Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, John Esposito, Xenia von Wedel, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: 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
SYS-CON Events announced today that Bsquare has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For more than two decades, Bsquare has helped its customers extract business value from a broad array of physical assets by making them intelligent, connecting them, and using the data they generate to optimize business processes.
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, wh...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
Connected devices and the industrial internet are growing exponentially every year with Cisco expecting 50 billion devices to be in operation by 2020. In this period of growth, location-based insights are becoming invaluable to many businesses as they adopt new connected technologies. Knowing when and where these devices connect from is critical for a number of scenarios in supply chain management, disaster management, emergency response, M2M, location marketing and more. In his session at @Th...
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his Day 2 Keynote at @ThingsExpo, Henrik Kenani Dahlgren, Portfolio Marketing Manager at Ericsson, discussed how to plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change t...
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. Big Data at Cloud Expo - to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - has announced its Call for Papers is open. Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, discussed how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to imp...
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate a...
Cognitive Computing is becoming the foundation for a new generation of solutions that have the potential to transform business. Unlike traditional approaches to building solutions, a cognitive computing approach allows the data to help determine the way applications are designed. This contrasts with conventional software development that begins with defining logic based on the current way a business operates. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Judith S. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz & ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ReadyTalk, a leading provider of online conferencing and webinar services, has been named Vendor Presentation Sponsor at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ReadyTalk delivers audio and web conferencing services that inspire collaboration and enable the Future of Work for today’s increasingly digital and mobile workforce. By combining intuitive, innovative tec...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their backend AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT - especially in the connected home and office. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Kocher, founder and managing director of Grey Heron, explained how Amazon is extending its reach to become a major force in IoT by building on its dominant cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strat...
industrial company for a multi-year contract initially valued at over $4.0 million. In addition to DataV software, Bsquare will also provide comprehensive systems integration, support and maintenance services. DataV leverages advanced data analytics, predictive reasoning, data-driven diagnostics, and automated orchestration of remediation actions in order to improve asset uptime while reducing service and warranty costs.
Vidyo, Inc., has joined the Alliance for Open Media. The Alliance for Open Media is a non-profit organization working to define and develop media technologies that address the need for an open standard for video compression and delivery over the web. As a member of the Alliance, Vidyo will collaborate with industry leaders in pursuit of an open and royalty-free AOMedia Video codec, AV1. Vidyo’s contributions to the organization will bring to bear its long history of expertise in codec technolo...