Welcome!

Linux Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Mike Kavis, Carmen Gonzalez, Plutora Blog

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

Linux for Non-Geeks

A hands-on, project-based, take-it-slow guidebook

Kevin Bedell caught up with Rickford Grant, author of Linux for Non-Geeks, to ask him a few questions about his handy guide for Linux newbies and those with "command-line phobia."

Did this book really begin life as a set of instructions to help your mother get started with Linux?

Basically, yes. Originally, the basis of what eventually would become Linux for Non-Geeks was just a collection of notes that I had been keeping for personal reference because, frankly, I have a lousy memory, plain and simple. When my mother and I decided to replace her moribund Windows 95 machine (an old Packard-Bell box of mine), the transformation into book form began. Naturally, the various scraps of information I had collected up until then required a lot of gluing and supplementing in order to function as a user's guide, so that is when the book actually started taking shape. My auntie, upon seeing the results, commanded me to publish it, and that was, as the saying goes, that.

I have to ask - did she ever get it installed?

Actually, I installed the first system (Red Hat Linux 9) for her, and she just played around with that for a while, spending a tremendous amount of time playing Frozen-Bubble. When Fedora Core 1 was released, she installed that on her own, and, I should add, without a hitch. She even installed APT and Synaptic, which she used to download and install her beloved Frozen-Bubble, as well as a few other things she wanted. She also got pretty wild in the font-installation department. All in all, she ended up being a good beta tester for the chapters that finally appeared in the book, and some of her questions and requests formed the basis for others. The pyWings oracle project in Chapter 9 is a good example.

Why would a "non-geek" run Linux, anyway?

There are lots of reasons, I suppose, but for most people the idea of a free system and all that free software (and good stuff at that) sitting out there on the Internet waiting to be installed is just too delicious a prospect to be ignored. Most users of proprietary systems, such as Windows and Mac OS, are hamstrung to a degree by the fact that they have to pay for every little bit of software they choose to install, and then they often find that they end up hardly ever using what they've paid for. In the Linux world, that isn't an issue. Most Linux distributions come with nearly every application an average user would ever need, and yet, if that doesn't satisfy them, they can still download and install more.

There are other reasons, of course, and perhaps the most important of these is viruses. Linux, for the time being anyway, is virtually virus-free. Users don't have to worry about viruses rummaging through their Outlook address books and then spitting off virus-laced junk mail to everyone they know. Of course, the same can be said about Mac OS, but then, in that case, we're talking about a significant financial investment in terms of hardware and software.

Who do you think will benefit most from this book?

I wrote the book as a Linux newbies book, particularly for those with some form of command-line phobia, and as such I feel it will be of most benefit to Windows users interested in making the switch to Linux - or at least adding it to their repertoire. While I don't necessarily imagine Mac users switching over from Mac OS to Linux, I do think that the book should prove to be of interest to them too. Many such users have an unused PC at their disposal that they would like to put to use, but don't care to dump a lot of money into.

As for those people already using Linux, while I don't think power users would find the book particularly valuable, I do think there are quite a few average users out there who might be able to use the book as a preparatory step in moving on to the next level - the "want-to-get-their-feet-a-little-geeky" types, as I refer to them in the book.

You focus on doing almost everything from the graphical environment, but aren't some things in Linux more easily done via the command line?

Sure, but the idea that those things have to be done via the command line is what scares a lot of potential users away. That's a pity because it's possible to get almost everything done without it, even if it seems a round-about way of doing things to some long-time Linux users. I think it's fair to say that most users coming from the Windows or Mac worlds are not particularly interested in dropping their comfy GUIs for the command line, so I try to give them a way around it.

Of course, there are some folks out there who are a bit curious about using commands, and then there are some users, dating back from the DOS days, who aren't even all that put off by the idea. For them, I included a couple of chapters that introduce using commands and putting them to use ... with a lot of hand holding along the way. Basically, I just try to get the reader to think of the command terminal as just another part of the graphical environment - a no-big-deal sort of thing.

This book looks like it was fun to write - was it?

Very much so. At first, when I was rushing to get the first set of instructions off to my mother ahead of her receiving the computer, things were a bit hectic, but once No Starch accepted the manuscript and the editing process began, it was great fun. For a process handled entirely over the Internet, it ended up feeling, quite surprisingly, like a real team effort. I looked forward to checking my e-mail every day and getting my daily feedback, which, in addition to the various suggestions and comments from the folks at No Starch, made for an even more rounded-out final product than I had originally envisioned. Some of the exchanges between the editors and me were also real eye-openers, sometimes in serious ways, and sometimes in rather humorous ways.

For example, being a classic TV and movie junkie, I couldn't resist slipping a few references to such things into the book. I originally had one line in there to the effect of "and once you do blah blah blah, all will be well in Terre Haute for Buffy, Jody, and you." Goofy, perhaps, but I can't control myself at times. Anyway, the editor commented that the reader might not get the connection between the content of the chapter and "vampires," which threw me for the proverbial loop. Vampires? I had no idea what he was talking about until it hit me: wow, I'm getting old! No disrespect to Sarah Michelle Geller, but I was referring to the 60's show "Family Affair," not "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

This book is from No Starch Press, but it is being distributed and promoted by O'Reilly. How does that work?

Basically, the book is a No Starch project. No Starch accepted the manuscript and worked with the project from the various stages of editing on through to the production of the final printed product. They also handle the promotion and marketing sides of things. O'Reilly, with its bigger reach, handles the task of getting the product into the stores. Of course, No Starch coordinates its promotional efforts with O'Reilly, which does a fair share of promotion on its own, in order to raise the profile of the book. All in all, it's a very good and mutually beneficial arrangement.

