and more to a desktop focus. That lets me zoom in on enough interesting stuff that it's not just some quick survey that has no real details. There are lots of books that have information on how to set up servers. There's still not much that focuses on the desktop. Removing the more server-based content has let me expand the OpenOffice and multimedia coverage, in particular.

What are the biggest challenges that most beginning users have installing and using Linux?

Sometimes a particular version of Linux and a particular hardware setup just don't seem to get along. Without being there in person, I can't be sure what happens, but it's happened to me too. (Just as some computers don't seem to get along well with Windows.) I've talked to some Linux users who had to try more than one distribution before they found one they really liked.

As far as using Linux, it's important to remember that learning Linux is like learning a whole new language if you've never done anything in Unix. These are some of the things I try in particular to address, by helping readers to understand some of the terminology and how things are seen and done a bit differently in the Linux world.

Is Linux ready for the desktop for average users?

You'd kind of have to define an average user for me. A lot of average folks write me to thank me for the book, saying they're set up and happily playing with Linux. Other people write to me with problems, and I help them as best I can. The biggest problem is in the area of installation; if something goes wrong it can really go wrong. However, people forget that most users don't install their own Windows boxes. They just buy them pre-installed.

Once people get their Linux boxes set up, the average user really seems to have no trouble as long as no one talked them into trying a more advanced distribution. Debian is great for the server, but it's not something that I would hand to someone new to Linux who just wants to try something out on the desktop.

If I buy this book, do I get everything I need to install and run Linux?

You get Fedora Core 1 on DVD, so you get the entire Fedora distribution, and even the source code if you really want to play with it for some insane reason.

Can I call you if I have problems?

I do answer e-mail, though not always as quickly as I might like (sometimes I'm on the road or under heavy deadlines). I'm also part of the AnswerSquad (www.answersquad.com), which is a paid support team that can handle all kinds of questions, not just Linux ones. Since it's paid I make sure to answer questions faster there, and if I'm not around to do so immediately, there are other people who can. It's a nice way for me to pool my services with other folks so I have time to write and work as well.

Is Linux better than Windows? If so, why?

For some this is a religious question! My general response to this is, "Well, what are you trying to do?" I try to remember that computers are just tools, as are operating systems. Personally, I prefer Linux. I find it more stable, and better built in terms of security. I also prefer the philosophy behind the free software and open source communities to the "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine" approach taken by many powerful closed source computer companies.

I know this is a very diplomatic answer, but I'm a very shades-of-gray kind of person. The world isn't black and white. Though I suppose Tux, the Linux mascot, is.

I've heard I can install and run Linux on older and less powerful computers. Will this book help me do this?

You sure can do this. You'll find the best use for older computers to be on the server front, where you don't need a GUI. I find that with any desktop system, no matter what OS you use, you generally want to have as powerful a computer as you can manage, just because it's got to run a GUI, hold five windows with different programs open at once, play games, and more. If you don't need a high-end desktop system though (say you just want to use it for word processing), then Linux on an older system can be perfect - especially if you take the time to customize your GUI to the point where it's using very small components.

I don't get into this level of GUI customization in the book since it's more advanced, but I do tell you how to turn the GUI off completely. Now there's a nice, light interface!


Copyright ® 2003 by Wiley Publishing, Inc. Reproduced here by permission. All rights reserved. For Dummies is a registered trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and other countries.

About Dee-Ann Leblanc:
Dee-Ann LeBlanc, gaming industry editor of LinuxWorld Magazine, has been involved with Linux since 1994. Dee-Ann is the author of 12 books, 130 articles, and has more of both coming. She is a trainer, a course developer - including the official Red Hat online courseware at DigitalThink - a founding member of the AnswerSquad, and a consultant.
[email protected]

More Stories By Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of Linux.SYS-CON.com, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

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