What is your favorite Linux application?

Because of work (and writing the book) I use OpenOffice.org Writer more than anything, but it's pretty hard to get excited over an office app, regardless of how good it happens to be (and Writer is very good). I love using XMMS, which I have running in the background all the time; gxine, for video playback; the GIMP and gThumb, for my graphical endeavors; and the games Frozen-Bubble, Glines, and ShisenSho, for blowing off a bit of steam. There are also a couple of other faves that are not mentioned in the book, but which I have put on my Web site as additional projects: Glabels, a label design and printing utility; Jigl, an image thumbnailer; and PySol, the king of solitaire games. And then there's always something new waiting to be discovered, installed, and tried out, which is part of the fun of the Linux experience.

Are there any Windows programs you miss being a Linux user?

Basically, there is a Linux version for just about everything there is in the Windows world, and because all of these apps are free, I am actually using more applications than I was during my time with Windows. Some other Windows applications can be run by using WINE, which you might call a Windows emulator, though I tend to be too much of a purist to go that route. The only Windows application I actually miss is Michael Zillinger's freeware version of the Austrian card game Schnapsen, so if any programmer reading this wants to get working on porting that application over to Linux, I will be more than grateful.

About Rickford Grant
Rickford Grant has been a computer operating system maniac for over 20 years. From his earliest days with his Atari XL600 to his present Linux machines, he has been the guy at the other end of the computer help line for family, friends, and colleagues. When not burning himself out in front of his monitor, or annoying his neighbors with his Nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle) playing, he spends his working hours as an associate professor at Toyama University of International Studies in Japan, where he teaches courses in English language, Swedish culture, and English language-based computing.

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.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, addressed the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. Rodney Rogers, chairman and CEO of Virtustream; Brendan O'Brien, co-founder of Aria Systems, Bart Copeland, president and CEO of ActiveState Software; Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn; Dave Wagstaff, VP and chief architect at BSQUARE Corporation; Seth Proctor, CTO of NuoDB, Inc.; and Andris Gailitis, C...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CodeFutures, a leading supplier of database performance tools, has been named a “Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. CodeFutures is an independent software vendor focused on providing tools that deliver database performance tools that increase productivity during database development and increase database performance and scalability during production.
SYS-CON Events announced today that ActiveState, the leading independent Cloud Foundry and Docker-based PaaS provider, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's DevOps Summit New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. ActiveState believes that enterprises gain a competitive advantage when they are able to quickly create, deploy and efficiently manage software solutions that immediately create business value, but they face many challenges that prevent them from doing so. The Company is uniquely positioned to help address these challenges thro...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
Dale Kim is the Director of Industry Solutions at MapR. His background includes a variety of technical and management roles at information technology companies. While his experience includes work with relational databases, much of his career pertains to non-relational data in the areas of search, content management, and NoSQL, and includes senior roles in technical marketing, sales engineering, and support engineering. Dale holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BA in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
SYS-CON Media announced that Cisco, a worldwide leader in IT that helps companies seize the opportunities of tomorrow, has launched a new ad campaign in Cloud Computing Journal. The ad campaign, a webcast titled 'Is Your Data Center Ready for the Application Economy?', focuses on the latest data center networking technologies, including SDN or ACI, and how customers are using SDN and ACI in their organizations to achieve business agility. The Cisco webcast is available on-demand.
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Performance is the intersection of power, agility, control, and choice. If you value performance, and more specifically consistent performance, you need to look beyond simple virtualized compute. Many factors need to be considered to create a truly performant environment. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, discussed how to take advantage of a multitude of compute options and platform features to make cloud the cornerstone of your online presence.
In this Women in Technology Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing at Verizon Enterprise, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO at MetraTech; Evelyn de Souza, Data Privacy and Compliance Strategy Leader at Cisco Systems; Seema Jethani, Director of Product Management at Basho Technologies; Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell Inc.; Anne Hungate, Senior Director of Software Quality at DIRECTV, discussed what path they took to find their spot within the technology industry and how do they see opportunities for other women in their area of expertise.
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
“The age of the Internet of Things is upon us,” stated Thomas Svensson, senior vice-president and general manager EMEA, ThingWorx, “and working with forward-thinking companies, such as Elisa, enables us to deploy our leading technology so that customers can profit from complete, end-to-end solutions.” ThingWorx, a PTC® (Nasdaq: PTC) business and Internet of Things (IoT) platform provider, announced on Monday that Elisa, Finnish provider of mobile and fixed broadband subscriptions, will deploy ThingWorx® platform technology to enable a new Elisa IoT service in Finland and Estonia.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are increasing at an unprecedented rate. The threat landscape of today is drastically different than just a few years ago. Attacks are much more organized and sophisticated. They are harder to detect and even harder to anticipate. In the foreseeable future it's going to get a whole lot harder. Everything you know today will change. Keeping up with this changing landscape is already a daunting task. Your organization needs to use the latest tools, methods and expertise to guard against those threats. But will that be enough? In the foreseeable future attacks w...
As enterprises move to all-IP networks and cloud-based applications, communications service providers (CSPs) – facing increased competition from over-the-top providers delivering content via the Internet and independently of CSPs – must be able to offer seamless cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions that can scale for small, midsize, and large enterprises, as well as public sector organizations, in order to keep and grow market share. The latest version of Oracle Communications Unified Communications Suite gives CSPs the capability to do just that. In addition, its integration ...
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...